Until recently, there were only three known members of the Shaker faith living in the United States—and now, the Associated Press reports, the number is down to two.
According to one of her peers, Brother Arnold Hadd, Sister Frances Carr, 89, died on Monday after battling cancer. Hadd, 60, and a woman named Sister June Carpenter, 78, are now the only Shakers left in their tiny religious community—a village in New Gloucester, Maine, called Sabbathday Lake.
The Shakers are a Christian denomination whose basic tenets include gender equality, pacifism, communal property ownership, and celibacy. They formed in England during the 1700s, from a group that had left the Quakers. The physical act of shaking and ecstatic movement during worship led to the group's unofficial moniker: “Shaking Quakers.” (The group’s formal name is the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing.)
To escape persecution, the Shakers left England in 1774, and settled in the American colonies to freely practice their beliefs and attempt to form a utopian community. They became renowned for their furniture craftsmanship, and for inventions like the flat broom and the spring clothespin.
The Shakers were never a large religious community, but over the decades, their numbers dwindled. Prior to the Civil War, nearly 6000 Shakers lived in the U.S.—and at one point, Sabbathday Lake, which was settled in 1783, had nearly 200 members. The group’s decline is largely due to their celibate lifestyle, and also due to the fact that they no longer take in orphans and raise them in the Shaker faith. (The Shakers adopted Carr.)
Today, Sabbathday is home to the only active Shaker Community in the world, according to the community’s website. But despite the odds, its surviving members remain hopeful that the Shaker way of life will persevere. “As long as we do God’s work I believe in the essence of my soul that there will always be vocations sent to this way of life,” Hadd told PBS in 2010.
[h/t Associated Press]