A veritable flood of guidance has come from the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the worldwide Bahá’í Community in the form of a number of letters, dated December 30th 2021, January 1st, January 3d, and January 4th, 2022. These can be accessed online at https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/ or in pdf form at http://palabrapublications.com/publication/the-nine-year-plan-2022-2031/
Families, groups of families, teams of friends at the grassroots level, communities across Ontario, those serving at subregional and regional levels and as part of agencies and institutions are all turning with eagerness towards this guidance. They have been coming together to read and study the content of these messages, particularly the December 30th message, which addresses the upcoming Nine Year Plan of the worldwide Bahá’í Community.
A large group of assistants to the Auxiliary Board across the region has been assisting with these efforts, in many cases having met in advance of the release of the letter to think about how many spaces could be opened for the study of this letter. A group of youth offering a dedicated period of service across Ontario have been studying all the letters that have been shared systematically as part of their weekly pattern. The following accounts are but a glimpse of the hundreds of spaces of study that are taking place across the region during these cold winter months, as many draw on this guidance to shape the learning questions, plans and vision for the coming Nine Year Plan that will begin at Ridván 2022.
Studying Together in the Northern Subregion
The assistants for the northern subregion made plans to carry out a number of spaces for study and then met to share insights from the grassroots. One friend from Thunder Bay in the Lakehead-North Shore cluster describes the “many spaces for sharing,” in Rainy River Kenora cluster, at an ongoing Monday night study space in the nearby Oliver Paipoonge community, and a joint study circle with those from Manitoba and the Arctic, where they “recently studied the 2021 Ridván message which is so relevant as well!” In one of these spaces, they describe reflecting on the last paragraph in the section on the movement of clusters that speaks about effective teaching: “We recognize that the conversation is naturally organic and flowing and that it’s important to really listen build genuine friendships, it involves an ongoing relationship.”
Friends from the Nipissing-Timiskaming cluster met over Zoom for three consecutive evenings with friends from Sudbury-Manitoulin cluster to read the 9 Year Plan together and initiate some preliminary study. They describe how “time slipped by and the group was so engaged” and realized that “this letter was going to be referred to over and over again”. Participants came from a variety of localities in the north including Bonfield, West Nipissing (Sturgeon Falls), Hagar, Kirkland Lake, Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, Corbeil and Azilda. They further describe developing a more profound appreciation of the way the three protagonists: the individual believer, the local community, and the institutions, are called to strengthen the dynamism of their relationships.
“This is something we are very conscious of in the north as we rely so heavily on each other in our efforts to move our clusters forward…There’s an overwhelming feeling of new hopefulness and willingness, an increased interest in the educational endeavours and involvement in the institute process called for in the letter. The great takeaway from studying the letter together was – we’ve only scratched the surface, there is so much guidance here, we are not alone, we have each other, we have the resources, let’s do this.”
Gathering to Study in the East & Central East Subregions
26 assistants in the Central East subregion met in early January to study online and focused in on the section that describes ‘fanning the passion for teaching,’ how it is the utmost desire of one’s heart and what a blessing and gift it is to be asked explicitly to do this. One attendee described:
“We discussed in practical terms, how do we do this? There were many beautiful contributions made and that ultimately it means we need to be teaching ourselves. From this even emerged a collective goal of teaching at least one soul in the next 6 months. We will continue our study this coming Saturday afternoon. Many of these friends also have already studied in groups and with their Local Spiritual Assemblies. They are also encouraged to reach as many friends as possible.”
In Ottawa, sections of the Dec 30th message were studied at the cluster wide reflection meeting in early January, facilitated by the Auxiliary Board Members. Other groups coming together include a study circle of youth in Ottawa who have paused their study to turn their attention to the message and a group of Bahá’ís in their sixties and seventies who have completed their study of all the books of the institute and have decided to take the time to study the 30th December message.
Those serving in neighbourhood teams have also come together to study the guidance. Teams in Ottawa are gathering to study together as a way of shaping their vision for their upcoming plans. For example, those in the Overbrook neighbourhood gathered to study in person just before new restrictions were put in place for the most recent wave of the pandemic, and this study has since continued online.
Insights and Reflections from the Central & South Subregions
In the central subregion, a strong pattern of study can also be seen, for example through Local Assemblies in York South and York North coming together to draw on insights from the letter, and creating spaces for others to similarly gather. In the Toronto cluster, approximately 53 groups have been identified who are engaging over 200 friends in study. In one such study, the friends noted the repetition of the words “society-building power of the Faith” throughout the message and the way the current challenges facing humanity, particularly over the time of the pandemic have, while highlighting disintegrative forces, also allowed for the development of new capacities in individuals, communities and institutions.
In the south subregion, a similar flurry of studies are ongoing. 25 assistants to the Auxiliary Board and community members serving in various capacities from the Hamilton area gathered to study the message and in smaller communities, such as Brantford and Haldimand, five to six people gathered to study, thinking about what sections they might further share at an upcoming reflection gathering with a broader cross-section of friends. One participant shared the following reflection from the study:
“The message helps us realize the historical foundation of the last years and the emphasis on the children and youth who will be going forward. Also, the real need to assist one another, that continual mention of mutual support and collaboration. Another aspect of the guidance was this idea that everybody has a contribution to make, that there’s a need for a real diversity of efforts, not everyone will look like you or me, and really removing any barriers to serving. Through our study and consultation, we realized that we ourselves are often the barriers!”
Studying Amongst Institutions and Families in the West Subregion
In the west subregion, the cluster agencies are studying together in Waterloo as well as in Oxford-Perth-Huron. The Stratford and Guelph Assemblies are studying the message together as well as coordinators with children’s class teachers and animators. In centres of intense activity, such as in the Victoria Hills neighbourhood, there is also a focus on gathering together for study and planning in light of guidance. In this subregion, spaces for study have included gatherings convened by the Regional Institute Coordinator and the Auxiliary Board Members as well as families gathering to study amongst themselves. One friend describes:
“In mid-January, a family of 5 with three children who are youth and junior youth, studied the messages that came from the Universal House of Justice over the last few weeks. They started with a message to the National Assemblies, then to the Auxiliary Board members, and next, they are planning to read the message to the Bahá’ís of the World and also the message to the Counsellors. The mother shared her thinking they may take a page a night to study the longer message with her children. This example brings to mind an image of raising up the next generation of youth that will be serving and shouldering the Cause over the course of the next nine years and how that actually comes about from a practice of accompaniment and deepening within the family.
It also allows for greater understanding to emerge and questions to be raised by youth. At one point, one of the children, who has been serving as a children’s class teacher since the summer asked what the institute is… is it a specific place? a building? This allowed the mother to practice and reflect on how to explain these things easily and clearly, so that more and more friends are welcome to participate in the process.”
No doubt, in the coming weeks and months, more and more families and communities will draw on the rich guidance pouring forth from the Universal House of Justice, aligning plans with the vista that is laid before us.