Postal Updates

A consequential letter set a young man on a path from Methodist to Shaker

Jun 25, 2024, 12 PM
No Shaker creations from Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, are shown on the 12 United States Shaker Design stamps issued June 20. Sabbathday Lake is home to two Shakers: Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter.

Delivering the Mail by Allen Abel

The last of the celibate, communal, consecrated Shakers — if indeed that is what he is fated to be — was a teenage Methodist in Massachusetts when he received a letter that changed his life.

That letter, in fact, was more than a simple epistle. It was a large manila envelope from Brother Theodore E. Johnson at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, elucidating and extolling the practices of what formally is known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. It was their ecstatic gyrations while worshiping that gave these believers their popular name, Shakers.

The envelope’s recipient was Arnold Hadd of Springfield, Mass., a self-described “hot-headed 16-year-old” who, in his words, “grew up a pretty normal middle-class kid” and who was infected with “that whole longing for something that wasn’t the norm of my parents.”

In 1975, Hadd mailed a postcard to the community at Sabbathday Lake, seeking to resolve a family dispute about the life of a certain Shaker acquaintance.

What he received was a glimpse into an entirely different existence — a life without personal belongings, without physical intimacy or marriage or fatherhood, but with structure and Godly purpose.

Accepting Johnson’s invitation, the young Hadd, who said he “didn’t like the capitalistic system” to begin with, journeyed to Maine and found himself welcomed by “strangers who felt like family.”

“It absolutely blew me away,” Hadd, now Sabbathday Lake’s venerable, convivial Brother Arnold, told Linn’s Stamp News by telephone in early June, while sitting at the very desk that once had been used by Johnson.

“My first thought was ‘What can I do to help these people?’ ” he recalled.

Hadd’s answer, of course, was to join them. Today, of the two resident Shakers at Sabbathday Lake, a community established in 1783, Brother Arnold is the younger and more outgoing.

His female coreligionist, Sister June Carpenter, a former librarian who is 86 and who has been a Shaker since 1989, rarely speaks publicly.

The historic grounds and farm buildings at Sabbathday Lake are a popular tourist attraction. Sunday worship services, led by Hadd, are open to the public.

On June 20, to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival on American shores of the first Shakers, freedom-seeking believers from England, the United States Postal Service issued a pane of 12 nondenominated (68¢) forever postage stamps featuring Shaker woodcraft.

The stamps feature photographs by Michael Freeman taken from museum collections of Shaker artifacts in New York, Massachusetts, Kentucky and New Hampshire.

[Editor’s note: An overview of the new Shaker Design stamps was published in the June 24 issue of Linn’s.]

Nothing from Sabbathday Lake is depicted on the new stamps, an omission that Hadd finds ...

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