PORTLAND, Maine — Sister Frances Carr, one of the last remaining members of a nearly extinct religious society called the Shakers, has died. She was 89.
Carr died Monday surrounded by family and friends in the dwelling house at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester after a brief battle with cancer, said Brother Arnold Hadd, one of the group’s two remaining members.
“She had a death with dignity and love,” Hadd said Tuesday. “She was surrounded by love, tears and a lot of Shaker songs.”
Their community at Sabbathday Lake was settled in 1783 and was one of more than a dozen such communities created in the New World by the Shakers, formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance.
The group fled persecution in England. It practiced equality of the sexes, pacifism, communal ownership of property and celibacy.
Sabbathday Lake is now the only such active community remaining.
The Shakers’ numbers declined because members are celibate and the group stopped taking orphans like Carr, who arrived as a 10-year-old after her father died and her mother was unable to care for her.
Carr remained hopeful to the end that the Shakers would grow, and she bristled when those in the village were described as the “last” Shakers.
She never forgot her humble beginnings and devoted herself to helping the disadvantaged, especially children, stepping into situations to provide food, shelter and money, Hadd said.
“She had a great passion for being a Shaker and serving God and serving her fellow man,” he said.
Her favorite song was “In as much as ye have done it to the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” And it was often sung several times during Sunday meetings, Hadd said.
The society earned the derisive moniker “shaking Quakers” for their charismatic dance. The style of worship changed long ago, but the Shakers name stuck.
Shakers are credited with a number of inventions, including the flat-bottom broom, spring-loaded clothespin and circular saw.
Despite their old-fashioned farm life, the Sabbathday Lake Shakers don’t eschew modern technology. They have computers, internet access and a website.
With Carr’s death, Hadd, who’s 60, and Sister June Carpenter, 78, are the only members of the community. Hadd shares Carr’s hope that the Shakers will live on.
He said there have been others who’ve joined the community in the past decade, but no one has chosen to stay on.
“Every day the prayers go up that we will get people to come, that we get competent vocations,” he said. “It’s a calling from God.”