In the Oxford-Perth cluster, the friends have seen dramatic growth with respect to devotional gatherings over the past few cycles. The spirit of intergenerational accompaniment and friendship is strong in the cluster and is solidified through both a pattern of collective worship, as well as an outward-looking orientation. The passing of Mary Helen Hazen, a dearly loved servant of the Cause, on November 16th, 2020, illuminated the many relationships in the cluster based on service and the love of God.
Mary Hazen was living at Greenwood Court long-term care home for some years and through connecting with teachers of the Noble Beings children’s class, a pattern of regular visits to the seniors began. These visits included collective singing and prayer and were enjoyed by all. The staff of Greenwood were present, the seniors would make great efforts to attend and the children had an avenue for meaningful service in their community, bringing joy to hearts. The families around the “Noble Beings” children’s class for those under five, has been functioning as an ever-expanding “nucleus”––the growing community of individuals and families connected to core activities and conversations––working together for a few years now. Through a number of ongoing conversations in parks and other spaces, they are reading and responding to their evolving reality and are now connected to some forty families. Building on these relationships has been important, even during the pandemic. As a result of these connections, one initiative has involved a mother bringing the children together on zoom for 15 mins at a time, teaching them a song. At another time, those around the Noble Beings class noted the prevalence of questions around the challenges of raising young children and were able to offer a workshop on attachment parenting, drawing on insights from the Baha’i Writings on the education of children.
The challenges of the pandemic have called for friends to remain connected both to one another and to those in their communities in creative ways. Dr. Alicia Cundall is a physician and a mother of two participating in the Noble Beings class. Seeing the spike in COVID-19 cases both in long-term care homes across the region and in Stratford, she was sensitive to the feelings of loss and discouragement amongst health-care providers in the area. Alicia also noted the impact of the negative reports about a lack of care for residents of long-term care homes in the media, and saw how this affected those working with seniors:
“We wanted to highlight that this wasn’t what was happening in our cluster. There is a lot of care. Many people at Greenwood were feeling a lot of loss because there was an active COVID breakout at that time. The staff were making a huge effort to handle the outbreak. They were making such an effort to contain it and to treat people with such dignity.”
The friends hosted an online event, “Tea at Three”, dedicating prayers to healthcare workers and specifically supporting Greenwood through a challenging time. The invitation was warm and invited “all to join”. Thirty participants attended, including the director of Public Health for the region, the CEO of the four hospitals in the area, a number of residents, and, of course, the families of the Noble Beings class. The director of Greenwood Court offered a Christian prayer and the program included music. Many expressed their thanks to the Baha’is over email after the event, describing how their hearts were uplifted.
Though the in-person visits to Greenwood had to be put on pause, the friends in Oxford-Perth have been communicating over WhatsApp and recognized that some believers may be feeling quite isolated. A plan was made by a few friends on this messaging platform to call these friends daily, one of whom was Mary Hazen. Oonagh VauCrosson describes these phone calls:
“I was calling her [Mary] every day and she would tell me what to do (laughter). We had this amazing relationship at the end of her life…and I feel her now, she’s always there, in the Concourse. She was lamenting the fact that her body wouldn’t allow her to do more and it really inspired me to keep serving”.
The very next day after Ms. Hazen’s passing, the children of the Noble Beings class, those who had been visiting her, decided to have a devotional in her honour.
No doubt it is these intergenerational friendships, these strands of love and the conversations of spiritual import that reflect the words of the House of Justice as it describes “the society building power of the Cause”.
Read more about the relationship between study and the devotional character of the community in Oxford-Perth here.
 Universal House of Justice, 29 December 2015