Wayside pulpits for the wayward traveler

fig 1..wayside pulpit, vince pecoraro, photographer

“Wayside Pulpit,” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1928, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2008.10.47. Photograph by Vince Pecoraro for the Chatham Courier at the exhibition The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries, New York State Museum, Albany, NY, 2015.

In 1919 the Unitarian Minister Henry Saunderson of First Parish Church, Brighton, Massachusetts, noting that bulletin boards placed in front of churches were underused, decided to write short, pointed “wayside sermons” to induce people to stop, read, and search their consciences. After posting his first few sermons and noting the great number of people who did stop and read, he enlisted a number of local ministers to subscribe to his sermons and agree to post them on their bulletin boards. To make this work, the subscribers built “Wayside Community Pulpits” of a size that would accommodate messages printed on a 32 x 44 inch sheet of paper. The movement grew quickly, reaching Reverend H. Harrold Johnson in Manchester, England the following year. Johnson and his subscribers posted hand-painted 40 x 30 inch messages every Sunday morning for the next fifty years.

fig 2..second family dwelling with wayside pulpit, acc. no. 1989.03.01

Winter, William F., “Dwelling- Second Family 1930,” Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1989.03.01.

In the winter of 1928 Brother William H. Perkins and Sister Lillian I. Barlow made a Wayside Pulpit to place outside of the Second Family Dwelling House at Mount Lebanon. The new Pulpit was photographed in the summer of 1930 by William F. Winter as he documented the Lebanon Shakers for the New York State Museum. Perkins was born in Manchester, England in 1861 and immigrated to the United States specifically to join the Shakers, arriving at the North Family in June of 1914. He soon asked to transfer to the Second Family and there he and Sister Lillian Barlow constituted the Mount Lebanon Woodworking Company. Brother William was a trained carpenter and wood carver when he came to the Shakers and seemed naturally drawn to practice that trade. Sister Lillian was born in Mississippi in 1876, came to the Shakers as a girl, and spent most of her Shaker life at the Second Family. When the Second Family was sold in 1940, she moved to the North Family for her remaining years.

In removing the paper pulpit message for conservation work prior to exhibiting it in The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries at the New York State Museum, an inscription was discovered on the board to which the pulpit message is mounted. It reads: “Made December 1 to 7 1928 W. H. Perkins   L. I. Barlow.”

fig 3..wayside pulpit with inscription

“Wayside Pulpit,” (inscription on back of the mounting board), Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1928, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 2008.10.47.

It is interesting to theorize about how the Second Family Shakers decided to erect a Wayside Pulpit. Noting that Perkins was born in Manchester, England, it seems possible that, although he came to the Shakers five years prior to the erection of the first Pulpit in Manchester, he may have known about Johnson’s movement from friends or relatives. The choice to make the Shakers’ Wayside Pulpit according to the dimensions specified by Johnson rather than those of the American Saunderson and the fact that the one existing Shaker pulpit message is hand-painted rather than printed, suggests that the Shakers subscribed to receive their sermons each week from the English movement rather than the American.

In William F. Winter’s 1930 photograph of the Second Family Dwelling, a second sign is mounted along the road that reads “Remember ‘Mother Ann’ Second Family Shakers Hands to Work – Hearts to God.” At this time it is not known who made the sign or when, or when it was mounted between the two trees, but it is likely that it is also the work of Brother William and Sister Lillian. Both signs are in the collection of the Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon.

fig 7..1962.13778.1

Sign, “Remember ‘Mother Ann’ Second Family Shakers ‘Hands to Work – Hearts to God,’” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1962.13778.1

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