HISTORY and TIMES of THE KINGDOM
Sectarian communities are very largely the expression of a single man's personality, More especially in the early days of their history they reflect his ideas, beliefs and wishes. As his influence loses in power the communities change, new concepts enter into the thinking of the group and sometimes there is little in the late history to remind one of beginning days.
This is true of the community of Shiloh, Maine which flourished for a short period in the beginning of the present (20th, Ed.) century. In order, therefore to understand this sectarian community one must get a picture of its founder Mr. Frank W. Sandford.
Mr. Sandford was born in Bowdoinham Me, October 2, 1863. After his education in the rural schools of his native town he started teaching at the age of sixteen. At eighteen he entered the fitting school at Lewiston, Maine and later entered Bates College in the same town. During his college days he gained considerable reputation as a catcher on the college baseball team and even received offers from the big leagues to enter professional baseball, but he turned these considerations aside as he had determined to enter the ministry. He graduated when he was twenty four and entered Cobb Divinity School, then a part of Bates College the following autumn.
While he was in the theological school he began his first pastorate in the town of Topsham, Maine where he was ordained as a Free Baptist clergyman. He remained there three years. In 1890 he became pastor of a Baptist church at Great Falls, New Hampshire, where he again stayed for three years. He was successful in both of these pastorates but became dissatisfied with the type of Christianity in denominational life.
In 1890-91 Mr. Sandford made a trip around the world with another pastor Rev. T. H. Stacy, then of Auburn, Me. As they visited the various mission fields in foreign countries Mr. Sandford felt that there was no hope of making progress in world evangelization by present methods. He felt that he should dedicate himself to the purpose of speedy evangelization of the world on "Apostolic Principles".
His dissatisfaction with denominational life expressed in the following words: "My experience in denominational work taught me that the denominations were not living the Bible as Christ and apostles and early church taught and lived it. Instead of living 'holy lives' they sneered at those who did; instead of Pentecost's they had 'fairs', 'festivals', and 'frolics' more silly and not half as entertaining as theaters. They had eloquent preaching about Paul's heroism in going to the neglected and seldom never went and did likewise. They filled the air with rhetorical fireworks about Christ preaching to the poor but continued selling their pews to the highest bidder. They were very enthusiastic over 'faith' but sneered at the 'prayer of the faith' which God's word declared 'should save the sick', James 5:14-17. They said 'the days of miracles are over' though Christ said, 'these signs shall follow them that believe (not the apostle but them that believe); they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover'. Mark 16:17-18. Some preachers even go so low as to declare publicly that they were glad of the different denominations because this man could thus find a satisfactory faith for himself, while God's word rang out, 'I
beseech you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together, in the same mind and in the same judgment' I Cor. 1:10. Over 147 sects gave the lie to Paul's statement in I Cor. 11:18-19 that 'divisions' or 'sects in the church were heresies', and that God had tempered the body (which is the church) together that there be no schism or division. 1 Cor. 12:24,25.
'Preaching about the earth's being' filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord was all right as a theory; but the church did not expect it during its own generation, and hence, of course according to its faith, would never arrive at that glorious stage. In fact, the word 'church' was not a synonym for strict integrity, a holy life, burning zeal for a lost world and worldwide evangelization; but to most ungodly men suggested a profession 'covering a spirit at heart just as worldly as their own'. p 127
Towards the end of his three year pastorate in Great Falls Sandford felt that the time had come for him to leave 'every form of Christian work that was not absolutely Biblical on each and every point' and he therefore resigned his pastorate Jan. 1, 1893.
The first year was spent in evangelistic work in his home town Bowdoinham, Maine. Meetings were held in "kitchens, schoolhouses, closed churches, etc.". About 150 people professed conversion. No collections were ever taken, but as Sandford expressed it, "We simply preached the gospel, seeking not what we should eat, drink or wear, but rather the Kingdom and righteousness of God". After four and a half years of this life Mr. Sandford affirmed that he had never wanted a single meal nor intentionally ran into debt.
On the 30th of September, 1893, a convention was called for the purpose of forming a simple evangelistic organization. The following statement outlines the preamble and constitution.
"Believing the speedy evangelization of the world to be the Master's most important movement in hastening His coming, and further, believing work undertaken with this object in view should be conducted the undersigned, do hereby band ourselves on apostolic principles and methods as set forth in the scriptures, we, the undersigned, do hereby band ourselves in prayer and labor to constitute an organization, and we adopt the following constitution:
Sandford later outlined this beginning more clearly:
"The Scriptures are the constitution and by-laws which are never to be altered or amended; the Lord Jesus Christ the Head; the Holy Ghost, the personal Director who takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us, controlling the movement as He did the apostles of old in every particular. Twelve humble Christians signed the constitution, and no attempt has ever been made to increase the original number of members, but rather to put in operation the principles then adopted. This, to my mind, is one of the most apostolic parts of the movement. They had no display of membership, neither badges nor buttons to show what organization they belonged to in the early church. God attended to the part connected with public advertisement, and instead of hanging a dollar and a half cross about their necks permitted them to be cast into prisons where the quality of the cross was tested. So today, he does not want outside paraphernalia but 'truth in the inward parts' ". p.137
Immediately after the start, these crusaders started to evangelize the State of Maine. Six tents were donated and campaigns were started in various parts of the state with the result that a number of people professed conversion. After some months of this activity, Sandford felt that he was called to start a Bible school and although he had no money to rent rooms, he announced his purpose early in October 1895.
He started in the Town of Brunswick with one pupil, but before long eight more were added. The school moved about from place to place and finally located in a farmhouse in Durham, Maine. While in prayer one day, Mr. Sandford felt that he had been commissioned to erect a building for the Bible School on a sand hill about an eighth of a mile distant.
Accordingly on the 31st of March 1896 Sandford with six others started digging on the bleak and barren hilltop. He was, of course, the object of much ridicule, as he had no money, but he continued his work believing that God was in back of his purpose. Although the building was on a sand hill, special emphasis was laid on the fact that the excavators "dug deep" and laid the foundation on solid ground.
The undertaking received widespread publicity and there interest and favorable comment as well as ridicule. It was especially emphasized that no collections were taken at meetings nor were any contributions solicited. From the beginning days of Shiloh's history "Owe no man anything" was one of the fundamental points of doctrine. Sandford's ideas about collections are expressed in the following words: "We do not believe that Christ, after his sermon on the mount said, 'Peter and John will not pass the hat for collection'. Following unhesitatingly in the footsteps of the Great Apostle and of the twelve we never take collections." p.125
It was early taught that the students should "forsake all" and live a "life of faith". The idea of not taking collections was really a corollary to this conception of this new life. Money for the building began to come in from interested parties and the students were directed to pray for the supply of the various needs as they arose, but never to make personal appeals for funds.
Belief in an imminent God who takes vital interest in the affairs of men, dominated the founder and hence his fellows. If after prayer it was felt that a particular step should be taken (as for instance the commencement of digging without money in sight of the building( Sandford would invariably go ahead believing that eventually the means would be provided for the completion of the task under consideration. It was in this manner that the building was erected. There were times when it seemed that these builders would be disappointed but in some way or other money was always forthcoming when it was needed. The building was completed in 1897.
The following page gives a picture of the completed building with the "gospel barge". A picture of the founder and his wife are on the opposite side of the page with a statement of the early purpose of the community
The building was ideally situated from the standpoint of isolation. Located in a rural district a mile and a half from the nearest railroad station the students were much more separate from t he "world" by environmental circumstances than the inhabitants of many converts or monasteries. From the hilltop a marvelous view could be obtained of the surrounding country. The following quotation accurately describes the picturesque panorama spread before the sightseer. "The prospect from the building is glorious, commanding a view nearly two score of towns, several counties and the White Mountains". p.125 Sections of the landscape as far as the eye could see were still quite heavily wooded having escaped the ruthless stroke of the woodsman's axe. Evergreen trees predominated, but there was a large mixture of deciduous trees. In the first days of autumn when the leaves began to fall, these wooded sections presented a riot of color shading from bright red to dull green which defies description.
The railroad station, Lisbon Falls, is a small town of about 3000. The next largest town of Brunswick, famous for its location of Bowdoin College, is about eight miles distance. The twin cities of Auburn and Lewiston lie to the northward about fifteen miles and Portland, the metropolis of Maine, is about twenty five miles away. The location then, for those who wish to retire from the rush of the busy city street in order to meditate on matters religious, or the founding of a new sect could hardly been better chosen.
Mention has been made of some of the doctrines which were expounded in the early days of the movement. The constitution, as has been stated, was the Bible. Belief in the bible "from cover to cover" was the touchstone of school life. Everything was squared by the one standard of "What saith the scriptures?". Obviously the Bible, or certain parts of it, are capable of, and are interpreted differently by sincere and honest people. This offered no obstacle to these eager searchers after truth. While it was seldom if ever put into concrete form, what was really to be understood in this belief in the literal interpretation of the scriptures was the Bible as interpreted by F. W. Sandford.
Mention was made of the refraining from contracting a debt of any kind and of living a "life of faith". Acceptance of divine healing was also a foundation stone in the structure of beliefs. In the earliest days of the schools history there was a charge of $1.00 a week for board and washing with a requirement of two hours daily labor in the interests of the school but before long this was abolished and communal living became the rule. It was then of course necessary for all to share in the work of maintaining the institution.
The founder felt that it was the mission of this new sect to not only be active in evangelistic work which comprised holding meetings in various localities and personal work with the wayward, but of equal if not greater importance was the function of prayer for the speedy evangelization of the world in preparation for the return of Christ. It will be noted in the accompanying picture that a tower rises from the center of the building. There was a room at the top of this tower, or turret, which was devoted to the pursuance of continual prayer. Students took turns in occupying this room. There were always requests for prayer from various sections of the country as news of the movement spread.
Sandford's spectacular success attracted attention to a marked degree as there were many like him who were dissatisfied with denominational Christianity. Applications to enter the Bible School came from distance parts of the nation and even from foreign countries. Consequently it was not long before another building program was underway.
At a short distance form the first structure, a brick building was erected in the interests of the sick. Those who were suffering from some ailment could find quiet surroundings where they could receive a ministry of prayer. Another building of stone about equidistant from the other two was erected in the interests of the children. While the school was first started for single men and women, families became interested and desired to come, some for the purpose of getting training for missionary work, others desiring an unpolluted atmosphere in which to rear their children.
The major building operation, however, was called "The Extension". It was a huge wooden structure built in the form of a hollow square with the original building forming the front and the new building forming the wings, sides and back. It was supposed, when completed, to house 1000 students, and was reputed to be the largest Bible School structure in the world. Although the outside of the building was finished the interior was never finished due to a lack of funds and declining interest in the organization. Part of the interior, however, was made habitable, although only a very small section of it was ever adequately finished. As families came to the institution they moved into the extension of lived in the farm house from which the students started when they first began digging for the original building.
The influx of new students was largely the result of wide spread interest through newspaper publicity and also from what might be termed "proselytizing tours". On one of these tours Sandford, with a few followers, went to the Pacific coast, stopped at various cities to hold meetings, and tell of the work in Maine.
The situation in Tacoma, Washington where the writer was then living as a boy, gives an idea of circumstances which served to swell the numbers of the colony on the hill. One of the ministers in Tacoma, like Mr. Sandford, had been dissatisfied with denominational Christianity and had resigned his pastorate and started a mission. This move attracted kindred spirits, and soon there were eighty or one hundred people gathered under this new leader. When Sandford came west the situation was ripe for his purpose and the members of the mission almost to a man returned to Shiloh.
They did not all return at once. Sixty or seventy returned with evangelists from Shiloh, but some of the original Shiloh people stayed to found a branch Bible School in Tacoma. More people became interested and later, this Bible School, with the new members, returned to the east. Processes similar to this were repeated in different parts of the country and in England. Bible schools were also established in Alexandria, Egypt, Jaffa, Palestine and Jerusalem Palestine. No permanent residents however, returned to Shiloh from these latter evangelistic campaigns.
As the movement grew there was a noticeable change in doctrinal beliefs. The leader informed the public that he had been commissioned to do a special work. The Messianic hope was made to include Sandford as Elijah or forerunner of the Coming King. There were some who doubted this new turn of events but most of the group followed with little protest. This aspect was not of course the first development of that kind in religious movements many others had conceived the same notion of their role among whom were Dowie of Zion City fame.
Sandford kept up his vigorous attack on churches and denominationalism in general, which of course aroused bitter antagonism. Another feature which created much opposition was the idea of separation. An attempt was made to put a literal interpretation on Christ's command, "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:33 With this passage there was coupled another which further defined the terms of discipleship: "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my names sake shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life". Matt. 19:29.
The leader plainly said the community was only for the "hundredfold", i.e., those who had forsaken all, "others could go elsewhere, but paradoxical as it may seem, any who desired to go elsewhere were doomed to perdition. Those who lived for awhile at Shiloh and then came to the conclusion that they honestly differed with the community and desired to move were frankly called "traitors" and treated as such.
This doctrine of discipleship and separation was carried to the extent that sons and daughters who were members of the colony refused to have correspondence with parents who objected to their religious views. Likewise parents were supposed to refrain from corresponding with children who were not in sympathy with their parents' religious conviction. This of course could only be maintained by an almost fanatical zeal in the pursuit of an objective. Such statements and attitudes were bound to create misunderstandings, bitterness and hatred, but to Sandford and the community this was only an evidence that they were on the right track, for was not Christ and his disciples persecuted?
In spite of the opposition interest increased and people still were attracted to the sand hill. Mr. Sandford unquestionably combined many of the qualities of leadership. He had foresight, was a dynamic speaker, a good organizer, could bide his time on a particular issue then act quickly and decisively. Probably one of his most dramatic qualities was his fearless and uncompromising stand for what he believed to be right.
The idea of all things in common was strictly adhered to. There was a communal dining room in the large Extension with dining room in the other buildings. All were supposed to assist in the performance of various tasks about the community.
The moral standard, or relation between the sexes, was very strict. Celibacy was not held up as an ideal or especially desirable but nothing approaching undue familiarity was countenanced. Courting, in the general sense, was not allowed, but students who met daily at their tasks or in the chapel service had a much better chance to get acquainted then the young men and women of today who only see each other when they are prepared for the occasion. Whatever else may be said about doctrines, or beliefs no one can ever truthfully intimate that relations between the sexes were not on the highest plane. Those who became interested in each other with the idea of marriage could make their desires known to some of the elders and if it was felt advisable, arrangements would be made for the interested parties to see each other, which usually resulted in marriage.
The accompanying map gives an idea of the main buildings previously mentioned. The arrow shape in front of the main building was a terrace. The bow was also a terrace, that is, the grounds about the main building were laid out in this fashion. All of this was supposed to have religious significance.
About 1904 Sandford conceived the idea of the community enlarging and eventually occupying the township of Durham which contains about twenty five square miles. He felt that Shiloh was a special place prepared to protect true Christians in days of persecution which were to come. There was a marked change in the attitude of community members towards the townspeople. The men of Shiloh went to one of the town meetings and nominated and elected a member of the colony to the school board, something unthought of in the early days. About this time Shiloh was incorporated under the name of "The Kingdom".
It is to be remembered that a monthly paper was published at Shiloh giving information to interested parties regarding various phases of community life or of new doctrines. The first of three periodicals, "The Tongues of Fire" has been previously mentioned. Following this was another paper entitled "The Everlasting Gospel". The third and final publication was called "The Glad Tidings of the Kingdom". These changes of name were indicative of the changing aspect of the community.
An active campaign was inaugurated with the object of buying farms. Shiloh was now recommended to religiously minded people as a very desirable place to rear children as they would be safe from the contaminating influences of the "world". This was all to true, the result being that many of the children who were born in the community later took it upon themselves to go out and get first hand knowledge of this thing called "the world" with resulting disorganization of personality.
Many parents were attracted by this appeal and a number sold their farms, moved to Shiloh, and turned in all of their possessions. With this money, farms were bought in the Town of Durham and Shiloh spread out in a fashion never dreamed of by the early students. World evangelization was still the keynote, but their tones were added which gave the aspect of a pleasing chord. The Bible School with its uncompromising attitude of self denial had merged into "The Kingdom" which implied at some future time regal splendor.
Some mention should be made of the schools. The earlier days found some families on the hill top and provision was made to educate the children in the community for it was unthinkable to allow them to mingle with the "outsiders" in the nearby rural school. Some of the Bible School students had taught before coming to Shiloh and they of course were willing to give their services.
The first schools were of elementary and grammar grades but a high school was later added. It, however, was a high school in name only as it did not compare favorably with the ordinary city high school or a university which would some day be a part of the educational system. This plan, however, was doomed to failure.
In the earliest days of the movement Sandford had felt that some day there was to be an ocean liner to carry missionaries to foreign fields and now that other projects were on foot it seemed that the time had come to make a beginning on the water. The first boat to be purchased was a twenty five foot launch named the Overcomer. It was to be used to catty evangelists among the coastal islands of Maine. The came the schooner yacht Wanderer, a vessel about 120 feet in length. She was hardly fit for sea voyages and was used on coastal trips along New England. The next purchase was the schooner yacht Coronet. A beautiful, trim, seagoing yacht. Two more vessels followed later, as auxiliary steam brigantine, the Barracouta and a merchant barkentine which was converted into a yacht and named the Kingdom. This last vessel was the largest of any of the fleet being about 400 tons displacement, the smaller ones being about 150 tons.
Trips were made to Palestine and the Coronet eventually sailed around the world. All of the trips were ostensibly made in the interests of world evangelization. Sandford was of course gone much of the time and the community was left in the hands of others, who, as is usual in such cases, did not have the qualities of leadership that he possessed. There was consequently a decline in the tone of the colony. When he returned from those various trips he tried to inject new life into the community but there were only temporary results.
One of his sea voyage plans miscarried and there was not enough provisions for the crew. Some of them died of scurvy. When the vessel reached port Sandford was indicted for manslaughter and sentenced to serve a term in Atlanta penitentiary. When he returned from his incarceration the community was but a shadow of its former self. Many had left, people were insufficiently fed, and there was a general dissatisfaction.
In 1920 Sandford gave orders for the colony to disband. Most of the people were able to find work in nearby cities or accommodation among friends or relatives.
Some Aspects of the Sectarian Community
The foregoing sketch has outlined the rise and brief existence of a sect which, in spite of its influence being felt in foreign lands, is not so well known as the Mormons, Shakers, Quakers, Dowieites and other distinctive groups. Why and how do sects arise? There are various theories regarding this question, among them the following:
While it may not be true that environment creates sects it seems that something can be said for the effect of environmental influence on certain characteristic traits of people in different parts of the world. For instance, could the far famed New England conscience have developed and been maintained under the perennial sunshine and balmy atmosphere of Oahu in the South Seas had the Pilgrim Fathers landed there rather than at Plymouth Rock? We doubt it. So it may not be far fetched to say that the rugged climate of Maine may have had a small part in developing and molding the sectarians at Shiloh.
It is doubtless true that more clearly defined forces are responsible for the phenomena in social interaction as Faris later suggests by those who have split off from existing organizations. . . . . . .
As may be noted, this process is clearly illustrated in the forgoing statements regarding the growth of the colony at Shiloh.
Conflict not only helps to create the sect and give it movement, but also becomes a molding force which instills within the group unity and conscious existence.
The foregoing statement was especially true at Shiloh. Reference has been made to the isolation due to location. It is easy then to propagate the idea that the world was a foe. As a matter of fact, so firmly was this believed, this intangible opponent assumed the characteristics of a personal devil and for a member to be told he or she was 'worldly' was about the last word in condemnation. This compactness literally created a "separate vocabulary" so that young children talked in terms of "outsiders", worldly men", "flesh pots", etc.
It is plainly apparent that such conditions would produce a type. The members of the community would not wear a distinctive dress, but neighboring farms could easily distinguish members from non-members by their bearing and attitude. Faris explains the production of this type.
People may wonder how a group of differently minded persons could be managed so that they would act as a unit in ways which partake of fanaticism. One of the secrets of united action in a sectarian community is control, which, as Mrs. Chaffee suggests, is characteristic of the religious sectarian groups.
The idea of the divine right of kings never possessed a French peasant in the time of Louis XV and more thoroughly than the sectarians at Shiloh were imbued with the belief that elders, especially the founder, were endowed with "divine authority."
There are still a few people who believe in Sandford's claims to divine inspiration and authority in spite of the fact that the latter days of the movement gave evidence of glaring inconsistencies in many of his statements and many radical departures from fundamental first principles. This phenomenon is apparent in many religious devotees. The ultra-conservatives who get set in a certain rut refuse to consider change regardless of the methods used to point out the essential fallacy of their position.
The farmhouses which were bought in the days of greatest expansion have either been sold or are occupied by former members. As far as the writer knows, the main buildings are unoccupied except for a few caretakers. They are, of course, deteriorating, but still stand outlines against the sky marking the grave yard of buried ambitions and hopes.
1. Faris E. "The Sect and the Sectarian". Pub. American Socialist Society Vol. XXII p.146
2. Ibid p. 152
3. Ibid p. 150
4. Chaffee, Grace E. "Control in an Integrated Social Group". Social Forces Volume (1929) p. 92