Green Acre Baha'i School (2004)
Green Acre Bahá’í School is a conference center for the comparative study of religion. Welcoming people from around the world, of all races and religions, Green Acre offers retreat space for conferences, study, youth institutes, children’s classes, loving fellowship, relaxation, spiritual awakening and renewal. The Sarah Farmer Inn is the main residential meeting and dining area on the 25 acre campus. The third floor of the Inn features a room where ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, stayed during his visit to Green Acre in 1912.
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What is now known as the Green Acre Bahá’í School originally began as a resort hotel. In 1890 Sarah Farmer entered into an agreement with four men to open a resort hotel in Eliot, ME. According to an article that introduced the opening season, the hotel was to offer a “quiet resting place...on the banks of the Piscataqua River, which divides a portion of the State of Maine from New Hampshire.” The article went on to describe, “All who are desirous of spending a quiet summer, and getting the benefits of real country life and fare, are respectfully solicited to communicate with the Eliot Hotel Company....” The great poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who visited the resort, fondly referred to the hotel as “Green Acre.” The hotel soon became known as the Greenacre-on-the-Piscataqua. (1)
In 1892 Sarah envisioned Green Acre becoming a place where people could learn about and practice different philosophies and religions. She traveled to Chicago after the close of the Parliament of the World’s Religions which was held in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition. At the international event she spent time with Vivekananda, a Hindu from Calcutta, and Dharmapala, a Buddhist from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). She ended up inviting them to come speak at Green Acre, beginning the resort’s long history of the study of comparative religions. Moved by what she was learning, Sarah committed Green Acre to the principles of peace and religious unity in 1894. She even had the first known peace flag in the world raised on the hills of Green Acre.
Bahiyyih Winckler, a woman who played a large role in Green Acre’s development as a Bahá’í institution and who researched and accounted the life of Sarah Farmer, describes that Sarah not only invited speakers from varying backgrounds to Green Acre, but she also encouraged visitors to listen to the speakers without preconceptions. Winkler writes,
"Gradually, by sheer force of personality and persistence Miss Farmer established an attitude which anyone should have who called himself a good “Greenacrite”; he would throw off sectarian feeling and listen with respectful attention and with open mind to doctrines even when he thought he might never accept them as his own....The customs of all lands were courteously considered even when they seemed far-fetched. Also a good “Greenacrite” would not hesitate to take part in the ceremonies of an alien Faith. Thus it was that the conservative Maine people looked with amusement upon some of the things that they saw at Green Acre! As an extreme example: some evenings the guests gathered arrayed in white, each person carrying a bunch of flowers and a lighted candle lantern. Headed by Dharmapala dressed in his orange robe and yellow shoes, they walked up the Green Acre road to the pines, about half a mile [where]...the Buddhist priest would sit cross-legged meditating and talking on the Eight-Fold Path of Buddha." (2)
In 1896 the Monsalvat School for the Study of Comparative Religion was created at Green Acre. The first decade of Green Acre hosted many well-known visitors from writers, editors and publishers to educators, actors, photographers, and of course, religious leaders. A handful of these highly respected people included W.E.B. DuBois, Swami Vivekananda, Booker T. Washington, Mary Hanford Ford, Jacob Riis, Anagaria H. Dharmapala, Sara Bull, Joseph Jefferson, Rabbi Joseph Silverman, Jan De Groff Thompson, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, and John Greenleaf Whittier.
In 1900 Sarah joined a couple of her friends in their journey ‘Akká to visit ‘Abdul’-Bahá, son of Bahá’u’lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. Sarah established a strong bond with ‘Abdul’-Bahá, which changed her life and that of Green Acre’s. Sarah came back to Green Acre invigorated and began the 1901 summer session with an emphasis on the Bahá’í Faith. While programs abounded, they were met with some opposition. Some felt that Sarah had betrayed Green Acre by coming a Bahá’í and proceeded to vandalize the property, trying to prevent Green Acre’s operation. During this time, ‘Abdul’-Bahá wrote letters of consolation to Sarah, saying that while “opposition will wax fierce” and “people will arise to oppression,” she should not become discouraged for “opposition shall surely pass away...and the lights of the Covenant shall shine forth. At that time your value shall appear among the nations of the world and tribes and people will arise to praise you....” (3)
One of the great defining moments in the history of Green Acre is that ‘Abdul’-Bahá actually came to visit in 1912, a distinction that no other Bahá’í school in the world has. When ‘Abdul’-Bahá visited the site of Monsalvat, the location designated for the study of comparative religions, he envisioned that the land near it would be the site of the first Bahá’í University and the second Bahá’í Temple in the United States. (4)
At this point in her life, Sarah Farmer turned ill and was living in a private sanatorium. By the summer of 1913, it was thought that the summer program at Green Acre would no longer take place. However, a group made up primarily of Bahá’ís took the initiative to schedule the programs. Some people feared that Green Acre would become a Bahá’í institution. A lawsuit was filed, but the Maine Supreme Court decided in favor of a new board of directors, which consisted of six Bahá’ís. This led the way to Green Acre becoming a prominent place in the Bahá’í Faith.
In 1925 Green Acre hosted the seventeenth Annual Bahá’í convention. During the convention, the first National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada was elected. Later that year, the first Local Spiritual Assembly in Eliot was elected. Throughout the rest of the 1920s and the 1930s, Bahá’í classes continued to be taught at Green Acre. The institution was renamed as “Green Acre Bahá’í School” in 1941.
With its many classes and programs, Green Acre continues the vision of Sarah Farmer and the beliefs of the Bahá’í Faith. The school primarily focuses on the establishment of world peace, the equality of women and men, racial unity, and spiritual transformation.
1 Atkinson, Anne Gordon, et al. Green Acre on the Piscataqua: A Centennial Celebration. Eliot, ME: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, 1991. p.9-11
2 Ibid., 17.
3 Ibid., 39.
4 Ibid., 53.