On our trip to Maine, we took a side-trip to visit the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, the sole remaining Shaker community (a 1974 film about the community, The Shakers, can be viewed online). See also MaineShakers.com.
The tour was interesting, the exhibits tracing the history of the Shakers, and the guide well informed (and able to deal with smart mouthed questions from a couple of sassy older men). The highlight, though, was a chat with Bro. Arnold, one of the four remaining Shakers (and the one man in the community). He’s a little over 50, and has been there since he was 20.
During their hey-day, in the 1840s and 50s, they had 6000 members, but decline quickly set in, and for the last fifty years have been struggling to maintain even a handful of members.
They no longer do the exuberant dances for which they received their name; worship is quiet. Gone are the days when some would see angels, or commune with the spirits of the dead–traits that link them with spiritualism. The simple life is all they have left; their many villages now all museums. The life of simplicity is lived by others; their spiritualist practices are common among “New Age” devotees, along with their belief that the second coming of Christ is a spiritual event in the human heart. Celibacy is attractive to few today.
There are so many areas where Christians would differ with them, yet it’s easy to feel a sort of nostalgia when walking the paths of their village.