Tag Archives: quakers

Sunday Morning Worship With Quakers in Costa Rica

I sit in complete silence for forty-five minutes, as do the ninety people all around me. It’s Sunday morning in Monteverde Costa Rica and I am attending a Quaker meeting. We are comfortably settled on hand crafted wooden benches arranged in a circle. Our spacious timber frame meeting place has a soaring ceiling. The huge windows give us a full view of the trees and  plants of the cloud forest surrounding us. The wind breathes in and out in mighty gusts and rain spatters the glass.

forest costa ricaThat’s probably why Joy is Like the Rain is the first hymn suggested during the singing session prior to our contemplation. People simply call out a song title and we sing. Tis a Gift to Be Simple, Kumbayah, The Prayer of St. Francis, Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah and Everyone Neath Their Vine and Fig Tree. All are familiar tunes I’ve sung many times in my own Mennonite faith community.

After thirty minutes of singing our hymnbooks are collected and the silence begins without announcement or introduction. Some people close their eyes, some read their Bibles, some sit with their hands open palms up in front of them, while other fold their hands and bow their heads.

I begin by praying. It is lovely and peaceful not to feel like I have to hurry through my prayers, but to let my thoughts flow freely as I bring concerns and joys into mind and before God.

IMG_2307And then I try to empty my mind, like I’ve read one should do when you meditate. I try to concentrate on my breath and the wind, the rustling of the leaves, the creaking of the tree branches.

After forty- five minutes the silence ends when a woman gets up to speak. She talks about a Quaker high school in Cuba closed by the government after the revolution.    Now with relations thawing between Cuba and the United States, they’ve been given permission to commence classes again. The woman speaking has friends in the Cuban Quaker community and asks for support and prayer as they get ready to reopen the doors of their school.

A woman with ruddy cheeks, silver earrings and white hair rises next to talk about the strong winds blowing in Monteverde. It has reminded her that the wind is the earth’s breath and that all the air on our planet has been here since creation. We share the air we breathe with every living thing past and present. She suggests that when we feel chaotic or conflicted we just sit and breathe and receive positive energy from all the living things around us. Our very breath connects us to them.

The children have been meeting separately, the older ones return halfway through our time of silence and the younger children fifteen minutes later. Their teachers get up now and explain that the younger children have been learning how to be silent in meaningful ways. They have practiced meditating using a pebble and meditating by drawing pictures of objects in nature. The older children have been talking about how hard it is to voice your opinion when it is different from the opinions of most people around you.

Announcements come next about opportunities to join together in the coming weeks for square dancing, Shakespeare readings, book clubs, coffee houses and listening to activist students share their ideas for improving life in Costa Rica. Things to celebrate about the Quaker school in Monte Verde are listed and the congregation responds by waving their hands in the air instead of clapping.

Then visitors from Quaker meetings around the United States and from as far away as Cambridge, England introduce themselves. We introduce ourselves too.

The meeting ends with everyone shaking hands and blessing each other with a message of peace, a word of welcome or a wish for a good day.

I didn’t expect that attending a Quaker meeting for the very first time would be part of my travels in Costa Rica but I’m very glad it was. There are so many ways people of different faiths and denominations choose to worship and communicate with the Divine. Exploring their infinite variety is enriching both personally and spiritually.

Other posts……

Visiting a Quaker School in Costa Rica

Eight Tone Bells and A Choir Director From Winnipeg

A Tiny Church

Opposite Profound Truths





Filed under Costa Rica, Religion

Visiting a Quaker School in Costa Rica

Our house in the foreground is Fig House. Our host Risë who teaches at the Quaker School lives in the blue house behind us.

Our house in the foreground is Fig House. Our host Risë who teaches at the Quaker School lives in the blue house behind us.

It’s sports day at the Friends School run by the local Quaker community in Monteverde Costa Rica and we’re invited.  The woman who is in charge of the house we are renting in Montverde is a third and fourth grade teacher at a Quaker School in this community situated high up in the hills at the end of a long winding thirty kilometre rocky gravel road .    

Dave watches soccer at the Friends School Sports Day

Dave watches soccer at the Friends School Sports Day

Risë, our landlord invited us to her Friends School sports day on Saturday which was more like a school picnic and she also invited us to tour the school on Tuesday morning with Ric, her principal.  sports day quaker schoolBoth were great experiences for former educators like us always interested in what education looks like in different places. 

The sign over the door of the Friends School in Monteverde makes their peace position clear

The sign’ War is Not the Answer’ over the door of the Friends School in Monteverde makes their peace position clear

Eleven Quaker families came to Monteverde in 1951 from Alabama after four young men from their community had been jailed for refusing to serve in the Korean War. They were looking for a peaceful place to live. The isolated community of Monteverde in Costa Rica, a country which had abolished its army, seemed perfect.  

Monteverde Cheese Factory founded by the Quakers. We stopped there to buy cheese and icecream.

Monteverde Cheese Factory founded by the Quakers. We stopped there to buy cheese and ice cream.

The Quaker families set up dairy farms which led to the opening of the Monteverde Cheese Factory which is still in business today.  

Main building of the Friends School

Main building of the Friends School

They opened the Friends School in 1957 as a place where their own children and local Costa Rican children could receive an education in both Spanish and English.  Today the school has 120 students.  The majority are local Costa Rican children whose tuition is subsidised.

Typical classroom at the school with lots of windows open to the forest surrounding the school. Bird cutouts on the windows prevent the many birds in the surrounding woods from being injured.

Typical classroom at the school with lots of windows open to the forested setting. Bird cutouts on the windows prevent the many birds in the surrounding woods from being injured.

Classes are capped at 16 and while the school has written its own curriculum it meets all Costa Rican standards and affords children the kind of education that allows them to enter North American universities. For the lower grades classes are  billingual while older students take core subjects in English and others in Spanish.

Sports day participants doing yoga

Sports day participants doing yoga

The Sports Day on Saturday was a real community event more like a school picnic with a non-stop schedule of activities including yoga class in the school auditorium which  doubles as the Quaker Community Church on Sunday.

Kids on the trampoline at Sports Day.

Kids on the trampoline at Sports Day.

There was a trampoline, face painting, crafts and stories for younger children. There were fun volleyball, soccer, ultimate and basketball games. There was yoga class, zumba class and massage. 

Dave chooses his lunch items prepared by parents.

Dave chooses his lunch items.

Parents and other volunteers had prepared all kinds of great food for the sports day.

meal quaker school Our payment for the meal went to support the school’s scholarship program which makes it possible for local kids whose families may not be able to afford the school’s tuition which is several thousand dollars a year.

Solar panels on the classroom roof.

Solar panels on the school roof.

On our tour of the school on Monday we attended a school assembly which involved games and cooperative activities. Then Ric one of the school’s co-directors took us around the school. He told us the school is very aware of leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible. They want to teach their students to care for the environment. At the end of the school day kids help with clean up and sort and weigh all trash.solar oven garden quaker schoolThere is a greenhouse where plants are started for landscaping the grounds.  Lunches are heated in the solar oven. A volunteer will arrive shortly to do a transportation survey looking at ways that the school can reduce its carbon footprint by coordinating travel arrangements for students. labeled plants at quaker schoolThe plants on the school grounds are labeled for teaching purposes. library quaker school monteverdeThere is a large library open to the public and maintained by a committee of volunteers.   inside library monteverdeThe interior of the library was full of light and we saw several volunteers working with individual children. The school warmly welcomes volunteers, especially former teachers. They have many who come to the school regularly often for several weeks or months at a time. classrooms at quaker schoolWe had a chance to chat with several of the teachers on our tour about the possibility of volunteering and it is certainly something that would be very appealing in the future. 

Other posts…..

The Runaway Bay Resource Centre

Kornelson School

Visiting Hopi Mission School

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Filed under Costa Rica, Education