Built on Faith

Monteverde Friends School staff takes a break from their day to raise a beam together.

More than a decade ago, our Monteverde meetingroom began to feel cramped. Built for worship on Wednesdays and Sundays, the room also served as a space for community and school events, dances, marriages, and memorial meetings. In 2000, plans were approved to enlarge the space, but a lack of agreement delayed the process. Over the next 12 years, several plans—either for expansion or new construction—were proposed. Still, we could not reach unity. It was difficult to think of changing the old meetingroom: every inch of its wood holds the grain of our history.

In 2012, plans suddenly came together. The Building Committee recommended a replacement for our dilapidated kinder (pre-school) building. Then “a single unified plan” was proposed: to construct both a kinder and a new meetinghouse. The meeting body was particularly supportive of a timber frame for the new meetinghouse, largely because we could build it together as a community. (Timber frames are constructed almost exclusively with hand tools, the joinery consisting of splines, mortises, etc., which are secured with hardwood pegs rather than nails, screws, or bolts.) December’s meeting for business approved the construction of the new kinder to begin that month. The meetinghouse construction would begin in January 2013.

By any measure, our projected building schedule looked quixotically compressed. In two and a half months, inexperienced volunteers had to measure, hand cut, and chisel 1,292 joints; make 260 hardwood pegs; and plane, coat, then oil every timber and sub-floor board. The new kinder building had to be completed and the old one dismantled to open up its site. More than 3,000 volunteer hours were needed: an act of faith, indeed. But the schedule was dictated by two unavoidable facts: first, our visiting timber framer, David Hooke, would be leaving in June; second, the rainy season was fast approaching. Somehow, we trusted that we could come together to make it work.

Our total budget for the new meetinghouse was $136,000. We proceeded in stages, continuing only when the money was in hand. A Facebook page (facebook.com/NewMeetingHouseMonteverdeFriends) communicated updates and secured many donations. People donated necessities like cement, rubber gloves, and mallets. Some volunteered their trucks, machinery, or tools. While fundraising, we were sensitive to the needs of the school (Monteverde Friends School), our meeting’s biggest ministry, first raising enough to cover the next year’s financial aid. By early March, our clerk announced we had “enough cash to raise the structure, roof it, and construct the side wall.”

The initial plan for construction—having volunteer assistant instructors and regular working days for those with or without experience—soon evaporated. People of all ages and skill levels simply showed up at any time. Some watched for a few minutes; some stayed for several hours, days, or weeks of work. In all, approximately 200 of us worked on the timbers. David, throughout, was uncannily skillful in fitting particular people to particular tasks.

Shannon McIntyre, another timber framer, soon arrived on site, expressing her initial misgivings: “The budget was tight, the timeline abbreviated . . . I had serious doubts that we could even come close to [our] deadlines.” The Quaker community also expressed concerns but for different reasons: “We want to use our opportunities well and make sure that we don’t lose, but rather deepen, our spiritual rootedness in the midst of these exciting happenings.”

As the days passed—each ending with the gratitude of Quaker silence—we felt increasing evidence of spiritual depth flowing from communal work. Shared chisels, laughter, knowledge, and food often bridged the absence of a shared language. The kinder moved to its beautiful new building right on schedule, and the old building was dismantled.

On March 20 came the final announcement: “Raising tomorrow! ¡Levantado del salon mañana! The raising will be like a Quaker meeting; we will gather quietly, listening carefully.” It now seems miraculous that a rotating crew of approximately 30 untrained volunteers could have succeeded in lifting 400-pound beams into the air, let alone in assembling the parts of the trusses, mid-air, which weighed a total of some 1,200 pounds.

We first worshipped in the new meetinghouse on March 31 with our traditional 5 a.m. Easter-morning gathering. Mist began to drift in, dripping down from the beams of the unroofed and unwalled frame. Beneath the rafters, cuddled under blankets and sleeping bags, we joyfully awaited the sunrise. This had been, as our clerk said, “a spectacular community project.” That it was, but much more: the project had sustained and deepened our spiritual life together.

Click here to access Monteverde Meeting’s full report on the timber frame meetinghouse project.

Kenna Creer Manos

Kenna Creer Manos, a retired academic, is a member of Monteverde Meeting in Costa Rica, where she volunteers at Monteverde Friends School. The rest of the year, she lives in Nova Scotia and attends Halifax Meeting. Her poetry has appeared in many journals.

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