Shaker Meeting House


The following text is adapted from Gerard C. Wertkin, The Four Seasons of Shaker Life: An Intimate Portrait of the Community at Sabbathday Lake (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1986), pp. 101-2.

Designed by Brother Moses Johnson, the Meeting House at Sabbathday Lake was built in 1794. Johnson created nearly identical Meeting Houses for ten other Shaker communities between 1786 and 1794.

The Meeting House is the community's primary place of worship. Through much of Shaker history, the Society drew a distinction between its public meetings for worship and family worship. Believers welcomed outsiders to the Meeting House only for designated services or at specified times of the year, generally the spring and summer. Moreover, the principle of separation almost always required them to exclude the world from meeting rooms located within family dwellings. For a period during Mother's Work, an era of intense religious activity during the 1830s and 1840s, public meetings were not held at all. Shaker worship, in its essentials, however, was no different whether the public was admitted or not, although the intimacy of family meeting may have been lost in the presence of large numbers of outsiders.

A feature of public meetings was the presentation of a sermon by one of the Society's more capable preachers, on a prepared theme, intended as an introduction to Shaker religious thought. Among the prominent public preachers at Sabbathday Lake were two longtime members of the Maine ministry, Elders John Vance and Otis Sawyer; Elder Joseph Brackett of the ministry and later elder of the church at New Gloucester; and Elder Nehemiah Trull of the Poland Hill Family. Elder Nehemiah's death on October 5, 1886, brought the long tradition of public meetings to a close in Maine. As in the case of the herb industry, however, the Shakers revived the practice in the late twentieth century. The only differences are that all meetings are now open to the public, whether they are held in the Meeting House or family chapel, and the world's people tend to come as participants rather than spectators, because the dance in worship is no longer performed.