“This is our community. All contention and strife from the past are gone,” noted a group of Bahá’ís in the Nipissing-Timiskaming cluster at a recent gathering. While Bahá’ís here have been serving for many years, a surge in momentum can be traced back to August 2019, when seeds were planted that are now bearing visible fruit. These fruits can be understood as a number of conditions which increasingly characterize a growing, outward-looking cluster that has reached a new milestone.
Across the region, clusters have been consciously striving to advance to the next milestone of growth, in accordance with the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. To reach the second milestone, as Nipissing-Tamiskaming did, is not only to increase the number of core activities; it is to root certain processes in the community, particularly children’s classes, study circles and junior youth groups. In the Nipissing-Timiskaming cluster, these processes include the formation of a number of expanding nuclei, a growing team of friends who work and serve together, a rising awareness of the three-month cycle of growth and relatedly, the emergence of a vibrant reflection gathering, a strengthening institute process and the consistent and loving accompaniment of those from Sudbury-Manitoulin, the nearby reservoir cluster.
This recent achievement can be traced back to a number of seeds planted back in 2019 and 2020, in addition to the loving support of a visiting tutor from Ottawa over the course of several years. The first of these seeds were planted by a couple from Cornwall, who visited the friends of Sturgeon Falls, a small town in the cluster, to establish a nucleus that planned, acted, and consulted together. This added fuel to the Institute process in the cluster, as the friends were assisted to start several books. The friends of Nipissing-Timiskaming were invigorated and inspired after a regional study of Ruhi Book 1: Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, and several are now themselves tutoring this and other books of the training institute.
At this time, not only one, but four expanding nuclei with different foci are functioning in this locality. One area of focus has been on establishing the junior youth program in a North Bay neighbourhood, another has been around home visits and devotional gatherings, and two other groups are geographically focused–one in Kirkland Lake and another with connections to friends in the Simcoe and Haliburton clusters.
The seeds of the junior youth program were planted in the summer of 2020, when some friends visited from Sudbury and Cornwall to assist the Kelly’s, a young family in North Bay, to start a junior youth program in their neighbourhood around their two young boys. Although initially animated by two traveling youth from Sudbury, a nucleus was formed around the animators and the mother of the boys, and after a year she was accompanying the animators into the field of service while remaining a key contact for all the parents of the junior youth. The program began with three Bahá’í children and two friends of the Faith, and has now grown to seven junior youth consistently attending, with a total of ten who attend periodically.
In spite of the challenges and obstacles they faced from the uncertainty and ever-changing conditions of the pandemic, the Kelly family and friends from Sudbury responded with perseverance, creativity, systematic action, and above all, faith. As the Universal House of Justice states: “The promotion of the Plan implies building capacity to walk the path of service in every time and season—which must surely include moments of acute peril in the life of humanity, such as now.”
The devotional character of a community is at the heart of its vitality, and the seeds of this culture of prayer were planted through having revisited this theme by studying Book 1 together. Parallel to the development of a nucleus of friends focused on the junior youth program in North Bay, the nucleus in Sturgeon Falls increased their capacity to have conversations of spiritual import with friends of the Faith, begin devotionals and new Book 1 study circles, and carry out a homevisit campaign. The nucleus then began to think about the collective spiritual health of the cluster, and began holding Unity Feasts, which allowed for broader participation and collective decision making. This allowed for further conversations with the possibility of establishing a devotional in every home as a beacon of light against the darkness and challenging times many are facing. At this time, one dear soul and her daughter even arose to travel across the cluster and the entire northern subregion to study the Ridvan 2021 message with friends, share prayers, and connect hearts. By October 2021, 24 devotionals could be counted in the cluster, with a number of others planning to begin.
A key characteristic of a milestone two cluster is the emergence of teams of friends, nuclei “who are working and consulting together and arranging activities.” And at the same time, the friends in Nipissing-Timiskaming were aware that: “For the process of growth to advance further, the number of people sharing this commitment must rise, and their capacity for undertaking systematic action within the framework of the Plan must correspondingly increase.”
Through the pattern of Unity Feasts in the cluster, a core group of friends naturally began acting, consulting, and planning together. The original nucleus of three expanded to five. They began meeting weekly, studying guidance, and making simple action plans aligned with the framework of the Plans of the Universal House of Justice. The nucleus deepened their understanding of the institute as an engine of growth and the opportunity to raise capacity in local friends to tutor. Through this deepening understanding, one friend immediately arose to co-tutor with a visiting tutor.
The last feature of a milestone two cluster that needed to be implemented was the distinct pattern of expansion and consolidation, punctuated cyclically by cluster reflection gatherings. Once the glimmerings of this pattern were evident, the friends, together with the Auxiliary Board member and two Council members, held their very first reflection gathering.
Twelve friends from a cluster of 29 Bahá’ís participated in the reflection gathering in early January 2022. It was a joyous and momentous occasion for this cluster as they reflected on the strengths and the spiritual dynamism built over the summer and fall. A sense of unity and collective will to learn about and meet the goals of the Plan were evident. By reading their reality in light of the guidance, some of the friends recognized the need to further strengthen the institute. They recognized “a spirit of common purpose”, an outward looking orientation, a commitment to the guidance, a willingness to take risks, and the dynamics of relying on spiritual forces through prayer: “Spiritual waves are hitting us” was the expression of one of the friends.
The friends recognize that their reality reflects this description: “At this early stage, most of them might still be drawn from other clusters, but at the same time, a few local friends are being raised up who, as their capacity for action increases, begin to help others study the materials of the institute.”
Nonetheless, the process of articulating the narrative of their own growth as a community and sharing it with the Bahá’í Council of Ontario resulted in the community receiving acknowledgment that their cluster has in fact surpassed the second milestone to establish an intensive program of growth. While this is a shining victory after years of systematic effort for the cluster, the following words of encouragement and comfort are guiding those in Nipissing-Timiskaming as they look ahead to their next milestone of growth:
“These observations are, of course, not to say that all facets have developed fully or at an equal pace, nor is it to deny the temporary setbacks that occur, inevitable in a long-term process of transformation. Yet as new horizons of possibility now open before the friends in your cluster to continue expanding and advancing toward its next milestone of growth, we anticipate that many more dimensions of your cluster’s development will continue to mature in due course, infused by spiritual energies released as capacity grows.”
 Universal House of Justice, 9 May, 2020
 Universal House of Justice, 29 December, 2015
 Universal House of Justice, 29 December, 2015