toronto regional conference: first reflections

IMG_1783“Wow—just wow.” was my first reflection upon entering the conference hall on Saturday morning at the Toronto Regional Baha’i Conference. Wordless reflection, of course, since I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor to put together a sentence. Over 4,000 people attended, according to official reports; I’d never seen that many Baha’is in one place before—and I live in Ottawa, where we’re used to getting upwards of 700 people at Naw-Rúz celebrations. With the Toronto and Guadalajara conferences, over 50,000 people have come to the conferences across the world so far. The atmosphere was joyful, exciting, electrifying, full of energy. Imagining all those people gathering together as beloved guests of the Universal House of Justice, conversing together, studying and planning their future together is one thing, but seeing it in action is another.

IMG_1620 Parts of the conference were like an immense reflection meeting; more powerful and flexible, though, as many people workshop-hopped from their own clusters to devote their attentions to neighbouring clusters in need of assistance in meeting their goals before Ridván 2009. In all, eight clusters were identified in Eastern and Central Canada as priority clusters—among them our neighbouring Outaouais cluster, which includes the city of Gatineau—that were in line to establish their first intensive programs of growth in the coming months. I was able to hop over to join the Southeast New Brunswick cluster during a break to share some good conversation with Baha’i friends from the Moncton area. It was very clearly illustrated how closely the Universal House of Justice was monitoring the progress of the Faith in our areas, and how directly our efforts during the weekend would reach them. The support and love from the Institutions of the Faith was evident at all levels.

IMG_1700One of the very inspiring parts of the workshops was seeing how the junior youth stood up and made their voices heard in consultation. Some of them who we may never have heard before raising their voice in great assemblies showed little or no trepidation in offering their ideas and making their points of view known. Their contributions made the experience dynamic and bolstered the confidence of all present. One of the participants commented, “imagine if all reflection meetings were like this conference—we would get all of our planning done in minutes!”

That’s it for now, but you can expect further posts on the regional conference here—I took pages and pages of notes on my trusty Macbook and I’m expecting to take time to synthesize them and share them here with you all. Mad love to those who are gathering in Vancouver this weekend for the second Canadian conference, and to the rest of the friends throughout the world who are engaged in this world-shaping process.

recent developments

meeting ambiencehindsight is 20/20, right? the past few months of the Five Year Plan in Ottawa have brought a lot of powerful insight, beginning with the reflection meeting at the beginning of October, through a two-week expansion phase, and into a phase of consolidation where contacts, who have most probably been taught about the Baha’i Faith through direct methods such as Anna’s presentation, are nurtured through participation in Institute courses (aka study circles) that not only impart knowledge, but also – if properly facilitated – confer the vital spiritual skills required for a Baha’i to carry out those spiritual duties that make up his or her part in the Eternal Covenant of God. at the start of the reflection meeting, our local cluster institutions took us through a retrospective of past efforts, giving us a brief overview of how far we had come since beginning our intensive program of growth several years ago. the interesting twist on the current cycle’s goals was that, after several cycles of focusing on different elements – musical firesides, Anna’s presentation, neighbourhood teaching, and so on – the focus came back to teaching teams and their individual plans, much the same way as we had started many cycles ago. the reasoning? since we’ve had the time to experiment with all the different elements of an intensive program of growth – see how musical firesides work, how they use Anna’s presentation, and how Anna’s presentation in its turn gives seekers all they need to know to begin the sequence of institute courses. I’m enjoying watching this change in culture of the Baha’i community from the inside out. Stay tuned for more reports from the community!

what can i do?

youth at the forefrontWhile making my way back home on a humid, muggy Friday, I passed by the local Baha’i Centre — well, not exactly passed by; upon realizing that it was packed with people, I stopped and walked in to say hello and to find out what was going on.

Many of you will have heard so far about the recent arrests of six Baha’i “leaders” (“delegates” or “coordinators” would be a more appropriate title, but isn’t quite as simple to explain) in Iran; in an act remarkably similar to the mass arrests and executions of Baha’i leaders in the 1980s, they were arrested on the 14th of May and — it was thought — taken to one of the most notorious prisons in Tehran. Apparently they are now being held in communicado, their whereabouts being unknown. The only official response from the Iranian government on the issue? They were arrested for “security issues” and not because of their religious beliefs — an allegation which the Baha’i International Community categorically rejects as being “untrue” and “utterly baseless”. This is only the most recent — and probably best publicized — among many recent violations of the rights of Baha’is. Amongst other things, Baha’i schoolchildren have endured harrassment in Iranian schools, a fact pointed out by the Baha’i International Community over a year ago.

And it’s to address this issue that that night, at the Ottawa Baha’i Centre, around thirty Baha’i junior youth and their parents gathered for animated and pointed discussion, as well as workshops to encourage the junior youth to respond to the injustice aimed at their Iranian counterparts. Suggestions were exchanged, ranging from creating and circulating official petitions to preparing presentations to be given at school to arranging devotional meetings where they and their friends could hear stories and pray for the well-being of Iran’s Baha’is. One suggestion struck home, however – that, more than just praying for their well-being, the junior youth present could make special effort to teach the Baha’i Faith in the name of those children in Iran who are shamed and harrassed for their Faith – those children who are denied that same privilege of sharing the life-giving Message of Bahá’u’lláh with their peers.

reflection meeting photos

listeninghey hey hey hey have some photos! I’ve posted the photos from the ottawa Baha’i community’s recent reflection meeting. In response to comments, I tried to take a lot more face shots this time instead of back-of-head shots and crowd shots. hopefully this helps convey the active, participatory nature of reflection meetings. this weekend’s meeting wrapped up an exciting cycle (in which twenty people declared their faith in Bahá’u’lláh in only a few weeks—something Ottawa hasn’t seen in a very long time), and set a great foundation for the next cycle. keep your eyes on this blog for more news as Ottawa’s intensive program of growth chugs along.

spring cleaning the baha’i centre

It’s a warm, sunny Saturday in Ottawa. Saturday has become a de facto Service Day; I tend to spend most of my time here in the Baha’i Centre on Saturdays, while Sunday is quickly becoming a family-time day (for the past few weekends, anyway). This morning, our children’s class did a little spring cleaning on the grounds surrounding the Baha’i Centre, picking up trash in the parking lots and sweeping old leaves into piles to stuff into garden bags. They were proud to have offered a service to the Earth, or “one percent of a hundred percent” of the Earth anyway. The Weather Channel showed an interview this morning(!) with David Suzuki, who spoke a little about public involvement in keeping climate change and the environment high on Canada’s and the world’s agendas—mainly focusing on political action, of course. We seem to be doing our part of spreading some environmental awareness in our children’s class—we’ve already done several classes full of gardening and a few other ones about recycling and taking care of the Earth; that, and the children seem to be learning a lot about being “green” at school, which is good to see. Commuting by bike is an enjoyable way to stay environmentally friendly too—now that the sun is out, I’ve been biking to the children’s class every Saturday morning, since I don’t have a car (oh, and I just happen to live a twenty-minute walk away).

That’s all for now; time to close up shop.