Thursday, September 8, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember one of the more curious characters in American religious history.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 8th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

I know you don’t come to this program for updates on the flooding, flooring, and kitchen remodel here at the CHA studios (just in case- the “CHA Studios” is my house…). Anyways, we might be able to save the cabinets. And you know why that is important? Because my wife really likes the cabinets. Do you know what kind of cabinets they are? Shaker Cabinets- a type of cabinet from the Shaker community- a peculiar Christian sect whose leader Ann Lee died on the 8th of September in 1784.

We’ve talked about the Shakers before- also known as the “Shaking Quakers,” they were a small group of eccentric Quakers. Remember, “Quaker” was technically an epithet used against English non-conformists known to move about in worship. The Society of Friends- the group founded by George Fox. So, the “shaking Quakers” was even more extreme in their ecstatic worship practices (but also more extreme in other ways…we’ll get to that).

Ann Lee was born in Manchester, England, in 1736 to a blacksmith- Ann was an illiterate textile worker who joined the separatist “Wardley Society” at 22 in 1758. This group would be known as the “Shaking Quakers.”

In 1762 she was coerced into marrying a coworker of her fathers- the two would reportedly have an unhappy marriage, and their four children would all die in infancy or early childhood.

In the 1770s, she began to preach about her private visions- including the idea that celibacy was required of Christians- even married Christians. It is not unreasonable to see her unhappy marriage and loss of children as possible motivations for this peculiar doctrine. She would tie the doctrine to Matthew 22 and the idea of the teaching that “in the resurrection, the saints neither marry, nor are given in marriage.”

[You might remember the Oneida Community used the same verse to come to the opposite conclusions of Lee’s teaching on celibacy]

Lee’s teaching would become more eccentric, with her allegedly claiming to be the female successor to Jesus- whether or not this was true, it rang true to those who were convinced that any woman preacher must be a heretic. This would get her imprisoned and provide the impetus to flee to the American colonies.

In 1774 she and eight disciples came to America on board the Mariah- Anne would become the leader of these American Shakers and take the name “Mother Lee.” These shakers were not only celibate but also pacifists. This made them suspect in the colonies' lead-up to the Revolutionary War. They would be harassed and eventually move to upstate New York. The group would grow only with evangelism, and thus they would frequently make trips by horseback (one such group of converts came from a community that surrounded the wonderfully named “Shadrack Ireland”- a follower of George Whitefield who claimed Christian perfection could lead to immortality- when he died, his followers joined Mother Lee’s group).

A particularly rough evangelization trip occurred in 1783 when she and others were beaten and dragged through the streets. This coupled with her brother's death, led Ann to spend her last days in a state of mental and emotional confusion- she sat in her rocking chair and sang in what was reported as “unknown tongues.” Mother Ann Lee would die in 1784 on this the 8th of September. Born in 1736, she was 48 years old.

The Shakers would expand into the 19th century, forming communes across the northern United States- the last remaining active Shaker community is the Shaker Village in Sabbath Lake, Maine.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 14 (and you might recognize it as quoted in Romans 3):

The fool says in his heart,
 “There is no God.”

They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
 there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven
 on all mankind

to see if there are any who understand,
 any who seek God.

All have turned away, all have become corrupt;

there is no one who does good,
 not even one.

Do all these evildoers know nothing?

They devour my people as though eating bread;
 they never call on the Lord.

But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,

for God is present in the company of the righteous.

You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,

but the Lord is their refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!

When the Lord restores his people,
 let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite mothers include his own, Mother Lee, and Mother's pink and white circus animal cookies- Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man with no real opinion on Shaker cabinets but lots of opinions on the practice of buying and selling “insurance” for things… argh. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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