1830 Shaker Covenant

From Shaker Pedia

The Covenant or Constitution of the Church at Hancock


We, the brethren and sisters of the United Society of Believers, (called Shakers) residing in the County of Berkshire and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, being connected together as a religious and social community, distinguished by the name and title of THE CHURCH OF THE UNITED SOCIETY IN THE TOWN OF HANCOCK, which, for many years, has been established and in successful operation under the charge of the Ministry and Eldership thereof; and feeling the importance not only of renewing and confirming our spiritual covenant with God and each other, but also of renewing and improving our social compact, and amending the written form thereof, Do adopt,.ordain and declare the following articles of agreement as a summary of the principles, rules and regulations established in the Church of the said United Society, which are to be kept and maintained by us, both in our collective and individual capacities, as a Covenant or Constitution, which shall stand as a lawful testimony, of our religious and social compact before all men, and all cases of question and law, relating to the possession and improvement of our united and consecrated interest, property and estate.

Article 1. Of The Gospel Ministry

We solemnly declare to each other, and to all whom it may concern. That we have received, and do hereby ac- knowledge, 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 thro a regular order of ministration down to the present day; and altho, 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 foundation pillars of the institution, and which continues to operate for the support, protection and strength of every part of said community.


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.


We further acknowledge and declare, That the said primary administration of parental authority, has been and is perpetuated as follows', namely; That the first in that office and calling possesses the right given by the sanction of DIVINE AUTHORITY, thro the first founders of this Society, to prescribe or direct any regulation or appointment which they may judge most proper and necessary respect- ing the Ministry, or any other important matter which may concern the welfare of the Church subsequent to their decease. But in case no such regulation or appointment be so prescribed or directed, then the right to direct and authorize such regulations and appointments devolves upon the surviving members of the Ministry, in counsel with the Elders of the Church or others, as the nature of the case, in their judgment, may require. Such appointments being officially communicated to all concerned, and receiving the general approbation of the Church, are confirmed and supported in the Society.*

  • This is agreeable to the examples recorded in the scriptures, and continued by the first founders of this Society, and is the order and manner which has been regularly practiced, acknowledged and maintained in the community from the beginning.

We further acknowledge and declare, covenant and agree, That the ministerial office and authority, in any society or community of our faith, which has emanated or which may emanate in a regular line of order from the center of union aforesaid, is, and shall be acknowledged, owned and respected as the spiritual and primary authority of such society or community, in all matters pertaining to the ministerial office: And in case of the decease or removal of any individual of said Ministry, in any such society, his or her lot and place shall be filled by agreement of the surviving ministers, in counsel with the Elders and others, as the nature of the case may require, together with the knowledge and approbation of the primary ministerial authority at New Lebanon aforesaid, to which they are responsible.


The Ministry being appointed and established as aforesaid, are vested with the primary authority of the Church and its various branches. Hence it becomes their special duty to guide and superintend the spiritual concerns of the So- ciety as a body of people under their care and government, and in connection with the Elders in their respective families and departments, who shall act in union with them, to give and establish such orders, rules and regulations as may be found necessary for the government and protection of the Church and Society within the limits of their jurisdiction, and also to counsel, advise and judge, in all matters of importance whether spiritual or temporal. The said Ministry are also invested with authority, to nominate and appoint to office, ministers, elders, deacons and trustees; and to assign offices of care and trust to such brethren and sisters as they, the said Ministry and Elders, shall judge to be best qualified for the several offices to which they may be appointed: And we do hereby covenant and agree, That such nominations and appointments being made and especially communicated to those concerned, and receiving the general approbation of the Church, or of the families concerned, shall thenceforth be confirmed and supported until altered or revoked by the authority aforesaid.

Article II. Institution of the Church

We further acknowledge and declare, That the great object, purpose and design of our uniting ourselves together as a Church or body of people in social and religious compact, is faithfully and honestly to occupy, improve and diffuse the various gifts and talents, both of a spiritual and temporal nature, with which Divine Wisdom has blessed us, for the service of God, for the honor of the gospel, and for the mutual protection, support, comfort and happiness of each other, as brethren and sisters in the gospel, and for such other pious and charitable purposes as the gospel may require.


As the unity, stability and purity of the Church essen- tially depend on the character of its members and their qualifications, and as it is a matter of importance that it should not be incumbered with persons who are under any involvements or incapacity, natural or moral: Therefore, no member of any company or association in business or civil concern; no co-partner in trade; no person under any legal involvement or obligation of service; no minor; no slave or bond servant; no insane person; no profance person; nor any person who lives in the willful violation of the known and acklowledged principles of moral conduct, shall be deemed qualified for admission into the covenant relation and communion of the Church.

SECTION 3. Preparation for admission into Church Relation.

In order that Believers may be prepared for entering into the sacred privilege of church relation, it is of primary importance that sufficient opportunity and privilege should be afforded under the ministry of the gospel, for them to acquire suitable instruction in the genuine principles of righteousness, honesty, justice and true holiness; and also that they should prove their faith and Christian morality by therr practical obedience to the precepts of the gospel, according to their instructions. It is also indispensably necessary for them to receive the one uniting Spirit of Christ, and become so far of one heart and one mind, that they are willing to sacrifice all other relations for this sacred one. Another essential step is to settle all just and equitable claims of creditors and filial heirs; so that whatever property they may possess, shall be justly their own. When this is done, and they feel themselves sufficiently prepared to make a deliberate and final choice to devote themselves with all they possess, wholly to the service of God, without reserve, and it shall be deemed proper by the leading authority of the Church, after examination and due consideration, to allow them to associate together in the capacity of a Church, or a branch thereof, in gospel order, they may then consecrate themselves, and all they possess, to the service of God forever, and confirm the same by signing and sealing a written covenant predicated upon the principles herein contained, and fulfilling on their part all its obligations.


As the door must be kept open for the admission of new members into the Church, when duly prepared, it is agreed that each and every person who shall, at any time after the date and execution of the Church covenant, in any branch of the community, be admitted into the Church, as a member thereof, shall previously have a fair opportunity to obtain a full, clear and explicit understanding of the object and design of the Church covenant, and all the obligations it enjoins upon the members. For this purpose he or she shall, in the presence of two of the Deacons or acting Trustees of the Church, read or hear the same distinctly read, so as to be able freely to acknowledge his or her full approbation and acceptance thereof, in all its parts. Then he, she or they, as the case may be, shall be at liberty to sign the same; and having signed and sealed it, and being subject to all the obligations required of the original signers, shall thenceforth be entitled to all the benefits and privileges hereunto appertaining; and the signature or signatures, thus added, shall be certified by the said deacons or trustees, together with the date thereof.


Youth and children, being minors, cannot be received as members of the Church, possessing a consecrated interest in a united capacity; yet it is agreed that they may be received under the immediate care and government of the Church, at the desire or consent of such person or persons as have a lawful right to, or control over such minors, together with their own desire or consent. But no minor under the care or protection of the Church can be employed therein for wages of any kind.

Article III. Of the Trustees

It has been found necessary for the establishment 'of or- der in the Society, in its various branches, that superintending deacons and deaconesses should be appointed and authorized to act as trustees or agents of the temporalities of the Church. They must be recommended by their honesty and integrity, their fidelity in trust, and their capacity for the transaction of business. Of these qualifications the Ministry and Elders must be the judges. The official Trustees of the Church are generally known among us by the title of Office Deacons, of which there must be two or more; and being appointed by the authority aforesaid, they are invested with power to take the general charge and oversight of all the property, estate and interest dedicated, devoted, consecrated and given up for the benefit of the Church; to hold in trust, the fee of all the lands belonging to the Church; also all gifts, grants and donations which have been, or may hereafter be dedicated, devoted, consecrated and given up as aforesaid; and the said property, estate, interest, gifts, grants and donations, shall constitute the united and consecrated interest of the Church, and shall be held in trust by the said Deacons, as acting Trustees, in their official capacity, and by their successors in said office and trust forever.


It is, and shall be the duty of the said Deacons or acting Trustees, to improve, use and appropriate the said united interest for the benefit of the Church, in ah1 its deportments, and for such other religious and charitable purposes as the gospel may require; and also to make all just and equitable defense in law, for the protection and security of the consecrated and united interest, rights and privileges of the Church and Society, jointly and severally, as an associated community, so far as circumstances and the nature of the case may require. Provided nevertheless, That all the transactions of the said Deacons or acting Trustees, in the use, management, protection, defense and disposal of the aforesaid interest shall be for the benefit and privilege, and in behalf of the Church or Society, as aforesaid; and not for any private interest, object or purpose whatever.


It shall also be the duty of the Trustees to give information to the Ministry and Elders of the Church, of the general state of the temporal concerns of the Church and Society committed to their charge; and also to report to said authority all losses sustained in the united interest thereof, which shall come under their cognizance: And no disposal of any of the real estate of the Church, nor any important contract, shall he considered valid without the previous approbation of the authority aforesaid, to whom the said Deacons and Trustees are, and shall, at all times, be held responsible in all their transactions.


It is, and shall be the duty of the Deacons or acting Trustees to keep, or cause to be kept, regular Books of account, in which shall be entered the debit and credit accounts of all mercantile operations and business transactions between the Church and others; all receipts and expenditures, Bonds, Notes and Bills of account, and all other matters that concern the united interest of the Church: And also a Book or Books of Record, in which shaE be recorded a true and correct copy of this covenant, also all appointments, removals and changes in office of ministers, elders, deacons and trustees; all admissions, removals, departures and decease of members, together with all other matters and transactions of a public nature which are necessary to be recorded for the benefit of the Church, and for. the preservation and security of the documents, papers and written instruments pertaining to the united interest and concerns of the Church committed to their charge. And the said records shall be annually inspected by the leading authority of the Church, who, together with the Trustees, shall be the official auditors of the same;'and the signature of one or more of said creditors, with the date of inspection and approval, shall be deemed sufficient authority for the correctness and validity of the facts and matters so recorded.


For the better security of the united and consecrated interest of the Church to the proper uses and purposes stipulated in this Covenant, it shall "be the duty of the Trustee or Trustees who may be vested with the lawful title or claim of the real estate of the Church, to make and execute a declaration of trust, in due form of law, embracing all and singular, the lands, tenements and hereditaments, with every matter of interest pertaining to the Church which, at the time being, may be vested in him or them, or that may in future come under his or their charge of office, during Ms or their Trusteeship. The said declaration shall state expressly, that the said Trustee or trustees hold all such lands, tenements, hereditaments, and all the personal property of every description, belonging to the Church or Society, in trust, for the uses and purposes expressed in, and subject to the rules, conditions and regulations prescribed by the Covenant and Constitution of the said Church or Society, or any amendments thereto which shall hereafter be adopted by the general approbation of the Church, and in conformity with the primitive faith and acknowledged principles of the Society; And the said declaration shall be in writing, duly executed under his or their hands and seals, and shall be recorded in the Book of Records provided for in the preceding Section.


We further covenant and agree, That in case it should at any time happen in the course of Divine Providence, that the office of trustee should become wholly vacant by the death or defection of all the Trustees, in whom may be vested the fee of the lands or real estate belonging to the said Church or Society, then, and in that case, one or more successors shall be appointed by the constitutional authority recognized in this Covenant, according to the rules and regulations prescribed by the same: And the said appointment being duly recorded in the Book of Records provided for in this article, shall be deemed and is hereby declared to vest in such successor or successors all the rights, interest and authority of their predecessors, in respect to all such lands, property and estate belonging to the Church or Society as aforesaid.

Article IV. Of the Eldership

The united interest and objects of Believers, established in gospel order, require that Elders should be chosen and appointed for the spiritual protection of families; whose business it is to take the lead in their several departments, in the care and government of the concerns of the Church, and of the different families established-in, and pertaining to the Society. Their number and order should correspond with that of the Ministry. They are required to be persons of good understanding, of approved faithfulness and integrity, and gifted in spiritual administration. They must be selected and appointed by the Ministry who are to judge of their qualifications.


As faithful watchmen upon the walls of Zion, it becomes the duty of the Elders to watch over their respective families; to instruct the members in their respective duties; to counsel, encourage, admonish, exhort and reprove, as occasion may require; to lead the worship; to be examples to the members of obedience to the faith, principles and orders of the gospel, and to see that the orders, rules and regulations pertaining to their respective families and departments are properly kept.

Article V. Of Family Deacons &, Deaconesses

The office of family Deacons and Deaconesses has long been established in the Church, and is essentially necessary for the care, management and direction of the domestic concerns in each family, order or branch of the Church. They are required to be persons of correct and well grounded faith in the established principles of the gospel; faithful in duty; closely united to their Elders, and of sufficient .capacity in business. Of these qualifications the Ministry and Elders, by whom they are chosen and appointed, must be the judges. Their number in each family is generally two of each sex; but may be more or less, according to the size of the family and the extent of their various duties.


The Deacons and Deaconesses of families are entrusted with the care and oversight of the domestic concerns of their respective families. It is their duty to make proper arrangements in business; to maintain good order; to watch over, counsel and direct the members in their various occupations, as occasion may require; to make application to the office deacons, or trustees for whatever supplies are needed in the several departments of the family: to maintain union, harmony and good understanding with the said office deacons, and to report to their Elders the state of matters which fall under their cognizance and observation. But their power is restricted to the domestic concerns of their respective families and departments, and does not extend to any immediate or direct correspondence with those without the bounds of the Church. They have no immediate concern with trade and commerce; therefore, it is not their business to buy and sell, nor in any way to dispose of the property under their care, except with the counsel and approbation of the Trustees.

Article VI. Privileges & Obligations of Members

The united interest of the Church having been formed and established by the freewill offerings and pious dona- tions of the members respectively, from the commencement of the Institution, for the objects and purposes already stated, it cannot be considered either as a joint tenancy or a tenancy in common; but as a consecrated whole, designed for, and devoted to the uses and purposes of the gospel forever, agreeable to the established principles of the Church; Therefore, it shall be held possessed and enjoyed by the Church, in their united capacity, as a sacred and covenant right; that is to say, all and every member thereof, while standing in gospel union, and maintaining the principles of this Covenant, shall enjoy equal rights, benefits and privileges, in the use of all things pertaining to the Church, according to their several needs and circumstances; and no difference shall be made on account of what any one has contributed and devoted, or may hereafter contribute and devote to the support and benefit of the Institution.


It is nevertheless provided, stipulated and agreed, that the benefits, privileges and enjoyments secured by this Covenant to the members of the Church, shall not be considered as extending to any person who shall refuse to comply with the conditions of this association, or who shall refuse to submit to the administration and discipline of the constituted authority of the Church, or who shall willfully depart from the principles and practice of those religious and moral obligations which have been established in the Church, agreeable to the primitive faith and distinguished principles of this institution, of which refusal or non-compliance the leading authority acknowledged in the first Article of this Covenant shall be the proper and constitutional Judges.


As subordination and obedience is the life and soul of every well regulated community, so our strength and protection, our happiness and prosperity in the capacity of Church members, must depend on our faithful obedience to the rules and orders established in the Church, and to the institutions, counsel and advice of its leaders: Therefore, we do hereby covenant and agree, That we will receive and acknowledge as our Elders in the gospel, those members in the Church who are, or may be chosen and appointed, for the time being, to that office and calling, by the authority aforesaid, and also, that we will, as faithful brethren and sisters in Christ, conform and subject ourselves to the known and established faith and principles of our community, and to the counsel and direction of the Elders who shall act in union as aforesaid; and also to all the orders, rules and regulations which are, or may be given and established in the Church, according to the principles and by the authority aforesaid.


The faithful improvement of our time and talents in doing good, is a duty which God requires of man as a rational, social and accountable being; and this duty is indispensable in the members of the Church of Christ; Therefore it is, and shall be required of all and every member of this institution, unitedly and individually, to occupy and improve their rim p. and talents to support and maintain the interest of the Society; to promote the objects of this Covenant, and discharge their duty to God and each other, according to their several abilities and callings, as members in union with one common lead; so that the various gifts and talents of all may be improved for the mutual benefit of each other and all concerned.


As we esteem the mutual possession and enjoyment of the consecrated interest and privileges of the Church a valuable consideration, fully adequate to any amount of personal interest, labor or service devoted or consecrated by any individual; We therefore covenant and agree, In conformity with an established and well known principle of the Church, that no person whatever, under its care and protection, can be employed for wages of any kind, on his or her individual account; and that no ground is or can be afforded for the recovery of any property or service devoted or consecrated as aforesaid: And it is also agreed, that in case of the removal of any member or members from one family, society or branch of the Church to another, his, her or their previous signature or signatures to the Church or family Covenant from whence such member or members shall have removed, shall forever bar all claims which are incompatible with the true intent and meaning of this Covenant, in the same manner as if such removal had not taken place: yet all who shall so remain, in union with, the authority aforesaid, shall be entitled to all the benefits and privileges of the family or order in which they shall then be placed, so long as they shall conform to the rules and regulations of the same.

Article VII. Dedication & Release.

According to the faith of the gospel which we have received, and agreeable to the uniform practice of the Church of Christ, from its first establishment in this Society, We covenant and agree to dedicate, devote, consecrate and give up, and by this Covenant we do, solemnly and conscientiously, dedicate, devote, consecrate and give up ourselves and services, together with all our temporal interest, to the service of God, and the support and benefit of the Church of this community to which we are united, and to such other pious and charitable purposes as the gospel may require, to be under the care and direction of such.'Elders, Deacons and Trustees as are, or may be established in the Church by the authority aforesaid.


Whereas, in pursuance of the requirements of the gospel, and in the full exercise of our faith, reason and understanding, we have freely and voluntary sacrificed all self- interest, and consecrated and devoted our persons, services and property, as aforesaid, to the pious and benevolent purposes of the gospel: Therefore, we do hereby solemnly and conscientiously, unitedly and individually, for ourselves, our heirs and assigns, release and quitclaim, to the Deacons or acting "Trustees of the Church, for the time being, for the uses and purposes aforesaid, all our private personal right, title, interest, claim and demand of, in and to the estate, interest, property and appurtenances, so consecrated, devoted and given up: And we hereby jointly and 'severally promise and declare, in the presence of God, and before these Witnesses, That we will never hereafter, neither directly nor indirectly, under any circumstances whatever, contrary to the stipulations of this Covenant, make nor require any account of any interest, property, labor or service, nor any division thereof, which is, has been, or may be devoted by us, or any of us, to the uses and purposes aforesaid; nor bring any charge of debt or damage, nor hold any claim nor demand whatever, against the said Deacons or Trustees, nor against tbe Church nor Society, nor against any member thereof, on account of any property, or service given, rendered, devoted or consecrated to the aforesaid sacred and charitable purposes. In confirmation of all the aforesaid statements, covenants, promises and articles of agreement, we have hereunto subscribed our names and affixed our seals, commencing on this twenty-fifth day of December in the year of our Lord and Saviour one thousand eight hundred and thirty.