AMovement of Souls Individuals, institutions and communities – from neighbourhood action to International Convention
A DISTINCT PATTERN OF LIFE Stories of community buildingfromall corners of the United Kingdom
POLITICS, PROTESTS – OR PURE AND GOODLY DEEDS? How to contribute to the advancement of society HARTMUT GROSSMANN Dedicated champion of the Faith
A CALL TO HEROISM Youth summoned to fearlessness, consecration and detachment
Welcome to UK Bahá’í This edition of UKBahá’í covers the full range of activities and process- es that have engaged the worldwide Bahá’í community in the past few months, “in the enduring afterglow,” as the Universal House of Justice has described it, “of those memorable events that marked the bicentenary of the Birth of the Blessed Beauty.” There has rarely been a busier time for the community – fromburgeoning activities in neighbourhoods around the UK, through to the election of the Universal House of Justice itself. The activity, hopes and insights of a people on the move, engaged in a global spiritual enterprise, is captured in this issue.
20 POLITICS, PROTESTS – OR PURE AND GOODLY DEEDS? How do Bahá’ís advance society? 22 SOUTH AMERICA TEMPLE BRIDGES TWO ERAS The impact of the Santiago House of Worship 24 UNDERSTANDING, COMMITMENT AND ACTION How ‘Abdu’l-Bahá created a culture for villagers in Iran 26 HARTMUT GROSSMANN Remembering a much-loved champion of the Faith 27 FURTHER READING Essential relationships explored
A unique period in history 4 TO THE BAHÁ’ÍS OF THE WORLD
The 2018 Riḍván message from the Universal House of Justice 8 TWELFTH INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION Joy, purpose and a unique election 11 NATIONAL CONVENTION A call to arise 12 A VIBRANT, MEANINGFUL AND DISTINCT PATTERN OF LIFE Community building around the world 14 A CALL TO HEROISM Youth summoned to action 15 HARNESSING THE ENERGIES OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD A story from Oxfordshire 16 THE COMMUNITY THAT PRAYS TOGETHER STAYS TOGETHER A neighbourhood goes on pilgrimage
17 SUNSHINE ON LEITH
Light shines on an Edinburgh suburb
18 GLIMMERINGS OF
TRANSFORMATION IN CARDIFF Pioneering in Pengam Green
i n t rodu c t i on A Unique Period in History
As humanity emerges from its collective childhood and approaches maturity, the need for a new understanding of the relationships between the individual, the community, and the institutions of society becomes ever more pressing.
T HE INTERDEPENDENCE OF these three protagonists in the advancement of civilization has to be recognized and old paradigms of conflict – in which, for example, institutions demand submission while individuals clamour for freedom – need to be replaced with more profound conceptions of the complementary roles to be played by each in building a better world. To accept that the individual, the community, and the institutions of society are the protagonists of civilization building, and to act accordingly, opens up great possibilities for human happiness and allows for the creation of environments in which the true powers of the human spirit – of love, justice and unified action – can be released. For society to function at a higher level than that of a mere assemblage of individuals, institutions are required to give structure to its collective endeavours, to promote unity of vision and action among its members, to allocate resources equitably, and in general to administer its affairs. Parliaments, courts, universities, artistic establishments, and non-governmental organizations are among the many institutions that play an important part in shaping the life of communities throughout the world. The Bahá’í community is organized through local, national, continental, and international institutions whose purpose is to channel energies into patterns of action that
promote the betterment of society. The last fewmonths have seen the election of the institutions of the Bahá’í world – from the Universal House of Justice, elected once every five years at the International Convention, through to the National Spiritual Assemblies, and the Local Spiritual Assemblies. Service to the needs and wellbeing of the community is the principle that governs the functioning of all Bahá’í institutions; indeed, to a large extent, it defines their very identity. The relationship between the individual and institutions is a reciprocal one. Bahá’ís strive to carry out the plans of the institutions with loyalty and enthusiasm. Institutions, in turn, come to view their function as one of channelling and directing the burgeoning talents, abilities, and collective energies within the community. These collective energies are today being expressed through community building in many hundreds of clusters throughout the world where growing bands of believers are learning how to maintain, with those around them, a sustained focus on nurturing growth and building capacity. As the Universal House of Justice stated in its Riḍván 2018 message, “Raising up and accompanying an expanding nucleus of individuals in each place—not just at the level of the cluster but within neighbourhoods and villages—is at once a formidable challenge and a critical need. But where this is occurring, the results speak for themselves.”
The Universal House of Justice
DEARLY LOVED FRIENDS W E GREET YOU in the enduring afterglow of those memorable events that marked the bicentenary of the Birth of the Blessed Beauty. As we consider what transpired then and since, we find that the global Bahá’í community now in view is not the same as when it embarked on the first six cycles of the current Plan. It is more conscious than ever before of its mission. It has experienced an unprecedented surge in its capacity to bring friends and acquaintances into contact with its community life; to inspire neighbourhoods and villages into unified endeavour; to articulate how spiritual
truths can be translated into sustained practical action; and, above all, to converse not only about the teachings that will build the world anew, but about the One Who taught them: Bahá’u’lláh. Accounts of His life and of His suffering told in myriad tongues by adults, youth, and children touched countless hearts. Some showed themselves ready to explore His Cause further. Others pledged collaboration. And many a receptive soul was moved to an avowal of faith. One telling indicator of progress was the numerous places where it became clear that the Faith had emerged from obscurity at the national level. There were government leaders and leaders of thought who stated publicly—and sometimes emphasized privately—that the world stands in need of Bahá’u’lláh’s vision and that the Bahá’ís’ endeavours areadmiredandshouldbeexpanded. It delightedus tosee that
RIḌVÁN MESSAGE 2018
it was not only Bahá’ís who wished to honour Bahá’u’lláh and celebrate His life—special gatherings were hosted by some from beyond the Bahá’í community. In areas where hostility to the Faith exists, the friends were undismayed; showing marvellous resilience, they encouraged their compatriots to examine the truth for themselves, and many joyfully participated in the festivities. The bicentenary also gave rise to a seemingly limitless efflorescence of artistic expression, magnificent testimony to the wellspring of love from which it stemmed. The character of the Bahá’í community’s entire approach to this occasion was confirmation of how much has been learned over more than two decades now, since the current series of global Plans began. The individual believer took initiative, the community arose in collective effort, and the friends channelled their creative energy into the plans prepared by the institutions. A significant anniversary, marking the passage of two centuries, offered a powerful stimulus to the work of building communities for the century to come. In the period leading up to the second bicentenary, let every seed so lovingly sown at the first be nurtured patiently towards fruition. Two years into the present Plan, although naturally progress is not uniform from country to country, the number of intensive programmes of growth in the world is approaching half the five thousand contemplated in the current global endeavour, and the rate at which this number is rising has been steadily increasing. Looking more closely, there are promising signs of how the powers and potentialities of individuals, communities, and institutions are being manifested. For the believers everywhere, the experience of the bicentenary celebration demonstrated that many of their day-to-day interactions with the people around them can be infused with the spirit of teaching. And as the work in thousands of villages and neighbourhoods gathers momentum, a vibrant community life is taking root in each. The number of clusters where the system for extending this pattern of activity to more and more locations is becoming well established—enabling, thereby, the friends to pass the third milestone along a continuum of development— has grown markedly. And it is here, at the frontiers of the Bahá’í world’s learning, particularly in the movement of populations towards the vision of Bahá’u’lláh, where not only are large numbers coming into the widening embrace of Bahá’í activities but the friends are now learning how sizeable groups come to identify themselves with the community of the Most Great Name. We are seeing the Faith’s educational efforts take on a more formal character in such places, as children move seamlessly through the grades year after year and one level of the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme reliably succeeds another. In these places, the training institute is learning to ensure that sufficient human resources are being raised up to provide for the spiritual and moral edification of children and junior youth in ever- increasing numbers. Participation in these foundational activities is becoming so embedded in the culture of the population that it is viewed as an indispensable aspect of the life of a community. A new vitality emerges within a people taking charge of their own development, and they
build immunity to those societal forces that breed passivity. Possibilities for material and spiritual progress take shape. Social reality begins to transform. Cherished friends, this is truly a moment to give thanks to the Best-Beloved. There are a great many reasons to be encouraged. Yet we are only too aware of the scale of the task that remains. Fundamentally, as we have previously indicated, there must emerge in many hundreds of clusters a growing band of believers who can maintain, with those around them, a sustained focus on nurturing growth and building capacity, and who are distinguished by their ability and their discipline to reflect on action and learn from experience. Raising up and accompanying an expanding nucleus of individuals in each place—not just at the level of the cluster but within neighbourhoods and villages—is at once a formidable challenge and a critical need. But where this is occurring, the results speak for themselves. We are reassured to see that the institutions of the Faith are keeping this supreme need at the forefront of their thinking, devising effective mechanisms to enable the insights arising from progress to be widely applied. At the same time, greater experience is endowing national, regional, and local bodies alike with broader vision. They are becoming involved in all aspects of the community’s development and are concerned with the well-being of people beyond its formal membership. Conscious of the profound implications the institute process holds for the advancement of peoples, they are paying particular attention to how the training institute can be strengthened. They remain mindful of the need to maintain the community’s focus on the requirements of the Plan and call the ever-widening circle of friends to higher and higher levels of unity. They faithfully uphold their responsibility to refine their administrative and financial systems so that the work of expansion and consolidation can be properly supported. In all this, they are ultimately occupied with cultivating in the community those conditions that conduce to the release of powerful spiritual forces. As the work of community building intensifies, the friends are using the new capacities they have developed to improve conditions in the society around them, their enthusiasm kindled by their study of the divine teachings. Short-term projects have soared in number, formal programmes have expanded their reach, and there are now more Bahá’í- inspired development organizations engaged in education, health, agriculture, and other areas. From the resulting transformation visible in the individual and collective lives of peoples may be discerned the unmistakable stirrings of the society-building power of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. No wonder, then, that it is from such instances of social action—whether simple or complex, of fixed duration or long sustained—that the Offices of the Bahá’í International Community are increasingly taking inspiration in their efforts to participate in the prevalent discourses of society. This is another important field of endeavour for the Faith that has advanced well. At the national level, contributions to discourses that are meaningful to that society—the equality of men and women, migration and integration, the role of youth in social transformation, and religious coexistence,
RIḌVÁN MESSAGE 2018
among others—are being made with growing confidence, proficiency, and insight. And wherever they live, work, or study, believers of all ages and backgrounds are making valued contributions to particular discourses, bringing to the attention of those around them a principled perspective shaped by Bahá’u’lláh’s vast Revelation. The Faith’s standing in various spaces in which discourses unfold has been much enhanced by its official presence on the World Wide Web, a presence which has expanded considerably through the launch of numerous national Bahá’í websites and the further development of the family of sites associated with Bahai.org. This has immense value for both the propagation and protection of the Cause. Over the span of just a few days a large global audience was attracted to carefully conceived content about the Faith that was presented on the bicentenary website and updated in nine languages simultaneously, and which has now been augmented by individual country pages illustrating the diversity of the celebrations that occurred. Plans are already far advanced for introducing to the Bahá’í Reference Library site a feature that will allow previously untranslated and unpublished passages or Tablets from the Holy Writings to be released online over time. As well as this, new volumes of Bahá’u’lláh’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Writings rendered into English are set to appear in the coming years. InSantiago, Chile, andBattambang, Cambodia, theworld’s most recently dedicated Houses of Worship are becoming established centres of attraction, beacons to their societies of all that the Faith stands for. And their number is about to grow. We are delighted to announce that the dedication ceremony for the Temple in Norte del Cauca, Colombia, is to take place in July. Further, the construction of more Houses of Worship lies just over the horizon. In Vanuatu, permission is being obtained to start building. In India and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a highly complex and exacting process has at last led to the successful acquisition of land. The joy at seeing the design of the first national Mashriqu’l-Adhkár unveiled in Papua New Guinea at Naw- Rúz had hardly subsided when the design of the local House of Worship in Kenya was also revealed. Meanwhile, we have every expectation that the recently released statement and compilation about the institution of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, prepared by our Research Department, will further stimulate the friends’ appreciation of the significance of worship in community life. For in their acts of service, especially in their regular devotional gatherings, Bahá’ís everywhere are laying the spiritual foundations of future Houses of Worship. Only three years remain of a quarter-century effort that began in 1996 focused on a single goal: a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. At Riḍván 2021, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh will embark on a Plan lasting a single year. Brief, but pregnant with portent, this one-year endeavour will begin a new wave of Plans bearing the ark of the Cause into the third century of the Bahá’í Era. During the course of this auspicious twelvemonth, the Bahá’í world’s commemoration of the centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will include a special gathering at the Bahá’í World Centre to which representatives of every National
Spiritual Assembly and every Regional Bahá’í Council will be invited. This, however, is to be but the first in a sequence of events that will prepare the believers for the demands of the decades to come. The following January, the elapse of one hundred years since the first public reading of the Master’s Will and Testament will be the occasion for a conference in the Holy Land bringing together the Continental Boards of Counsellors and all members of the Auxiliary Boards for Protection and Propagation. The spiritual energy released at these two historic gatherings must then be carried to all the friends of God in every land in which they reside. For this purpose, a series of conferences will be convened worldwide in the months that follow, a catalyst to the multi- year endeavour that shall succeed the coming One Year Plan. Thus, a new phase in the unfoldment of the Master’s Divine Plan is approaching. But a thrilling and more immediate prospect lies directly ahead. The bicentenary of the Birth of the Báb is now just a year and a half away. This is a period in which to recall the extraordinary heroism of the Martyr-Herald of our Faith, Whose dramatic ministry thrust humanity into a new era of history. Though separated from our own time by two centuries, the society in which the Báb appeared resembles the present-day world for the sense of oppression and for the longing of so many to find answers to slake the soul’s thirst to know. In considering how this two- hundred-year anniversary might befittingly be marked, we recognize that these festivities will have a special character of their own. Nevertheless, we anticipate a flourishing of activity no less rich and no less inclusive than that which accompanied the bicentenary just passed. It is an occasion to which every community, every household, every heart will undoubtedly look forward with eager expectation. The months ahead will also be a time for calling to mind the lives of the Báb’s intrepid followers—heroines and heroes whose faith was expressed in matchless, sacrificial acts that will forever adorn the annals of the Cause. Their qualities of fearlessness, consecration, and detachment from all save God impress themselves upon everyone who learns of their ventures. How striking, too, is the young age at which so many of those lionhearts made their indelible mark on history. During the coming period, may their example give courage to the entire company of the faithful—not least to the youth, who are once more summoned to the vanguard of a movement aimed at nothing less than the transformation of the world. This, then, is our bright, bright hope. In the six cycles that lie between this Riḍván and the next bicentenary—indeed, throughout the remaining three years of the current Plan—let the same all-consuming, all-surpassing love that spurred the Báb’s disciples to the diffusion of the divine light inspire you to great deeds. That you may be the recipients of heavenly aid is our supplication at the Sacred Threshold.
– The Universal House of Justice
“For in their acts of service, especially in their regular devotional gatherings, Bahá’ís everywhere are laying the spiritual foundations of future Houses of Worship.”
The newly-opened local House of Worship in Norte del Cauca, Columbia
Design for the local House of Worship inMatunda Soy, Kenya
Design for the national House of Worship in Port Moresby, Papua NewGuinea
Design for the local House of Worship in Tanna, Vanuatu
i n t e r na t i ona l n e ws Twelfth International Convention
Joy, purpose and a unique election.
O N 25 APRIL 2018, the nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom arrived in Haifa – along with some 1,300 other delegates representing more than 160 countries – to participate in the International Bahá’í Convention. This unique gathering is held once every five years. Prior to their primary task of electing the Universal House of Justice for the coming five-year term, and then participating in the Convention, delegates were privileged to have a period of praying and meditating in the Sacred Shrines of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as well as visiting the Bahá’í holy places. ELECTION OF THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE After three days of spiritual preparation, the delegates cast their ballots for the election of the Universal House of Justice in a rarefied andspiritual atmosphere. One-by-one, they filed across the stage at the convention centre, reverently placing their ballots into a designated box. Including absentee ballots, the total number of representatives participating in the election surpassed 1,500. The casting of ballots is the culmination of a global electoral process in which every adult Bahá’í can participate. Bahá’í elections are distinctive for their lack of nominations and campaigning. Delegates to the International Convention voted by confidential ballot for the nine individuals they believe are best suited for membership on the Universal House of Justice.
HOLY DAY AT BAHJÍ
Following the election, the delegates joined the staff of the Bahá’í World Centre in the environs of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh to celebrate the festival of Ridvan, marking the anniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s proclamation of His station as a Messenger of God. Many of the delegates wore the distinctive dress of their country or people, representing the remarkable diversity of the worldwide Bahá’í community. The following day, the Riḍván message of the Universal House of Justice was released to the delegates and read in session. This was followed by the announcement of the election of the nine members of the Universal House of Justice. The elected members were: Paul Lample, Chuungu Malitonga, Payman Mohajer, Shahriar Razavi, Stephen Hall, Ayman Rouhani, Stephen Birkland, Juan Francisco Mora, and Praveen Mallik. The remaining days of the Convention, spent in consultation, were characterized by joy, focus, and a strong sense of purpose. Delegates shared how the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are finding concrete expression in their communities and societies. They also explored how insights from this process can be offered to those in the world who are interested in building unity and peace. ELECTION RESULT CONSULTATION SESSIONS
Many delegates attributed the growing opportunities before their communities to the celebrationof thebicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh in October 2017, which was accompanied by an upwelling of support from public figures and dignitaries, as well as from countless neighbours, friends, and co-workers who attended the festivities. The members of the National Spiritual Assemblies also reflected on how the institutions on which they serve can increasingly nurture environments in which individuals and communities are empowered and grow in their capacity to take action for the betterment of the world. In an extraordinary display of unity in diversity, delegates from around the world described developments in their Bahá’í communities and shared experiences that are yielding valuable lessons about community-building and social transformation. “We are fully aware that in our work spiritual forces will assist us,” said Sophie Menard, a delegate from France. “But we will have to show a high level of devotion, sacrifice, and heroism.” “We see our world changing,” said Dorothy Whyte, a delegate from Jamaica. “We see it demonstrated here at the International Convention. We can take what we are consulting on here, go home, and spread it throughout the entire world.” “Humanity is going through two processes that are very clear—disintegration and integration,” said Plinio Lacayo, a delegate from Costa Rica. “The process of disintegration is advancing rapidly, and humanity is suffering. But because of this, we know that we have to work harder and harder. We have to be more intense, more active, and more constant.” “I live on the small island of Yap,” said Sophia Laiyolap, a delegate from the Caroline Islands, addressing the Convention. “Just six years ago, the majority of the people on the island, including myself, were unaware of the person of Bahá’u’lláh. Today, there are more than 1,000 people who are connected and inspired by His teachings.” “Such is the power of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh that,
even in territories in the middle of the ocean, their light can radiate,” said Ana Sancho, a delegate from the Canary Islands. Delegates spent the final morning of the International Convention in a rich consultation about the involvement of Bahá’í communities in the life of their societies. In particular, they discussed their communities’ experience with social and economic development endeavours as well as their participation in forums and settings where contemporary issues of concern to their societies are being considered by government and civil society organizations. Ouawi Tchompaare, from Chad, talked about the decade-long experience of a Bahá’í-inspired development organization in the country supporting dozens of community schools in rural and urban settings. “We focus on two lines of action at this time: a health programme, which focuses on prevention and hygiene, and an agriculture programme about crops and fields. “Among the children in these schools, we have seen a dramatic change in hygiene and cleanliness standards, which has in turn inspired families to adopt new patterns in their homes,” Mr. Tchompaare said. “In Kazakhstan, there is a widespread concern about the disenchantment of youth with the state of the world. The Bahá’í community is participating in a discourse concerned with the spiritual aspirations of youth. What we are finding is that this offers themhope and a path for constructive change,” said Lyazzat Yangaliyeva, a delegate from Kazakhstan. Describing efforts being made in Spain, delegate Sergio Garcia shared: “We understand that our work with different discourses in our country is a long term endeavour. Ultimately, we are working for peace in the world, but we also realize that the path is long and that we need to learn together what the next steps are, for example how to prevent and stop conflict between peoples and how to foster cohesion among diverse populations in our country.” Following the extraordinary Convention period, delegates left the Holy Land to return home, inspired and energized.
be the emergence and strengthening of expanding nuclei of friends – small groups of individuals who are striving to learn together, working and consulting and arranging activities. Growth will occur naturally when we learn how to raise capacity in a few souls who begin to champion the community building by helping others study the materials of the institute. And thus it was understood why it is essential for cadres of tutors to emerge in every cluster – tutors who are reflecting and learning together how to raise capacity in others. This will fuel the engine of the institute. Commitment to long term action, especially in focused areas, as well as patience and endurance are essential. Each prong of this two-pronged approach reinforces the other as learning is shared swiftly between each. The mode of operation in all endeavours must be one of learning through action, reflecting regularly on the guidance in light of our experience. Progress occurs on a sound and swift basis if we are constantly drawing and reflecting upon the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. Commitment to long-term action – especially in focused areas – patience and endurance, are essential. Given this, and the scale of the task ahead, it became obvious that further sacrifices of time and energy were a crucial element that must be addressed. There was one other vital element that the National Assembly wished to highlight: the power of divine assistance. The Writings and guidance available to us are replete with references to the promises of blessings and confirmations when we arise to serve. The election of the National Spiritual Assembly was carried out in an atmosphere of prayerful devotion. All of the 95 delegates voted; 94 were present at the Convention. The following friends were elected to the National Assembly: Vivien Craig, Barney Leith, Fidelma Meehan, Wendi Momen, Patrick O’Mara, Vafa Ram, Darren Smith, Olinga Tahzib and Robert Weinberg. After its election the National Assembly met to elect its officers for the coming year. They are: Vivien Craig (Chair), Olinga Tahzib (Vice-Chair), Patrick O’Mara (Secretary) and Darren Smith (Treasurer).
A call to arise. N ATIONAL CONVENTION took place over the weekend of 26-28 May 2018, in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. The gatheringwas characterised by the great spirit of joy and purpose witnessed at the International Convention, with the highly focused consultation – lovingly guided by Counsellor Shirin Fozdar-Foroudi – exploring the essential and critical needs of the remaining years of the Five Year Plan. Discussions were inspired by the vista for the work ahead laid out in the 2018 Riḍván message of the Universal House of Justice. The film, A Widening Embrace – which was screened early in the Convention proceedings – also served to sharpen the delegates’ vision of the potentiality of the institute process to effect far-reaching change. Delegates considered how, of the 50 clusters in the United Kingdom, 41 will need to reach a level of intense activity such that it can truly be said that they have passed the second milestone. The intention, also, is that the number of clusters that pass the third milestone – which presently stands at two – will significantly increase. The National Assembly wishes to see this goal substantially achieved by the bicentenary of the Birth of the Báb in November 2019. It became clear to all present that the key tool in advancing all clusters – no matter what stage of their development – will be the further development of the institute process, and the emergence and strengthening of expanding nuclei of friends. These small groups of individuals strive to learn together, working, consulting and arranging activities. On the final morning of Convention, the National Assembly shared this message that it asked delegates to take back to their communities: that the key tool in advancing all clusters, no matter what stage of their development, will
f ea t u r e a r t i c l e A vibrant, meaningful and distinct pattern of life All around the world, Bahá’ís and their friends are engaged in community building. Exciting stories are emerging about their efforts from many different places.
I N THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC), the people have suffered for more than a century as a result of a series of violent struggles. Huge numbers have died or been displaced. Despite the disruption, the Bahá’ís of the DRC are learning to transcend the traditional barriers that divide people. Engaging in a process that seeks to foster collaboration – regardless of religious background, race, gender or social status – they are building capacity in growing numbers to contribute to profound social transformation. At the heart of the resilience and the positive action demonstrated by
the Bahá’ís of the DRC, alongside their Bahá’í brethren throughout the world, are community-building programmes of education and training for children, junior youth, and for youth and adults. These training institute programmes have a remarkable impact on the villages and neighbourhoods where they take place. When the island of Tanna, part of the South Pacific Vanuatu archipelago, was ravaged by a tropical cyclone with winds of up to 320 km/h in March 2015, the com- munity – which had been learning about community building through the institute process – made sure that the education of children and youthwould continue.Their topprioritywas to reconstruct the buildings
and loving communities within neighbourhoods, towns and villages. TheUniversal House of Justice has described the community building process inwhich the Bahá’í community is engaged in the clearest terms: The essence of the series of Plans that have unfolded since 1996 is relative- ly simple. Individuals, communities and institutions are called upon, within the context of a cluster, to create a programme of growth involving a vibrant, meaningful, and distinct pattern of collective Bahá’í life, infused by the spirit of the Creative Word, and open not only to the believers but to those from the wider society. At the core of this community-building process are certain activities –devotional gatherings, the educating of childrenand junior youth, and the raising up of those who can engage in acts of service – that serve as portals for the participation of ever-increasing numbers. The four core ac- tivities are but the nucleus of an organic pattern of life that, as the number of individuals who can initiate activities multiplies, increases in complexity over time, eventually requiring coherence among a range of efforts that also includes visits to homes, social gatherings, Feast and Holy Day observances, deepenings, administration, strengthening the Fund, social action, involve- ment in the discourses of society, and so on.2 Bahá’ís live and work in tens of thousands of localities in every conti- nent of the globe. They represent the diversity of humanity. Bahá’í fami- lies and friends worldwide are learning how to contribute to the building of communities inwhich acts of worship and efforts to promote the com- mon good are woven together. This community building process raises the capacity of more and more people to take charge of their spiritual, social, and intellectual development. They are no longer passive specta- tors of events beyond their control, but come to see themselves as active agents of their own and their communities’ progress. And everyonewill- ing to participate in this process is welcome.
Opposite: Ditalala in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a village named ‘Peace’
where the classes for the young people had taken place. The youth of Tanna, who had previously attended a youth conference inVanuatu’s capital city, Port Vila, stepped up to play an important role in the reconstruction of their island. ABahá’í fromone of the villages destroyed by the stormcommented, “They demonstrated a spirit of selflessness in helping others, ensuring all were safe... They lit fires to make sure everyone was warm and dry and all were fed. They did not care just for their own families, they cared for all. Many families are still thanking them. They say if it were not for their help, they would not have survived.” Human beings were not created to live alone but, rather, to belong to communities. Collaboration with others is vital to our well-being and progress. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote, that in a person’s life and being “coopera- tion and association are essential. Through association and meeting we find happiness and development, individual and collective.” 1 The United Kingdom has its own challenges, such as the increasing inequalities and resulting injustices, which are weakening the cohesion of society. Young people in some neighbourhoods are challenged to find any purpose and structure in their lives – and some join gangs as a way of compensating for what they lack. More people feel they can no longer trust a polarised political system. Murderous terrorist attacks lead to a feeling of lack of safety in public places. These, andmany other trials, call for the healingmedicine of Bahá’u’lláh’s message. The culture, the attitudes, and the patterns of thought and behaviour of any community are largely defined by its members’ collective sense of purpose. When that purpose is to contribute to the betterment of soci- ety, the community becomes a setting in which individual and collective volition are blended. The community’s members embrace the need for concerted action for the common good. Bahá’ís in the United Kingdom, and around the world, are learning how taking initiative within the framework for action established by the Universal House of Justice is a potent way of beginning to build genuine
1 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Talk at Orient-Occident Unity Conference, Washington, D.C., 20 April 1912 . 2 17 February 2014, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer
Below: Tanna island Bahá’ís
AROUND THE UK
Around the UK
A Call to Heroism Youth from all over the United Kingdom gathered in May and June to discuss their role at the spearhead of efforts to win the goals of the Five Year Plan. A T EVERY STAGE of the history of the Bahá’í Faith, youth have played a critical role in rising to the needs of the hour. With great joy and sacrifice, they have given of their time, their energy and their talents, playing their part as the spearhead of the work of the Cause. In order to reflect upon the urgent, pressing work of the Bahá’í community, the National Spiritual Assembly called for gatherings of youth in three cities in England, and one each in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Around 350 youth in total took part in the gatherings, at which the National Assembly laid out the pressing needs of the Bahá’í community during this “period of special potency”. In each of the meetings, members of the National Spiritual Assembly, the Regional Bahá’í Councils and Auxiliary Board members, encouraged the youth to reflect upon their particular capacity to serve and called them to acts of heroism. Guidance from theUniversal House of Justicewas studied and participants reflected on what service they could pledge. International pioneering goals in the Balkan states were also presented; some of the youth present pledged to move to those countries. In Gawley’s Gate, Northern Ireland, some seven young friends of the Bahá’í community who are active in the Windsor neighbourhood in Belfast participated fully in the gathering, bringing their insights built on experience to the consultation. To end the day’s programme, the National Assembly arranged a special spiritual experience for the participants. In London, this entailed prayers offered at the Guardian’s Resting Place; in Oxford, the youth enjoyed a special devotional in the chapel of Balliol College, where Shoghi Effendi had studied; in Edinburgh, the friends visited the Georgian House in Charlotte Square, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had stayed. In both Manchester
and Gawley’s Gate, the National Assembly sent a few precious archives to be displayed. In Manchester, this included a lock of hair belonging to Nora Crossley, an early believer from the city. She famously cut off her beautiful, long hair and had it sold to be able to make a contribution towards the construction of the Mother Temple of the West. In Northern Ireland, a piece of original plaster from the prison of Mah-Ku – where the Báb was incarcerated – was a particularly moving reminder of the youthful sacrifice of the Báb.
Alfie Lee, who was at the Oxford gathering, said that the meeting acted as a timely reminder. “Though it is clearly difficult, seeing all of the youth so focused on their goals was reassuring,” he said. “The atmosphere that was created was one of joy and enthusiasm,” said Nabil Taleb, who attended the Manchester event. “I am certain that the plans and contributions that the youth are to make over the next few months will be extremely heroic and confirmed by Bahá’u’lláh.’
AROUND THE UK
Harnessing the energies of the neighbourhood Much of the power of community building in a neighbourhood is that it allows for residents to become agents of change in their own localities. T WO YEAS AGO a Bahá’í family from Cumnor near Oxford attended an institute seminar in order to learn about the process of community building. Since then, activities in their neighbourhood have resulted in a thriving community. An attitude of learning characterised the beginning stages of their efforts. The family reached out to those with experience of growth at a neighbourhood level in order to gain some insight into the practical elements of approaching local residents. Neighbours were approached with a loving directness, inviting them to take part in a process that aims to build a united, loving, and vibrant neighbourhood, founded on the teachings and principles of the Faith. Consolidating these conversations, the family invited their neighbours to their home in order to study passages relating to service, and showed clips from the Frontiers of Learning film, in order to convey a sense of the institute process. One resident was so receptive that the family gave her a presentation directly about the Faith. What emerged was a clear sense of the need for the involvement of the widest possible number of people in the community. This neighbour was encouraged to identify others she believed would be receptive to the process. As a result of this, another family was contacted and a Ruhi Book One soon began. During the course of this study, efforts were consistently made to reach out and perform acts of service for neighbours and residents in the wider community. In so doing, bonds of friendship were established through such simple acts of
sharing food and studying a few passages from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Alongside To Serve Humanity videos and clips from Frontiers , the residents were able to begin developing a vision for their own neighbourhood. With two families declaring their Faith in Bahá’u’lláh soon after, the friends began their efforts. It became clear that the residents of Cumnor were enthusiastic not only about the process of community building in their own area, but the wider vision of a unified world that is fundamental to the Faith. Accompaniment became a fundamental part of their activities. Though they displayed great fervour, many of the new participants were only beginning to learn how to conduct activities. As a result, the friends undertook to learn together. In one instance, a mother with three children began a children’s class inherhome. Bahá’í youthandthemotherworkedalongside each other to plan and deliver the lessons. Walking the path of service together in this way increased the confidence of all of those involved. The children’s class soon grew to 16 members, with three different classes. Harnessing the energy shown by residents, the friends put together a neighbourhood family camp, in which the sessions focused primarily on the changes that could be made within Cumnor. This event, friends in the neighbourhood said, was “uplifting and joyful with prayers, music, service opportunities, barbecues, marshmallows, hot chocolates, and singing Bahá’í songs around a campfire!” Though the Cunmor neighbourhood now features activities including multiple children’s classes, junior youth groups, study circles and devotional gatherings, one of the fundamental qualities requiredduring the initial stages of communitybuilding was that of detachment. Faith in the words of Bahá’u’lláh allowed for the friends to overcome any sense of deflation brought about by indifference. Instead, the community became enthused by the positive reaction of the area in general, and engaged constantly in reflection and consultation, discussing how to enable more friends to begin the process of community building and take the firststeps on the path of service.
AROUND THE UK
unity and readied them for the experience. Each week, a group would present aspects of Bahá’u’lláh’s life to the others, taking it in turns to explore concepts that would be furthered during the pilgrimage. For many, this action of preparing together created a sense of anticipationand joy. Eachkeenly felt the support of their friends. The group also looked beyond itself, compiling a prayer list of individuals and activities for which all of them wished to pray. Such unity of thought and purpose brought the group closer in their relationships with one another and the wider community. The timespent in theHolyLandenhanced thegroupdynamic further. “It was just lovely to gather at lunchtimes and in the evenings, singing, talking, planning, and enjoying each other’s company, getting to know each member even better,” said Lian Foroudi, who went with the group. “One of the most special memories of this pilgrimage is the fact that it landed on theTwin Holy Days and so special celebrations were held, something I will cherish and remember for a long time, and which made the pilgrimage even more special.” Another member of the group, Thomas Lee – who serves as a children’s class teacher in the neighbourhood – spoke about how the interests of the group as a whole were placed above individual desires. “From praying together, to enjoying one another’s company, the emphasis was always placed on how to create the best environment for the group at large,” he said. “Though this did require compromise at times, it ensured that the friends were always mindful of each other’s needs, ensuring that every member of the group could make the most out of the journey to the Holy Land.” Upon returning, Thomas described the feeling as being akin to a “wave of energy and enthusiasm… Everybody came back fired up with the blessings of the Holy Land, ready to teach our friends and strengthen the endeavours already happening in the community.” The experience also allowed him to contextualise the efforts in his locality, providing insights into theworldwide scope of the endeavour. “It gave me the drive to press forwards and assist those in our area to walk a path of service,” he said. “For me, the Holy Land was a spiritual awakening and being part of a group, my closest friends, only aided this! The very people who taught me the Faith were there to guide me through the Holy Land and its many wonders. From looking down upon the terraces for the first time, to laying my head upon the threshold, it was a bounty to have themwith me.”
The community that prays together stays together
Friends from a neighbourhood in Belfast went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, forging a greater degree of love and unity.
O N A PERSONAL level, the experience of travelling to the Holy Land for Bahá’í pilgrimage is deeply moving, spiritually reinvigorating, and potentially transformative. Looking beyond the individual, however, it is also an element of Bahá’í life that, when undertaken as a community, can encourage friendships that translate into positive action back home. Embracing the opportunity tostrengthenbonds of friendship in the community, Bahá’ís and their friends working in the Windsor neighbourhood of Belfast embarked on pilgrimage as a group. Initially motivated by a number of new friends joining the Faith, the community also desired to pray for the progress of their entire neighbourhood. In order to prepare for their travels, the friends met together many times. Studying the life of Bahá’u’lláh created a sense of
AROUND THE UK
class held a celebration that their respective families attended, engaging with the wider community and building networks of friendships. Events that incorporated the families of children involved in the class were fruitful, as conversations soon led to two of the mothers beginning a Ruhi Book One and Two. In Leith, emphasis is placed upon actively involving members of the neighbourhood in the process of community building. Auxiliary Board member Ashkan Ziaie, a member of the Leith community, said that the friends “truly want to build capacity in the local population so that they become resources” themselves. Involving neighbours and friends in the area ensures that community building efforts can be sustained even when those on Years of Service leave the area. In serving the community, teaching the Faith, and building spirit and bonds of fellowship within the neighbourhood, Leith has gone from having no core activities to six within the past eight months. Such progress could not have beenmade without a recognition of the power and energy harnessed by unified communities. For Ashkan, the people he has met and served with have been a source of inspiration: “Becoming part of their lives, helping them move house, spending time together in service in its many forms has been joyous.” The friends are still learning how to expand their community building efforts further. Regular reflection, consultation, and taking small steps have helped in this. Particularly, the process of communitybuildinghas givenmanymembersof thecommunity courage to invite people to participate in the activities. What has beenmostpertinent, for Ashkan, is the clarity that “building friendships and teaching happen concurrently, and the best friendships are those in which conversations about service and the Faith are at the centre.”
Sunshine on Leith The first and foremost principle for those involved in the community building process in Leith, Edinburgh, is that Bahá’u’lláh’s message is for everyone. T HIS CENTRAL IDEA, which eliminates any space for prejudice, allows for the friends in Leith to approach every member of their neighbourhood with the Message, regardless of who they are. Leith itself is one of the more diverse regions in Edinburgh, withamixof people fromdifferent backgrounds. After exploring different areas and having conversations with residents, it became clear that the Leith neighbourhood showed a great deal of promise. As a result, a young Bahá’í couplemoved there, with more youth joining them later on. This group of youth have been invaluable to the community building process in Leith. Their energy and desire to learn led to two projects taking place over the summer of 2017. These projects were primarily focused on the message of Bahá’u’lláh, His mission and community activities. Before trying to begin core activities, the friends ensured that they built friendships in whichtheyfocusedonthecentralandunifyingvisionoftheFaith. They then explained how the core activities are fundamental for the realisation of this vision. As a result of these two projects, a children’s class was established. This class soon dreweight to ten children regularly. During the bicentenary period, the children’sPage 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 Page 27 Page 28
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