“5. Hannah Shapley, from New-Lebanon, visited the Church in June 1780, and through the operation of the might power of God, which she saw there, she was convicted of sin, and received full faith in their testimony. She confessed to Mother that she had not lived up to the light which she had received.
6. Upon hearing this, one of her companion said to her, “I believe you are a child of God.” Mother replied, “Do not daub her with untempered mortar. She has the right work upon her.” Then turning to Hannah, she said, “You must begin at the top twigs, and crop them off, and continue cropping until you come at the root, and then you must dig that up, that it may never grow again.”
The Testimonies of the Life, Character Revelations and Doctrines of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee and the Elders with Her; through Whom the Word of Eternal Life was Opened on this Day of Christ’s Second Appearing: Collected from Living Witnesses, by Order of the Ministry, in Union with the Church was printed in 1816 by the Shakers at their community in Hancock, Massachusetts. The purpose of the book, according to its preface, was to provide, “at the request of our beloved brethren and sisters, who have never seen those blessed Ministers of Christ in the body [i.e., Mother Ann and the first leaders of the Church], … a faithful record of those precepts and examples and other contemporary events which most evidently manifest their real characters.” The Testimonies gathered and recorded the recollections of Believers, those “eye and ear Witnesses” who had known Mother Ann and the first elders.
The Testimonies is sometimes called “the secret book of the elders” because it was not intended for general publication and distribution to the outside world. It was held closely by the Shaker leadership and read aloud from time to time to the general membership. So concerned was Mother Lucy Wright that the book not fall into the hands of the outside world that, although it was available in the spring of 1816, she did not allow it to be sent to the Shaker communities in Ohio and Kentucky until mid-1818, until there could be “safe conveyance lest it should get to the world.”
Laid out by chapter and verse, The Testimonies looks like a familiar sacred text and the general structure, to some extent, reflects the structure of the New Testament. It begins, like the four Gospels do with Jesus, with the birth and spiritual blossoming of Mother Ann Lee. It continues with her missionary travels through New England gathering small communities of followers. It provides examples of the manifestations of God in Mother, instructions in spiritual and temporal affairs, and provides precepts under which these groups were eventually drawn into communities of Believers. The book ends with revelations on the final judgments levied on reprobates and persecutors.
Like the New Testament, The Testimonies is filled with stories that made it possible to draw those who never had a chance to know Mother into a personal connection with her and the first leaders of the Church, as well as strengthen the memories of those who did.
On April 29, 2017, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon will host an endurance reading of the Testimonies at Basilica Hudson as part of 24-Hour Drone. The reading will begin at 2:00 and go for an estimated ten hours. If you would like to participate in the reading, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.