In Memoriam: Sister Frances Carr

I just got word that Sister Frances Carr died yesterday. She wasn't a Roman Catholic nun--she was a Shaker. One of the last Shakers living at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. Reports indicate that she died of cancer and was 89 years old.


Many years ago I spent a fair amount of time at Sabbathday Lake researching my Masters thesis, a theological history of that community. I would spend long hours hunched over old journals which recorded the daily life of the community in the nineteenth century. The entries were written in that spidery handwriting that seemed to dominate back then.

It was not hard physical labor, not at all. But it was wearing. My eyes would get tired, I would get hungry, and my seat was often sore. The intellectual and spiritual riches I uncovered were well worth the effort, but what made my days there even better were the invitations I would receive late in the morning, usually from Sister Frances, to join the Shaker family for lunch.

Lunch! Goodness! feast would be the more accurate word! The meal was made from home grown fruits and vegetables, bread that was fresh out of the oven, delicious fruit juices. And there was always dessert. Ginger cookies, soft to the touch and tingly to the tongue. Puddings and cake. I always went on to my afternoon studies with a new bit of energy.

While I was working on the thesis, my daughter Elizabeth was born. And so one Sunday (it was in the winter) we joined the Shakers for worship. After the service of song and testimony, prayer and scripture readings, Sister Frances presented us a with a lovely, yellow and whiter, hand knit sweater and bonnet for my new daughter. It was exquisite!

Most folks know the Shaker hymn "Tis a Gift to Be Simple"--and so life was at Sabbathday Lake in those days. Yet in its simplicity there was a richness of spirit not often duplicated. And in her own hospitable way, Sister Frances embodied that spirit, I was indeed blessed to know her.


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