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Over 20 years ago, my family left metropolitan life and moved to the Australian regional centre of Ballarat. Located an easy 90-minute drive west of Melbourne, the city is renowned in Australia and abroad for its goldrush history. However, I like to think of its claim-to-fame as being the fact that Australia’s first ever Baha’i woman Effie Baker was raised there, and it was in Ballarat where she received the knowledge and training that would ultimately lead to her serving the Faith as one of its most notable photographers.
With a population of about 100,000, Ballarat is certainly rich in culture, history and heritage. But the reason I love my hometown most of all is because of the strong sense of love, unity and devotion which underpins the Baha’i community. While relatively small (we have less than 30 adult believers and about 15 children and junior youth), we have always managed to work within our means to serve the Faith in a spirit of utmost humility, forging a pattern of collective life that is warm, inclusive and ever-advancing.
In the lead up to the bicentenaries of the Birth of Baha’u’llah and the Birth of the Bab, the Universal House of Justice sent a message to the Baha’is of the world indicating “the manner in which these highly significant Festivals are to be celebrated.” 1 In its gentle, non-prescriptive and loving tone, the Supreme Body stated that “these Holy Days should be viewed as special opportunities for the friends to reach out to the widest possible cross-section of society and to all those with whom they share a connection.” 1
And so, the Ballarat Baha’is rose to the occasion alongside their comrades from all around the world, celebrating this “period of special potency” 2 with such love, dignity, creativity, and honour, and sharing Baha’u’llah’s unifying vision with all those who yearned to listen (get yourself a glimpse here and here).
The time now draws near to celebrate the bicentenary of the Birth of the Bab, with only weeks remaining until we “gird up the loins of thine endeavour” 3 and mark this significant moment in Baha’i history!
Recently, the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia released a message to the believers looking at the nature of these celebrations, referencing also some select messages from the Universal House of Justice. Our community took it upon itself to study these messages and extract some key themes, which we thought would allow us to better plan for the festivities. Here are some of the points we are keeping in mind in the lead up, during, and after the Holy Day itself.
1. Reaching out to the widest cross-section of society
We know the bicentenary should be viewed as a special opportunity for the friends “to reach out to the widest possible cross-section of society” 1. So, instead of simply thinking of the celebration as one event, we have implemented a number of plans in honour of the anniversary and in order to reach as many people as possible.
These plans include increasing devotional gatherings, intensifying teaching efforts, expanding and strengthening our core activities, and engaging in more heart-to-heart conversations in order to continue expanding our circles of friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
2. Celebrations that are uplifting and reverent
According to the Universal House of Justice:
Such initiatives, coupled with widespread celebrations that are both uplifting and reverent, are also sure to spark the curiosity and wonder of many who may as yet be unfamiliar with the names of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. 1.
In addition to the aforementioned plans, our community will host some one-off events including a dedicated Children’s Festival and a Bicentenary Luncheon. Like most of our Holy Days, we hope these events will be uplifting, reverent and all-embracing so everyone feels comfortable inviting their friends along.
3. Taking a creative approach
The National Spiritual Assembly says that “the friends are encouraged to take creative approaches to the celebrations, drawing on diverse forms of artistic and cultural expression.” 4
For the bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah, our community decided to mark the occasion with a one-hour production which took the audience through the unifying message of Baha’u’llah using the medium of performance. We commissioned local musicians to put Baha’u’llah’s words to song, music and dance and curated a show that was truly mystical, inspiring and informative.
While we won’t be hosting a production of this scale this year, we are still ensuring our plans take on a creative approach and we hope their intimacy will pave the way for some deeper connections to be made. We have once again commissioned artists to assist with our endeavours, and will also be using the artistic talents of our own children!
4. Conversations centred around the Faith’s key Founders
The House of Justice also states that,
Before and after the first bicentenary, the believers engaged family, friends, and acquaintances of all kinds in conversations about the life and teachings of the Blessed Beauty, and the conversations which occur in connection with the upcoming anniversary will in many ways be an extension of these, centring on both of the Faith’s Twin Founders. 5
In the lead up to the Twin Holy Days, our community is hosting a series of themed devotional gatherings which aim to familiarize people with the Bab, His Station and His Life. Themes are centred around the outstanding heroes and heroines of the Faith, the Bab’s Ministry, and the Personage of Baha’u’llah. These gatherings provide yet another avenue to engage in conversations about the Twin Luminaries.
5. Embracing more people into the community building process
For me, the greatest, most uplifting way to celebrate this momentous time, more powerful than any single event, is to embrace more and more friends into the community building process underway in our very own neighbourhoods. Through regular expansion and consolidation efforts and through the strengthening of friendships both old and new, we are given the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and share the very essence of Baha’u’llah’s revelation – the oneness of humanity – inviting a greater number of individuals to join us on a path of service towards the betterment of the world.
The Universal House of Justice states that:
…the real transformative power of the Faith is likely to be perceived more readily still if people experience how worship and meaningful service are being woven into the fabric of the lives of Baha’is everywhere. Indeed, from the community-building activities of the Five Year Plan emerges a pattern of collective life within which anyone can discern the vivifying influence of the divine teachings brought by God’s Manifestations. 6
With this in mind, we have been striving to embrace more people into our “pattern of collective life” with each passing cycle in a bid to showcase the transformative power of the Faith and hopefully provide a glimpse into what unity in diversity can look and feel like.
6. Universal Participation
At the end of the day, the entire premise of our Faith is based on universality and I think it’s vital we all discover our role in contributing towards these festivities. I don’t know about you, but I love thinking of the many thousands of seemingly small initiatives taking place all over the world during this time, and imagining how they join together as one to illuminate the entire earth.
The National Spiritual Assembly says it is its hope for
every individual to engage in some way – to host a devotional, teach the Faith, invite their family and friends, and contribute their own unique talents and capacities to the collective celebrations – thereby facilitating a deeper connection of every believer to the Blessed Bab on the two hundredth anniversary of His Birth. 7
I’d love to know, what are you individual plans during this period of special potency? And how will your community be celebrating the bicentenary? Please do share!
- Universal House of Justice, Message dated May 18, 2016, p.1
- Universal House of Justice, Message to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, December 29, 2015, p.14
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990, p.339
- National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia, Message dated June 14, 2019, p. 1
- Universal House of Justice, Message dated June 1, 2018, p.1
- Universal House of Justice, Message to the Baha’is of the world, May 18, 2016, pp.1 – 2
- National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia, Message dated 14 June 2019, p. 1
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