A Space for Peace: An Interview with Francisco Burgos

By Interviewed by Gabriel Ertsgaard

Francisco Burgos is Executive Director of Pendle Hill, a Quaker study and retreat center in Pennsylvania, where he previously served as Director of Education. Prior to joining Pendle Hill, he was Director of the Center for Community Initiatives at the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica. From 2012 to 2015 he was Head of School at Monteverde Friends School in Costa Rica. He also served with the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. and the American Friends Service Committee in Baltimore, Maryland. Burgos has an M.A. in Sustainable Development from The School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, and a Doctor of Education from Universidad de La Salle in Costa Rica.

GE: Could you tell us about the mission and history of Pendle Hill, as well as your role there?

FB: Pendle Hill was founded during the Great Depression (in 1930) to provide an educational platform for Friends and seekers. Our founders wanted to create some space for renewal and transformation in an academic setting, but without being an accredited setting. That vision allowed to first generation of Pendle Hillers to embrace the monastic tradition of worship, working together, and building community with a Quaker lens. We were an institution that wanted to incorporate and represent the many branches within Quakerism, while at the same time being open to the world. This was a very welcoming community that invited people to discern what their vocation was in the world.

By the time I joined Pendle Hill as Director of Education in 2017, we no longer had a residential student program. (I became Executive Director during the pandemic, and until recently served in dual director roles.) At that time, my job was to figure out how to bring back transformative programs, but through short-term courses: a week, a weekend, a day. And we needed to leave space for the exploration of art and spirituality, for peace studies and social action.

GE: What did you learn about Pendle Hill during the process of renewing your educational offerings?

FB: Within that process, one of the first things that we did was identify our roots. We realized that there were several pillars that have always been within us. I can name a few of them: 

(1) The strong sense of community. Every offering, whether art focused or spiritual activism focused, is an invitation to the people who decide to join us. That sense of community works in two ways: first, the inner community created within the program itself, and second, the impact that participants are able to have in their own local communities.

(2) How our programs connect to the world today. As our history shows, we have always made the effort to respond to our social reality through a faithful lens. That is, we try to listen to the inner voice in order to respond with creativity and intentionality to those social realities that are in need of transformation.

(3) The inner work that each individual needs to do. There is always a dance between what I am called to do for my own transformation and the support I can give to the communal transformation that is necessary today. One cannot happen without the other, so we also want to create a space for that personal self-work.

GE: What role does peace education, specifically, play in your programming?

FB:  In the areas of peace and social justice, our main focus has been on programs that offer nonviolence training. A good example is the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). We have been a host of AVP for many, many years. During the pandemic, we have had to think about how to offer this as a hybrid experience into the future. We also offer programs that explore how to conceptualize peace beyond the absence of violence. This involves conceptualizing peace as putting love into action. This involves conceptualizing peace as a roadmap for justice, including environmental justice. Our exercise of nonviolence has to consider how we’re engaging with creation.

For our First Monday lecture series, we invite a guest lecturer every month. They challenge and provoke us to look at a topic that otherwise we may not be affected by. Those topics explore the many ways we can be more proactive in the work that is required to promote peace and mutual understanding around the globe.

We also offer workshops that allow people to explore ways to protect their communities, to make them more resilient, while promoting mutual understanding. For example, we have integrated programs that look at racial reparations. Dismantling structures of racism is a particular and practical way of welcoming peace within our groups. So far, the offerings we have done under that theme have been fantastic. People have not just committed themselves to going back and engaging with others in their local communities. They have also made financial commitments to make reparation a priority within their personal lives.

GE: How does peace education intersect with your arts offerings?

Many of our arts courses have invited people to the next level by exploring art in a unique way. This involves looking at art as a spiritual expression that speaks deeply about our journeys, both the individual and the shared ones. Within that process, how can we create a space for the beloved community? That requires from us a strong intention for building peace along the way.

When I think about our offerings that explore art and the transformative work of peace and nonviolence, several artists-in-residence come to mind. Their own art exploratory process is a great example of the peace work that we are called to promote and do. Why? The creative process requires that you look over and over at the things you are working on. Peace work has a similar process. How we try to solve conflict is completely different if we remember that this is a moving situation. We need to revisit our work over and over as we look to move forward in the process of conflict transformation.

One day, I went to visit an artist-in-residence, and he had this beautiful painting based on Psalm 129. I thought that the painting was done. The next day, I went to the studio again, and he had completely transformed the entire thing. He explained that his overnight work was a reflection of his own struggle with school shootings, especially violence at the high school where he used to work. He didn’t just want to create an artwork that reflected a passage of scripture, he wanted that passage to reflect the situation in which he was living. Through that, he wanted to promote the sense that peace is possible. This is just one example of the things that I have witnessed during my time at Pendle Hill. And this is how we see that the intersectionality between peace, the arts, and many other layers is very live here.



Gabriel Ertsgaard is the Interviews Editor for The Peace Chronicle. He earned his Doctor of Letters from Drew University with a dissertation on environmental themes in a medieval legend. He previously taught university English courses in the United States and China. His criticism, poetry, and fairy tales have appeared in various print and digital publications.