NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine – Sister Marie Frances Burgess, 81, one of the world’s last members of the Shaker sect, died of natural causes Monday at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker village, leaving the religious group’s only remaining community with six members.
Formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, the Shakers originated in England in the 1770s and at their peak had several thousand followers. They were nicknamed because of their enthusiastic motions during prayer services.
In 1783, Shakers settled at Sabbathday Lake, one of about 20 Shaker communities established in the United States at one time or another. The Maine village is the only one left.
Members of the community take a vow of poverty and live the motto “hands to work and hearts to God.” Their simple, efficient furniture designs became famous.
They also take a vow of celibacy, which limited the sect’s growth to converts and the adoption of orphans. They do not, however, shun the modern world and even maintain their own Web site.
Burgess entered the community in 1939, when she was 19, and filled many roles. She knitted mittens and scarves and made candy, dolls and dusters sold in the community’s store. She worked in the raspberry patch and baked bread and biscuits.
While she was deeply faithful to her religion, Burgess had outside interests.
“Her favorite subject was probably the Boston Red Sox,” said Brother Arnold Hadd, the village’s elder. “She was an avid fan, and every year, she was convinced, was going to be the year.”
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