The Local Spiritual Assembly of Hamilton has been consciously working towards building bonds of love and fellowship in the community and supporting initiatives at the grassroots. In the spirit of learning, the Local Spiritual Assembly reached out to the Toronto Assembly in response to an article published in Bahá’í Canada about advances in their community.
There have been a number of points of learning from this sharing of experience and insights from the Toronto Assembly. One was developing task forces rather than having all nine members consult on each matter; another was working much more consistently and fluidly with the Auxiliary Board Members as well as the Area Teaching Committee. These approaches influenced the content of the Feast Letters to the community, which is now more focused on the goals of the plan. The Regional Development Facilitator described how this closeness with the ATC has allowed for there to really be “one conversation” in the cluster, rather than a feeling that some aspects of the work are to be shouldered by some and not others.
The Assembly developed a vision statement for their community, which was inspired by guidance from the Statement on Social Action, and the members of the Assembly continue to strive to serve shoulder to shoulder with the friends in the community as children’s class teachers, tutors, or participants in study circles. At the outset of the pandemic, the Assembly initiated a campaign to call all the friends in the cluster, inquiring about their wellbeing. It then followed up with a mail out gift of the newly translated prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the LSA had published into a little book.
One of the key points shared by members of the Assembly was the permeating spirit of love, unity and fellowship amongst the Institutions. The Assembly has consciously helped the community create an environment that has an openness to a diversity of efforts – this has been vital for growth in the community. At one time, a group of Bahá’í youth and their friends, largely from the Persian community, began a poetry group online and the Assembly showered this initiative with loving support. While the primary content of the gatherings might not have been counted as a core activity, the friends recently noted that they begin with prayers each time they gather and that it is, in fact, a robust, outward-looking devotional.
In response to the guidance regarding the Centenary and a desire to befittingly commemorate this significant year, a task force was appointed to help organize and support the community. There were many opportunities to honor the life of Abdu’l-Bahá on both a large and small scale. With the receipt of the letter from the National Spiritual Assembly regarding the Centenary, the task force focused on grassroots initiatives with the spirit of connecting the hearts and bringing love to each home.
The task force identified a group of collaborators from each sector of the city, purchased ribbons and wrapped hundreds of the booklets about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá published by the National Spiritual Assembly. Then, accompanied by a rose and a beautifully encouraging letter from the LSA about honouring ‘Abdu’l-Bahá this year, the booklets are in the process of being hand-delivered to every Bahá’í household in the cluster. The letter of the LSA offered a number of suggestions for the kind of activities people could initiate on a neighbourhood level: inviting a neighbour over for coffee or tea, having a small event with a number of neighbours, inviting those from diverse backgrounds to come together and share food, to essentially do ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s work.”
Though this initiative isn’t yet complete, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. So far, about a hundred households have been visited. The friends have been thankful to receive the gift of booklets from the LSA, but, even more so, are thrilled to receive a visit, have a meaningful conversation and at times prayers. There have been many stories and joyful reflections shared. For example, one friend in the community who has not been able to participate in many of the online activities was visited and she expressed her immense joy to be thought of and remembered. In response to this gesture of loving fellowship, she eagerly offered to reach out to her sister who hadn’t been able to join activities for sometime. One of the collaborators herself had a similar story. After a long absence from the community, she was reinvigorated when the Assembly reached out at the beginning of the pandemic with the gift of the prayer book, and, drawing upon this experience, she has now carried out more visits than anyone. She said: ‘This woke me up! I want to visit people and do the same thing.’”
Members of the Assembly have also been making a number of these weekly visits to friends, bringing the booklets, letters and a rose. A beautiful story was shared where a call to arrange a home visit turned into an invitation by the friend to say prayers at the gravesite of his dearly departed mother, who was a staunch believer of the Faith and always ensured that her children attended Feast and other Bahá’í activities. This experience uplifted this believer’s heart, and he invited the visitor to visit the rest of his family that had been isolated from activities in recent years.
As a member of the community shared: “as long as we are open to confirmations, doors will open and things will happen. For the Centenary, we’re hoping we’ll see an avalanche of little activities in peoples’ homes.” An example of such initiatives was seen in one neighbourhood in the city where a couple created little cards to invite everyone on their street to come to a neighbourhood coffee get together. Fifteen households were invited and six attended. The response of the guests was overwhelmingly positive, requesting that more frequent gatherings and uplifting conversations could occur.
The environment created, the unity of vision and focus on loving acts of friendship have continued to build a strong foundation of community life and helped the friends experience mutual support in the field of service. These efforts are not only increasing participation in community activities, but they are supporting individuals and teams to become more and more outward oriented. The feeling of joy in the community is palpable.