National Spiritual Alliance remains rooted in Lake Pleasant
LAKE PLEASANT — Modern spiritualism built this spot from a popular campsite to a thriving village, for a time.
While no longer a community of spiritualists, the village is still home to the National Spiritual Alliance, which this year celebrates 100 years of existence, a landmark prompting members to remember the religion’s heyday and imagine its future.
What became the village grew from the New England Campmeeting Spiritualist Association, established here in 1874.
The National Spiritual Alliance split from its parent organization in 1913 over the question of reincarnation: members of the fledgling religious institution believed in it, those of the original did not.
While the offshoot has survived its parent — dissolved in 1976 due to declining membership and the loss of its temple during an arson spree — The National Spiritual Alliance has also declined significantly.
“Back in the 1950s, 1940s, we had about 250 charter churches throughout the United States and about 350 ministers, about 10,000 members nationwide, that dwindled significantly down through the ’80s and early ’90s so that now we have one charter church in Keene, N.H., one hopefully starting in Albany, N.Y., we have about 30 ministers in good standing,” said the Rev. John Midura.
Midura is a former Catholic priest and current president of the board of directors of the National Spiritual Alliance, which is based in Lake Pleasant but once functioned as the governing institution of the main member churches.
Today, Midura estimates the Lake Pleasant congregation numbers about 60, and only one is a resident of the tiny Montague village. Midura himself drives from Adams for services and workshops, although services are led by a revolving schedule of moderators and reverends.
“I think the decline in religious and church activity in general, spiritualists aren’t immune to that it’s happened to many, many other denominations,” Midura said. “There’s people who think Lake Pleasant can return to a community of what it once was, and we have folks who come in here for our Sunday services hoping that we can go back to having 100 people or so here during a service, and that’s not just going to happen anymore.”
While Lake Pleasant’s heyday as a spiritualist community may have definitively passed, Midura sees hope in the popularity of supernatural reality TV shows and hopes to return to the Alliance’s roots as a hub for far-flung ministries, rather than concentrating on the village. That ship has sailed, and Midura and David James, the last Lake Pleasant spiritualist, cite real estate policy.
Unlike the two remaining spiritualist communities in New York and Florida, Lake Pleasant’s spiritualist institutions didn’t control the purchase and sale of land, so what began as tent plots for summertime camp meetings and became cabins and houses were eventually sold to non-spiritualists.
James, himself a relative newcomer, lives in the former home of Louise Shattuck, with whom he collaborated on “Spirit and Spa,” a history of the community she remembered as a child and summertime resident of one of the original tents.
Sunday’s service draws seven, a number quickly reduced to six, apparently, by the presence of a photographer.
Andrea Krawczyk of South Deerfield leads the service as moderator, asking the small congregation to stand or be seated for songs from a hymnal containing some lyrics obviously unique to the religion and some from elsewhere, such as the Christian staple “Amazing Grace.”
There is no Bible or similar central text, but Krawczyk leads the congregation in a repetition of the Alliance’s seven principles in a fashion reminiscent of the Catholic profession of faith.
The strain of modern spiritualism practiced by the Alliance is theistic, reincarnationist and prominently features communication with the dead.
“Our basic goal is to try to provide comfort for people whose loved ones have left them,” Midura said.
The regular Sunday service includes messages from beyond. Midura variously advises attendees to conduct genealogical research regarding a child dead of influenza, find a Civil War soldier’s button possibly still in the family, absorb moonlight or sit against a large tree.