“A space for everyone to feel connected”: Drawing on the Power of Prayer in Clusters at the Forefront

A series of slides prepared by the friends in St. James Town

In many localities in Ontario, friends are extending the spirit of collective worship to those around them. 

Those in the Greenboro-Heatherington neighbourhood of Ottawa, which has experienced significant growth over the past year, have seen how the practice component of Ruhi Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, sharing a prayer with a neighbour or friend, can be the seed of a devotional. Rather than simply carrying out this practice of sharing a prayer once, the team began to encourage participants to do this regularly amongst families through home visits, which in time, may lead to families themselves starting devotionals. Caitlin Moore, the junior youth coordinator, shares their new questions: “We’re trying to figure out how to systematize these visits. Now our questions are: how do these small devotionals and visits go from the animator visiting the home of a family, to the family taking it on themselves?” Though the team in Greenboro is still learning, they swiftly shared this approach with those in the St. James Town neighbourhood of Toronto. Golbon Singh, Auxiliary Board Member who serves on the team in St. James Town describes the impact this had:

Two pages from the booklet made by youth in St. James Town

“After hearing the learning from Greenboro, the team thought a lot about how to apply this in our context. We wanted to implement it, but because of the restrictions we had to come up with creative means to open home after home to devotions. We made a list of everyone in the educational process and saw each home as a potential space for devotions. We thought for a few weeks about the best approach but then were encouraged by the friends in Greenboro to just start, take some steps and then consult and reflect. We studied a section from Book 2: Arising to Serve together and then because of the restrictions, decided to go door by door and have devotional gatherings right there.

We had created a compilation with quotes and art from youth and junior youth that we gifted to each family. Within one week, the animators, children’s class teachers and tutors were able to start 10 new devotional gatherings. It helped us to see so many more opportunities to kindle the spirit of service and worship in our neighbourhood. Restrictions have since become more stringent and we are learning how each friend in the educational process becomes a protagonist, taking this simple conversation about devotions into their own home. We have formed about 20 new devotional gatherings over the last two months.” 

After carrying out visits to families connected to a newly formed children’s class, one of the teachers reflected on how this changed the relationship with the families and helped them to become protagonists in the spiritual education of their children. When conducting the visits, one mother who the team had not been able to have lengthy conversations with, was given the booklet. With the children’s class teachers and the child, they read quotes together. Ariane Sheshbadaran, one of the teachers, shared how:

“from our point of view we thought nothing really happened with it, but later, when I asked the child what happened with the book, she said ‘oh, my Mom and I have been reading the book together at night all week.’ So the booklet was becoming meaningful to them.” In this light, a parent who had previously had no contact with the Word of God, is now a protagonist, sharing prayers with her children and opening her home to devotions. 

Those in the Springdale neighbourhood of Brampton have also relied heavily on the power of prayer in recent months. Through their experience with daily evening prayers, the team was able to discern a shift in the condition of their hearts and as a result, the activities of the community.  Not only could they discern the way that “the practice of gathering for collective worship…nurtures within all a much deeper connection with the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh” but they are seeing the “outward manifestations of an even more profound inner transformation, affecting many souls.” [1]

Throughout the pandemic, Brampton has had particularly high rates of infection and, as in many parts of the region, it is challenging for the junior youth to attend their groups online. 

Martharoot Malungu describes the influence of the spiritual forces at work around the dawn prayers with humour. 

“Because these prayers had been happening every single day, there was this one week where everyone’s hearts were ON FIRE. Every day someone shared things like, ‘my junior youth, who haven’t met at ALL for weeks decided they all wanted to meet and wanted to all bring friends.’ When that happened I was shocked! We had really tried everything to get them online. Even bribing them! (laughter) Saying to them, “do you need headphones? What do you need? Anything! We’ll get it!” But just two weeks of daily prayers and then this happened, so we were like, “wait, do you think these prayers are really doing something?” (laughter) Every single day there was some story of victory and hope. That really pushed the team to keep going. 35 to 40 people have come throughout.”

Children and youth gathered outdoors in Brampton in the summer

Evening prayers occur right after the nightly reflections of the team, so friends can hear the end of the reflections about home visits as they log on. This has naturally raised awareness about the efforts in the neighbourhood and patterns of communication increased. These spaces for collective worship have also drawn in youth who express gratitude for this space, now that family responsibilities make participating in other activities challenging. Martharoot describes the open and inclusive spirit of these spaces:

“The evening devotions are in no way related to your availability in terms of the spectrum of participation. There is no judgment, it’s a space for everyone to feel connected. It’s inspired people to take steps and to think of their own personal devotion. We’re trying to see how these prayers are leading to confirmation in our community.”

[1] Universal House of Justice, Dec 29, 2015

Get in touch with the neighbourhood team in this story, or share your own learning with Ontario Baha’i here.

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