What leads to identification of a Community?
In 1790 in Hancock and West Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a Shaker Community was organized into “gospel order” (Andrews, 20). Approximately 100 Believers consisting mostly of local farmers and ministers left the comfort of their private lives and resigned their worldly possessions to the collective community. What lead those Believers who chose to make this sacrifice and live as a separatist society in gospel order over the years is largely individual, but when it comes to what inspired the establishment of these early Communities is best described in Sections 1 and 2 of “Article 1 of The Covenant or Constitution of the Church at Hancock:
Article 1. Of The Gospel Ministry
Section 1. Their Origin, Call and Institution.
We solemnly declare to each other, and to all whom it may concern. That we have received, and do hereby acknowledge, as the foundation of our faith, order and government, the testimony or gospel of Christ, in his first and second appearing; and we do hereby solemnly agree to support and maintain the true primitive faith and christian principles, the morals, rules and manners pertaining to the said gospel, as ministered by the founders of this Society, and kept and conveyed through a regular order of ministration down to the present day; and although, as a religious society, we are variously associated, with respect to the local situations of our respective communities; yet we are known and distinguished as a peculiar people, and consider and acknowledge ourselves members of one general community, possessing one faith, and subject to one united parental and ministerial administration, which has been regularly supported from the first foundations pillars of the institution, and which continues to operate for the support, protection and strength of every part of said community.
Section 2. Their Order and Office.
We further acknowledge and declare, That for the purpose of promoting and maintaining union, order and harmony throughout the various branches of this community, the primary administration of parental authority has been settled in the first established Ministry at New Lebanon, there to rest and remain as the center of union to all who are in gospel relation and communion with the Society. The established order of this Ministry includes four persons, two of each sex.