the five-year plan

So some people on Reddit were talking about Bahá’í jargon recently, and someone asked for the definition of the Five-Year Plan—because it’s been “evolving so much, I don’t know what it currently is anymore”. Here, then, is a stab at a definition.

Literally, the series of Five Year Plans are simply global plans, carried out under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, to implement the Divine Plan as elaborated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Tablets of the Divine Plan. There have been other “Five Year Plans” in the past, but the current series of four consecutive plans began in 2001 and will last until 2021, to be followed by further plans.

The current series of plans has been characterized by two principal, complementary movements, which have remained the focus of each plan in the series:

  1. The movement of increasing numbers of collaborators through the training institute process—which offers them training to offer specific, concrete acts of service, including but not limited to the “core activities”—study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups, and devotional meetings;
  2. The movement of clusters from one stage of development to the next, where each stage is characterized by a higher level of intensity, organization, and systematization.

The first in the series of Five Year Plans (2001–2006) introduced these two complimentary movements, and provided an opportunity for national Bahá’í communities to define “clusters” as distinct geographical divisions within their countries. This was done to break down the task of measuring community development and growth to a more manageable sub-national level.

This was also when most people were introduced to study circles and to the materials of the training institute. At this time, not many people grasped the purpose of the training institute, believing it to be yet another deepening program among many others. This perception gradually began to shift as Bahá’ís began to implement the institute process across the world, building up experience and reflecting on which kinds of implementations worked and which didn’t. Children’s classes and devotional meetings were also introduced as core activities, to be open to all.

The second in the series of Five Year Plans (2006–2011) introduced the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme as an element of the plan, as communities worldwide identified the need to engage young people between the ages of 11–14 as a particularly receptive population. At this point, what’s now known as Ruhi Book 5 was added to the main sequence of institute courses, allowing participants in the institute process to receive training on how to engage and empower junior youth to arise and serve humanity.

One of the main numeric goals of this particular plan called for the establishment of 1,500 intensive programs of growth in clusters around the world. This entailed the establishment in these clusters of a working, self-sustaining, and ever-expanding institute process in which new collaborators could be trained in specific acts of service and then arise to carry forward that same process. As Bahá’ís embraced the process and arose to serve, striving to understand what an intensive program of growth should look like in their clusters, a great deal of learning was generated that would inform future plans.

The third in the series of Five Year Plans (2011–2016) set a new numeric goal of 5,000 programs of growth worldwide. In this case, the requirement was that there simply be a program of growth—i.e., an institute process operating at any level of intensity. At this point, many of the clusters that had established an intensive program of growth during the previous plan began assisting believers in adjoining clusters to establish the institute process there. The concept of “milestones” was also elaborated during this plan; using this terminology, the numeric goal for this plan was for 5,000 clusters (or fully one-third of all clusters worldwide) to reach the first milestone.

It was also during this plan that the construction of new Houses of Worship were announced in several countries and clusters worldwide. The importance of nurturing the devotional character of a community through devotional gatherings become much clearer as Bahá’ís gained a better understanding of the connection between worship and service, and the unique role of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in community life.

The fourth in the series of Five Year Plans (2016–2021) is the one we’re in now, and it calls for raising the level of intensity in each of the 5,000+ clusters targeted during the previous plan, so that each of these clusters can be said to have an intensive program of growth in place (i.e. a working, self-sustaining, and ever-expanding institute process). In other words, each of these clusters are to reach the second milestone or beyond during this plan. At this point, enough learning has been generated through the experiences of Bahá’í communities around the world that the framework of the plans is clear and needs only to be exploited to its fullest potential.

tl;dr: An evolving series of plans with the overall aim of developing the capacity of more and more individuals, communities and institutions to serve humanity. Each plan in this series has had its own particular focus and goals, but each one has built on the last and served to carry forward two complimentary movements: The movement of increasing numbers of collaborators through the training institute process, and the movement of clusters from one stage of development (or organization/systematization) to the next.

teaching the cause

uh ohIt’s been an eventful couple of weeks. since Marty‘s been away, I’ve had to hold down the fort at work, which has been a challenge and a half. I’m looking forward to seeing his friendly, focused face across my cubicle wall tomorrow morning.

A group of brave champions has been gathering at my place lately to study Book 6 of the Ruhi Curriculum, entitled Teaching the Cause. This “study circle” has been intense so far, with some pretty good discussion. It’s the first time in a while I’ve facilitated this book from beginning to end—a welcome addition to my life, as studying the Ruhi curriculum is always a joy, whether as a tutor or facilitator or as a participant—no matter how you take part in a study circle, you’ll always learn from it. The challenge for us this time around will be to integrate practice components into the group’s study, as it’s the practice of teaching, more than just talking about teaching, that really brings the benefits. Something about it being the source of all courage and all. One of our number is currently on pilgrimage—such a bounty!—which should increase the overall emblazedness of the group several times over once she returns. I’m hoping it will, especially since Ottawa’s next reflection meeting is coming up in two weeks—July 27th!—and this will most probably tie into the aforementioned practice component of our study circle.

Ottawa’s Baha’i community commemorated the Martyrdom of the Báb on the 9th of July; fellow Baha’i blogger Philippe of Baha’i Thought wrote up an excellent post distilling key concepts in the life of The Báb—and in the lives of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—which brought me to a new understanding of the meaning of the Báb’s Martyrdom within the context of humanity’s path towards maturity.

Aaaaaaaand lots of birthdays too. Apart from Catherine‘s birthday on the 5th and my brother Gabriel (freshly back from India) who celebrates his birthday on the 18th, lots of other friends have either had their birthdays this month or will have them soon: Sahba T and Sahba S (no relation), Sarah HT, Dru, Andrea, Shamim from Sherbrooke, and so on and so on… HAPPY COLLECTIVE BIRTHDAY

fire and snow

Martin’s been away for the past two weeks, participating in a program called Fire and Snow that’s been organized by the Baha’i Institute Board of Ontario. Following in the footsteps of the successful “Pebbles to Pearls” program offered in Summer 2006, Fire and Snow offers its participants the opportunity to learn about establishing and sustaining community-building activities for the general public and to gain tangible experience with community outreach. The program revolves around community groups for junior youth[1], aimed to help them “develop their capacities for teaching and service” and to “learn and strengthen their identity as selfless servants to humanity”. I’ll let Martin explain what’s been happening lately…

Things are going well here at the Fire and Snow training in Toronto. As you know I’m here with Mom and we are delivering firesides[2] (hastily armed with Anna’s presentation[3] and themes for elevating conversations[4]), knocking on doors and inviting to core activities[5], and sustaining those core activities as we go. Today we held a junior youth course with seven junior youth from the neighbourhood, a Baha’i children’s class with the same amount of children, a Baha’i devotional gathering with five people, and we are hoping to launch a mothers’ group tomorrow—using materials that we have not even seen—or are confident that we will be able to get in time—a feature that describes much of the nature of our work!

Basically we study from the books composing the main sequence of the Ruhi curriculum[6] (in our case, we used Books 2, 3, 5 and 6) during the morning and early afternoon and then prep quickly and go to our neighbourhoods from 6-9pm. It took some getting used to physically, but we soon established a rhythm (our days are from 7am-11:00pm).

There is nothing, on the whole, ‘magical’ about the process, just tons of Ruhi done with breakneck speed, heaps of singing and prayers, sagacious words from the Counsellor[7], and of course, unremitting action in the field of teaching.

Helpful Glossary:

[1] “Junior youth” refers to young adolescents between the ages of 12 and 14. youth in this age group are granted particular importance in the Baha’i community, falling as they do just before the “age of maturity” as defined by Baha’u’llah (15), by which time advanced mental, emotional and spiritual faculties are developed.

[2] “Firesides” (or “fireside chats”) usually refer to a friendly encounter in someone’s home, for the purpose of introducing someone to the Bahá’í Faith. The term originated with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who broadcasted his presidential addresses via “fireside chats”, creating an intimate and accessible atmosphere by holding them in his home, by the fire.

[3] “Anna’s presentation” is a nickname referring to several sections of Book 6 of the Ruhi curriculum, “Teaching the Cause”, in which participants explore how to effectively share with receptive souls a general overview (or presentation) of the Baha’i Faith that is detailed enough to be considered complete. When people talk about using “Anna’s presentation” they are generally referring to using notes they have distilled from these sections in order to present an accurate and complete overview of the Baha’i Faith.

[4] The act of “elevating conversations” refers to a skill developed in the last unit of Book 2 of the Ruhi curriculum, “Arising to Serve”. Participants study the many talks and lectures of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and familiarize themselves with the way He introduced uplifting topics and ideas into conversation, that they may use that same skill in their everyday lives.

[5] “Core activities” are fundamental activities on which healthy communities are founded, and which make up the core of Baha’i Community life worldwide. There are four generally recognized “core activities”, which are present with great variety and diversity throughout the world: devotional meetings (for prayer and meditation), study circles (to learn skills of service through interaction with the Creative Word of God), junior youth groups (to develop the latent capacities of young youth aged 12-14; see #1 above) and children’s classes (for the moral and spiritual education of children).

[6] The “Ruhi curriculum” refers to a sequence of courses offered as distance education by the Ruhi Institute in Colombia. the courses are offered as part of a dynamic curriculum meant to build skills of service, which, in turn, can be used to build a community. the courses involve examination of and interaction with the writings of the Bahá’í Faith, so as to understand their meaning and apply them to the real world. The “main sequence” of the Ruhi curriculum consists of the seven books which make up the foundation of this curriculum. For more information, visit Ruhi Resources.

[7] “Counsellors” are appointed individuals who serve on the continental level within the Baha’i administrative order as learned advisors to individuals and institutions. They hold no executive or legislative power; their only role is to advise. Counsellors and their auxiliaries often provide a much-needed global perspective to local efforts through their close ties to the World Centre of the Baha’i Faith.

contemplating today

shrine of the Báb from afar. photo: Maurice & Marcelle TurgeonToday is (or was) Sunday, the 24th of September, 2006. Just a month plus a couple of days until Ottawa’s Baha’i community begins a new cycle of its program of growth; the same amount of time will pass before I leave for pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa. Both of these are preoccupying me at the moment. Before I leave for pilgrimage, I need to get quite a whack of documentation done up: renew my health card, renew my driver’s license (which will entail taking my G-level exam), get passport photos taken and signed by garantors, to name a few. I need to read up on safe travel guidelines for pilgrims coming to the World Centre, so that I’m not taken by surprise during my visit. Oh yeah: most people are surprised when I tell them that I’ve never been on an airplane. Never meaning “once, when I was one and a half years old and I don’t remember a thing about it”. So that’ll be an interesting experience. And beyond all the material preparations, there are the spiritual preparations for pilgrimage. I’m not sure that I’m fully ready to sit and pray in the Shrines and be able to take it all in. I’m afraid I’ll just be so overwhelmed, or worse, be left unaware of the full magnitude of the experience. I suppose everybody goes through that sort of self-questioning… like ‘Abdu’l-Baha said, when in doubt, pray for strength. It will be given to you, no matter how difficult the circumstances. More about this later.

And then there’s life in Ottawa, and my service goals for the year. I just came back from a tutor meeting tonight (Sunday night—had to skip choir 🙁 ). We went over the latest guidance from the Universal House of Justice, looking at it from the perspective of our roles as tutors.

Note: In this case, for those who may not know, “tutor” is just shorthand for someone who facilitates the sequence of courses offered by the Ruhi Institute, a community development program that focuses on the development of skills of service through the application of spiritual insights that are gained through profound study of the Baha’i Writings. Anyone who has completed said sequence of courses can act as a tutor; most commonly, we say that such a person “acts as a tutor” rather than bestowing a title of “Tutor” upon them. —dj

Much of our discussion focused on how we could be more effective in our service as tutors; for example, focusing on implementing the practice component of institute courses—which transforms the course from a mere academic exercise to a skill-building experience. Lots of food for thought. It should help me a lot in planning how I want to serve in the near future. So far, I plan to put a sizable chunk of my effort into our neighbourhood francophone children’s class. That’s going well so far; I already have an outline of the curriculum done up for the entire school year, up to August, all based on the modified Furutan curriculum provided by the Canadian Spiritual Assembly. That’s mental! And it’s already way past what we were able to do last year. I really feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence and know-how from the past year’s experience of co-teaching this class—and that makes me feel quite optimistic about the challenge of the new year ahead.

One last note, relating to my own personal development: Certain things have been happening lately that have made me look back at the past few years of my life. Right now, I see how far my life has come in the past ten years and I’m almost brought to tears, tears of joy and of gratitude. Fact is, I barely recognize myself now. I feel like my life has done a complete volte-face, or about-face. When I was 16, I never would have thought that one day I would be confidently teaching children’s classes, establishing a successful career doing something I really enjoy, developing healthy, nourishing friendships and relationships with people I love and care about. Whereas I was quietly depressed as a teenager, now I feel like bursting with joy at the prospect of really living a rich and fulfilling life. There’s so much to tell about this that I don’t have the time to share right now, but God willing, I’ll be able to share some of these things with you. Have a good day at work or at school and keep the comments (and emails) coming.

Photo: Maurice & Marcelle Turgeon.

ruhiresources.org gets a facelift!

That indispensible resource for participants in the institute process, ruhiresources.org, just got a nice new look, and I must say, it’s the difference between night and day. In fact, I think I just got J. The new site offers vast improvements over the old, particularly in terms of the clear, simple organization of content, the improved user interface, and the addition of new categories like “Practice”, “Service Ideas” and “Tutor Tips”, each rich with content and growing. Colour-coding the tabs along the top of the page to match the colours of the Ruhi books is a nice touch. You’ll notice that there’s now a “Book 3A”: that would be Teaching Children’s Classes, Grade 2—what we used to know as Book 5. A new book 5 will be coming soon, of course, devoted to raising up junior youth animators. A few of us in Ottawa had the chance to study a draft version of this new book over the winter, and I think we can safely say that it’s well worth studying. Look out for it.

Anyway, enough said. Go to ruhiresources.org. Browse through it. Bookmark it. Keep coming back. Thank you!

baha’i youth meeting tonight, 7:30 @ 40 landry!

look alive, it’s tonight… make your way over and join us! let’s show Counsellor Scott how ready we are to “storm the gates of heaven” and throw our lot in to the work of the Five Year Plan!

We may well emulate Bahá’í youth whose recent surge forward into the van of proclamation and teaching is one of the most encouraging and significant trends in the Faith, and who storm the gates of heaven for support in their enterprises by long-sustained, precedent and continuing prayer. We are all able to call upon Bahá’u’lláh for His Divine, all-powerful aid, and He will surely help us. For He is the Hearer of prayers, the Answerer.

(Ridván Message, 1972 / 129 B.E.,
from the Universal House of Justice)

Addendum: The meeting was powerful, inspiring and challenging… the call to arise and serve was given – and one of the most simple and practical ways we can arise is to go through the sequence of Ruhi courses, and make sure we get the practice done! Visiting people in their homes, studying prayers with them, and offering our service in the core activities (study circles, devotional meetings, children’s classes, and junior youth groups) – that’s where it’s at… One thing that really stuck out for me: we grow spiritually the more we try to change the society around us… we can’t grow spiritually by just talking or sitting at home. If we want to really fulfill our life’s purpose and become better people we have to go out into the world, serve, teach, try our best to reflect the names and attributes of God, and little by little change the way things happen around us.

Want to get involved in a study circle and take those first few steps? Get in touch with Martin, Sahba or Ayafor and they will gladly help hook one up.