Sharing Prayers and Having Hope in Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk

A vibrant group of souls in the Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk cluster have been sharing prayers and developing an outward looking orientation. This large cluster touches Lake Erie to the south and is connected to both Welland and Hamilton and includes Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations. There are three Assemblies within the cluster – Brantford, Norfolk and Haldimand. A spirit of joy and lightness of heart is contagious as they share stories about the systematic efforts being made to share the gift of faith “through conversations with relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers, and those previously unmet, seeking in every place and at every moment a hearing ear.” Indeed, one can discern here the way that “[d]ifferent settings and circumstances lend themselves to different approaches, and the friends being occupied in an ongoing process of learning about what is most effective in the place where they are.”[1]

Prayer cards prepared by the friends in Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk

In the fall of 2020, a group of friends from the cluster, Mary Tartaglia, Rosemarie Vidal-Morris and Barbara Melara, along with Hayat Hanna from the reservoir cluster, attended a refresher course for the new Ruhi Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. Recognizing their small number, they left the study determined to be increasingly outward-looking, to meet new friends and be systematic in their efforts. Barbara Melara describes some of the many approaches they’ve taken to sharing prayers:

“I decided to have a coffee and discussion space online every Tuesday morning and it’s continued for a year since then! I’ve drawn on all the topics in Book 1 to inspire the discussion and there’s always a quotation and an uplifting picture. Every week, we would focus on a different part of the journey through life, from childhood up through life after death, and now we just keep meeting weekly. We have all developed strong friendships this way. Within a broader group of about twelve people who are connected to this space, a core group of six or seven people attend regularly and really see it as an anchoring point in their week. I sent the invitation to a few women in the local community and by word of mouth, a few people came. A new friend has joined who used to go to a church discussion group and when that folded recently, she started coming to our group and makes such a valuable contribution. 

There’s also a group of women I had taken painting classes with. Every few weeks we’d all go for coffee. We were all going through different things, for example, someone’s partner was going through cancer treatments at one time, or things like that. So, I said ‘why don’t we all get together to say prayers’. I invited everyone to my home, and we shared some prayers, also inviting them to bring something to share themselves, and some did. The friendships are still very strong”

This small team engaged in an array of efforts to share prayer cards in a number of different contexts, bringing to mind the way the Universal House of Justice describes “an important dimension of the teaching work is a rise in capacity to engage in conversations on spiritual themes.”[2] Barbara describes a few examples of these efforts:

“Our little team has also had a regular Wednesday evening devotional and it was there that we decided we wanted to do some service together. Here in the county, we were aware of a large number of farm workers who come in the summers from Mexico and Central America. We knew they were having to quarantine at a nearby retreat centre for a number of weeks. We wanted them to know we are thinking of them. So, we had these beautiful prayer cards created in Spanish, and brought them to the centre. These prayer cards were then put on their dinner plates, and included contact information and beautiful artwork. 

After that, we reprinted these cards in English and have been distributing them to friends and contacts.  I thought about bringing one to my neighbour next door. We’ve been friends for about 20 years now. She was a very strong and vibrant woman, a Christian minister at a local church who is now quite ill. She’s always been very respectful of me being a Bahá’í. For example, after I went to the dedication of the House of Worship in Chile, she invited me to share with her about the experience and would often bring up pictures on her computer to show her friends and caregivers.  She was very touched by one of the newly translated prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the one that says:

“Grant me a measure of Thy grace and loving-kindness, Thy care and protection, Thy shelter and bounty, that the end of my days may be distinguished above their beginning, and the close of my life may open the portals to Thy manifold blessings.”

I think this really touched her because she’s at the end of her days. She asked me to put these prayers in her Bible at her bedside. Then she told me someone else she thought could benefit from these prayers and we took a prayer over to them. My neighbour has also shared these prayers with others who visit her. We also have plans to print more prayer cards and bring them to the chapel at the local hospital and the hospice.

In the recent letter, the 30th of December, we can see the benefit of working together. In our cluster, we’re just beginning to really work in teams. We’re always trying to think about who might be feeling left out, and making sure to reach out to them and connect.”

A strong weekly gathering for prayers has also been taking place on Saturday mornings online since the outset of the pandemic, which is connected to Brantford, Haldimand and Norfolk.

In Haldimand, a group of friends has been inspired by the December 30th, 2021 letter from the Universal House of Justice. Grace Main, Brian and Carol Stiles are focused on an endeavour related to hosting outdoor events at Oakwood Escapes, a rural property where festivals and camps can eventually be held. 

Anna Reu in Norfolk, with the support of friends in Norfolk and Haldimand hosted a vibrant gathering honouring the life of her husband, artist Robin Jilderda, who passed away. Her home and property were transformed into an art gallery which showcased his work in a way that highlighted how he was influenced by the Bahá’í Faith.  Seventy five family members, neighbours, friends and local artists attended and there have been many conversations about the Faith that day and since then.

A growing band of friends across the cluster are actively making plans and reflecting on how to extend activities. In Brantford, there is a very musical children’s class that loves to sing. Just a few days ago a few of the participants shared their joyful song with the reflection meeting participants.  Their beautiful faces and voices can be enjoyed here.

Children of the Brantford Children’s Choir singing about hope

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, they have been able to maintain their children’s class online and are looking forward to having an outdoor gathering in the coming weeks, “maybe a toboggan party or something!”  Even though there aren’t any youth serving locally at the moment, one youth, Eli Smith, who is offering a year of service, has come to visit and support their class. There are plans for him, and the Ancaster Junior Youth Group to remain involved with the classes and in time, to form a Junior Youth Group. There are plans to identify neighbourhoods where more activities might begin in the coming months. The friends in Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk are drawing on prayer and sharing it widely and no doubt the dynamics described in the prayer below are alive through their efforts:

O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord. [3]

The Bradford Children’s Choir sing at a zoo picnic
The Bradford Children’s Choir sing at a splash pad picnic

[1] Universal House of Justice, December 30th, 2021

[2] Universal House of Justice, December 30th, 2021

[3]  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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

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