In early February, more than 150 representatives of local, regional and national Bahá’í institutions and agencies gathered at the Toronto Bahá’í Centre to consult on plans to pursue a new phase in the development of the national Bahá’í community. While participants journeyed from as far afield as Nunavut, Vancouver Island and Prince Edward Island to join the three-day consultative gathering, many also attended from Ontario communities. They were joined by visitors from the Bahá’í World Centre in the Holy Land, Antonella Demonte, a member of the International Teaching Centre – a senior advisory body that guides the growth and development of the international Bahá’í community – and Elisa Caney, member of the Board of Directors of the Bahá’í International Development Organization.
Five friends who attended this gathering shared their reflections on how the insights gained at the National Institutional Gathering are already impacting the work at the grassroots.
Helen Mayer, Greater Sudbury Manitoulin Cluster
One of my main insights is that the society-building power of the Faith cannot be over-estimated. It provides an expansive, deeply resonating vision and plan of action towards the betterment of our world that includes just about everyone.
The recent message of the Universal House of Justice, dated 30 December 2021 continues to inspire every consultation in our cluster and beyond as we also serve as a reservoir cluster for the entire Northern subregion. We are continuously expanding our understanding of the role of our local institutions, in collaboration with higher functioning institutions and clusters, to assist each member to be actively engaged in an expanding nucleus and to reach out to like-minded protagonists and groups in our localities.
Our cluster and those connected to us have been galvanized through a spirit of mutual support, collaboration and unity of vision to continue reaching out to others, finding that precious point of unity. We are building confidence in presenting the Faith to others through sharing simple yet meaningful concepts that capture the heart of the Faith and encourage questions and discussions, the study of the training institute materials and participation in service projects. Home visits, devotional gatherings and acts of service are intensifying as are visiting one another’s clusters and sharing learning and stories.
An institute campaign took place a week ago which focused on the importance of progressing through deeper levels of meaning and understanding of Bahá’í concepts as we engage with those we meet. In addition, a one-day seminar has been planned for April 3rd for northern institutions, co-coordinators and collaborators. There is a sense of urgency to address some rising questions: Where are we now? What do we hope to achieve? How are we measuring progress? How can we, as individuals, each contribute?
We see how the impact of our learning and outreach is fundamentally answering the pressing needs of those around us, particularly in isolated centres, through working with children, junior youth and youth. I like to think the prevalence of our unified and expansive vision is lighting up the north. Everyone is a potential collaborator.
Sonya Appadoo, Cornwall & Area Cluster
Coming from the National gathering, there was an urgency to share the vision and insights gained with the institutions, agencies and community in our cluster. The concept of continuity and shift was emphasized – that is, the need to both build on the foundation laid in the previous series of Plans while also shifting to a new consciousness of a more expansive vision of the new Plan in terms of its provisions and requirements.
We shared how the training institute must be seen as an instrument for releasing the society building powers of our Faith. Consciousness is being raised about seeing the system of education as a coherent educational experience from childhood to adulthood, which can ultimately effect profound societal change. In our cluster, this understanding opens new possibilities in our service alongside families in a specific population. This expansive view of the institute is already helping the friends to read their own reality and identify the educational needs of the population. Friends are now reflecting on past experiences and planning institute campaigns and camps that engage entire families. One important consideration will be to connect the participants of the various educational activities to the teachings of the Faith and the Person of Bahá’u’lláh.
The community is also raising its consciousness about the three areas of endeavour – contributing to expansion and consolidation, social action and participation in the discourses of society – seeing them as interconnected and how they are the means of releasing the society building power of the Faith, particularly as we embark on the Nine Year Plan.
The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Cornwall also recognises the need of a shift in its functioning to support the community building process and the well-being of everyone. As such, the Assembly plans to consult with friends engaged in community building endeavours and those serving in neighbourhoods to further stimulate the process of growth. The Assembly will also create an environment to facilitate the enrollment of friends in the Faith, especially those at the “threshold,” as described by the Universal House of Justice in its recent message.
Nura Soucy, Ottawa Cluster
In the weeks following the National Institutional Meeting, the Greenboro neighbourhood team in Ottawa has had the opportunity to reflect further on the purpose and implications of this work. We are asking ourselves: How can we see the activities we are engaged in as a true expression of the society building powers of the Faith? How can we develop a culture that not only recognizes this, but also honours it? Thus, a key object of learning is how to help the friends [with whom] we serve alongside, especially youth, grow closer to the vision provided to us by the Universal House of Justice, and in its light, contribute meaningfully to social transformation?
Practically, we have begun having conversations with the participants of core activities, especially participants of study circles, about how each one sees their purpose in life in the context of the Nine Year Plan. Plans are also underway to engage families more meaningfully, alongside their youth, junior youth and children. These conversations have allowed for a shared vision and responsibility by a growing number of people for the future of every person dwelling in our neighborhood. This subtle yet profound shift that was so lovingly nurtured at the National Institutional Meeting has greatly affected the work at the grassroots in Ottawa.
Tahirih Naylor, Oxford Perth Huron Cluster
Those of us who attended the National Institutional Meeting from our cluster were inspired by all we heard and learned. We sat near each other and when a participant from another part of Canada shared something that was relevant to our cluster we would write each other notes and consult at breaks about how we could apply what we were learning when we got home.
Following the conference, four friends gathered and talked about how we might increase human resources and advance the children’s class and junior youth programs. We decided to invite youth from Nancy Campbell Academy to participate in an intensive institute campaign over their March break with the goal of organizing and hosting a children’s camp and a junior youth camp. 10 youth volunteered to participate. They spent the first week studying Ruhi Book 1, deepening on recent guidance and doing outreach to invite people to the camps. With the assistance of the cluster coordinators they planned the camps and prepared lessons, crafts and games for the participants. The friends in the cluster supported the youth by providing accommodation, meals, transportation and leading deepenings as well as joining the youth for outreach. The capacity of these youth and the service they have offered will surely help advance our cluster and contribute to our ‘society-building’ efforts.
From Peter Ngang, Durham Cluster
Friends from the Durham cluster who attended the National Institutional Meeting are continuously sharing insights with cluster agencies and institutions, with the goal of assisting with the community building process. The friends either focus on specific sections of the Message or share some of the uplifting grassroots stories from different parts of the world so lovingly narrated by the Counsellors. From these insights the Cluster Agencies are attempting “to re-describe the local realities in the language of the Universal House of Justice.”
The Agencies have realigned the cluster goals with the three areas of endeavour defined by the House: expansion and consolidation, social action and contributing to prevalent social discourses. In this light, the study of Books 13 and 14 of the Ruhi Institute has been identified amongst the goals for the new cycle.
The cluster is on the cusp of crossing the third Milestone of growth, a goal that was set by the region during the meeting for the first four years of the Nine Year Plan. The cluster agencies are drawing insights from paragraph 11 of the 30 December message, to learn how to gain in intensity and address complexity. Learning is taking place in a few neighbourhoods that have been reopened to activities over the last few cycles. The Area Teaching Committee is helping the teams working in these neighborhoods to map out and understand their Concentric Circles and better coordinate the activities in two neighborhoods in Whitby – Belwood and Peter Hogg.
Learning from the National Meeting has significantly helped the friends working with the cluster agencies and local institutions to gain a better understanding of the process of community building work at hand, and contribute their share to the unfoldment of the Divine Plan.