Thousands of Friends Across Ontario Commemorate the Centenary of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Passing

Over the last month, thousands of friends have honoured the beloved Master in this, the Centenary year of His Ascension. The Universal House of Justice has described this time as “a year for profound reflection on the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the strength of the Covenant of which He was the Centre…”[1] In the efflorescence and creativity of the hundreds of commemorations taking place across the region, the emerging panorama can be described as having four core themes that characterize the efforts: The first is the way the friends have introduced the Master to new friends from the wider community through creative means. The second is the way that commemorations built organically on a pattern of existing activities in centres of intense activity. Thirdly, ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s matchless pattern of selfless service inspired many groups of children and their families to carry out acts of service in His Name.  Finally, dozens of communities built on a pattern of collective worship, gathered together, both online and in person, for prayer and profound reflection, in many cases drawing on the film Exemplar, produced for this occasion by the Universal House of Justice.

An outdoor gathering in a Toronto backyard, an exhibit and arts night in Toronto and the Cornwall local movie theatre where Exemplar was screened.

Introducing the Person of the Master to new friends through creative means

The Centenary of the Master’s passing presented friends with an opportunity to share the Teachings of the Faith with the widest cross-section of society.  Examples of such efforts in both Toronto and Cornwall highlight the creativity that was no doubt employed in centre after centre. 

On a blustery weeknight in late November, a group of five friends in downtown Toronto, who had a desire to further connect with their neighbours and share the vision of community building, held a gathering in one of their backyards around a bonfire, complete with marshmallows and music. Over forty friends attended, half of whom were friends of the Faith.  All were stirred by live performances opened by local Indigenous singer Sarah Luey, who called on the groups’ ancestors to guide humanity. A few days later, the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of Cornwall hosted a screening of Exemplar at their local movie theatre, which was attended by 34 people, 16 of whom were from the wider community. The opening scene of Exemplar, which features Canada’s first indigenous Baháʼí Jim Loft catching a glimpse of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá on a train that would certainly have passed through Cornwall, struck the group in a powerful way, especially as one of the attendees realized that his old friend, Arthur Loft, on Tyendinaga Reserve, was Jim and Melba Loft’s son. An arts night was also held at the Toronto Baháʼí Centre.  This evening, which focused on the theme of service going “beyond charity” and was complete with drumming and theatrical performances, engaged approximately fifty participants, about half of whom were from the wider community. Those gathered were also able to enjoy a public-facing exhibit of panels describing ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Life and Mission on the lower level of the Centre.  This exhibit was put together by a group of individuals who welcomed over 90 people to view it, many of whom were walking by on busy Bloor Street.

A short film made by collaborators in the Springdale neighbourhood of Brampton

Building on existing activities in centres of intense activity:

From Sudbury to Ottawa, London to Brampton, people of all ages carried out acts of service, screenings and activities in the Masters’ honour, all of which built on and extended existing patterns of activity in each locality. In Kipps’ Lane, London, 90 friends in total participated in three different commemorations, including a screening, each one of which was held around an educational activity occurring in the neighbourhood. Children sang and shared drawings related to stories of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, such as when He sold His expensive cloak for five less extravagant ones to give to those in need. 

The Springdale team in Brampton had gathered in October to reflect on their experiences with the Bicentenary celebrations and how they could build on this learning to have a number of small commemorations in the neighbourhood. They describe that through many home visits, service projects, sharing of stories and gatherings of prayer, “whatever one could offer was seen as a gift to ‘ʻAbdu’l-Bahá.” This surge of energy created a momentum that allowed for some 240 individuals to gather across 66 commemorations in November. The team also prepared a short film that captures much of the creativity and dynamism of their efforts.

Building on the strength of a growing junior youth program in the Donald Street neighbourhood of Ottawa, one of a number of activities involved 26 neighbourhood youth who gathered at the newly acquired Youth Empowerment Centre to watch Exemplar, pausing halfway to reflect on the Master’s qualities. In the Flour Mill neighbourhood in Sudbury, some 30 youth gathered for devotions, watched Exemplar, and were gifted the booklets about ʻAbdu’l-Bahá produced by the National Spiritual Assembly. That weekend, they held an institute campaign in His honour. 

In the Toronto neighbourhood of Ruddington, four events were held including an arts evening with friends of the Faith and two screenings of Exemplar. In the Eglinton East neighbourhood of Toronto, 17 youth who are friends of the Faith met to think about living a life of service. They read the story of early Baháʼí heroine Lua Getsinger, who served ʻAbdu’l-Bahá. The group then enjoyed some refreshments and planned their service project for the upcoming junior youth camp.

Youth gather in Sudbury, a family festival in St. James Town, packing gifts in Brampton, creative service in Ruddington and a youth commemoration in Eglinton East.

Sharing the spirit of the Master with children and their families

Children and families around existing children’s classes across the region were galvanized by ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s attitude of service, taking part in a myriad creative activities in His honour. The Keatsway team in Kitchener-Waterloo created a colouring book for children that features stories of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá and is accompanied by a video where children can hear the stories read by junior youth and children’s class teachers from the neighbourhood. A gathering was held in Brockville at the public library which was the culmination of three weeks’ of rehearsal on the part of the children and junior youth for the event, including a short program of prayers, a song and stories.  

Seven adults and nine children in the Bayview Mews neighbourhood of Toronto gathered for a celebration, which included singing, sharing stories of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, colouring together and bringing home a photo of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá. Another children’s class in Toronto with seven children from the wider community were inspired by ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s love for the poor and carried out a canned-food drive in their high rise building. Also inspired by a vision of service, a group of junior youth and their families in the Donald Street neighbourhood of Ottawa decided to fill in a dangerous hole in the local basketball court. A team in Stratford had a large home-based gathering involving new friends of the Faith connected to a junior youth group, children’s class and a number of preschoolers who attend a weekly devotional. Along with learning a new song together and playing games, one of the junior youth animators talked about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life, His suffering, and His attitude of service. In the West Willow Woods neighbourhood in Guelph there was a celebration of the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with families of children and junior youth engaged in the community building process, with 41 people from 10 families in attendance.

Children in Bayview Mews create together and listen to stories, a family celebration in Guelph, Stratford children learn a new song, Toronto children bring canned food to the fire hall and beautify quotations.

Communities gather for prayer and reflection on the Master’s Life

Communities across Ontario gathered both online and in person for prayer, study and reflection. Collaborators in Northern Ontario sought out to learn how many friends might be brought together to watch Exemplar. Twenty separate hosts across Northern Ontario carried out screenings with approximately 70 participants, allowing for meaningful conversations.  They also shared the link to the film with another 26 friends. One participant from the wider community responded by email, saying: “What a great Man!  What a great story! It brought me to tears. He was truly a wonderful humanitarian.  He truly believed in servitude, with no judgment in mind.  I love Him! Is there a worshipping centre near here?”

In the Halton cluster, a goal was set to carry out 100 acts of service as part of a broader initiative to also carry out several home visits and gift the booklets about ʻAbdu’l-Bahá. Through the vibrancy of a number of collaborators arising to serve, they have now carried out over 250 acts of service in ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Name. 

Friends in Mississauga gathered for prayers at one o’clock in the morning, the exact time of the Master’s passing, and one friend from the wider community, who attends a devotional and “was inspired by ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Paris and Paris Talks, which chronicles his public addresses, brought French pastries hoping they existed at the time of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá.” Eighteen friends gathered at a home in Kingston for prayers and uplifting conversations while Baháʼís in the Lanark cluster met at a park to honour the Ascension of Abdu’l-Bahá. The Baháʼís of Bradford are carrying out a series of events, which build on their nine-week study focused on the Life and Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. 

Friends gathered in Graydon Hall, Toronto, in Lanark cluster, at a home in Bradford and some Parisian pastries from a Mississauga gathering.

The expanding nucleus of friends in the Graydon Hall neighbourhood of Toronto used this time as an opportunity to build their capacity to invite friends from the wider community. One friend reflected that: “After prayers and meditations and conversations about ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, I decided to invite our friends. I had confidence that God was going to open doors in ways I couldn’t even imagine!” Those in Richmond Hill kept track of over thirteen activities through a shared spreadsheet, which included connecting with the local food bank, an Afghan Family relief initiative, film screenings, devotionals and commemorations carried out by study circles. 

This description of a number of activities carried out throughout the region is but a glimpse into many more initiatives, commemorations and acts of love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which continue to take place. As the friends in Ontario arise and serve this year, they are alive to “the significance of that infinitely poignant moment when He Who was the Mystery of God departed from this world. His passing took from the Bahá’ís of that era a Figure Who was the object of their ardent love and loyalty; to the faithful of this age, He remains without parallel: a perfect embodiment in word and deed of all that His Father taught, the One through Whom the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh was “proclaimed, championed and vindicated”.[2]

[1] Universal House of Justice, 25 November, 2020

[2] Universal House of Justice, 25 November, 2020

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

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