Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Neighborhood Teaching in Queens

Many clusters are finding that among the most successful teaching efforts are those which are organized and executed at the neighborhood level. The following example from the New York, NY (A) cluster demonstrates this approach to mobilizing friends and planning action on a manageable scale. It is interesting to note that friends in the New York cluster have begun holding “mini” neighborhood reflection gatherings for certain areas. They have found that this helps both the neighborhood itself, and the cluster as a whole, as “due to the limited amount of time at cluster-wide reflection meetings, beginning the consultation and planning ahead of time at a neighborhood reflection meeting leads to smoother and more organized formation of collective action plans.”

Since August, the Bahá’ís of the New York City borough of Queens have channeled their passion for teaching into a systematic collective endeavor — the Queens Teaching Project. Conceived collectively through consultation and on-the-ground learning, the project grew organically out of a shared desire to teach the Faith and the call to action issued by the Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan 2007 message.

Reaching Receptive Populations

For the second expansion phase in a row, teaching teams and individuals joined forces to reach out to receptive populations — South Asians and Latin Americans — through personal teaching, home visits, evening events, and street teaching using “teaching tables” in the Little India and Spanish sections of the Jackson Heights neighborhood. In November a new effort targeted African Americans in the Jamaica neighborhood.

“We knew these areas would be good to target because we have put out teaching tables in a number of neighborhoods and Jackson Heights and Jamaica have been particularly responsive,” says a member of the Table Teaching Team.

During the two weekends of the expansion phases Bahá’ís worked in tandem with the teaching tables to invite contacts to core activities and evening events. New friends from the tables and personal contacts attended Spanish, Hindi, and English firesides and devotionals at a range of locations — a Jewish community center, an Indian restaurant and private homes.

Unity as the Foundation

To date more than 40 Bahá’ís have participated in the project, including members of four teaching teams, two study circles, two junior youth groups and one children’s class. Auxiliary Board members, Local Spiritual Assembly and Area Teaching Committee members, and cluster institute coordinators also joined in.

“The level of unity among the Queens Bahá’ís is wonderful — it is our most precious asset,” says a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly and Jackson Heights Teaching Team. “When you combine unity with the passion for teaching, Bahá’u’lláh opens every door and confirms every effort!”

Direct Presentation of the Faith

At a fireside following the day of teaching in Little India, for example, two seekers of Indian descent — both of whom had been nurtured through home visits and ongoing teaching — declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh. The next night, a Spanish fireside followed teaching in the Spanish section, and welcomed three seekers from the tables. Both new Bahá’ís and all three Spanish seekers plan to join study circles - one in Hindi and one in Spanish.

“We did Anna’s Presentation from Ruhi Book 6 at both of these recent firesides,” the Assembly member explains. “On Saturday we had Hindi translation and on Sunday we had Spanish translation.It was an amazing experience and look at the results — we have excited new members of our community!”

Multiplying Core Activities

A multiplication of junior youth groups and a new children’s class were highlights of the consolidation phase. A junior youth night during the consolidation phase welcomed 25 people — including 12 junior youth and 13 seekers and resulted in a new junior youth group. Home visits are being planned with the parents and one Bahá’í parent is the host of the new Spanish study circle.

“These are exciting times in Queens,” says a member of the Table Teaching Team. “There is nothing more exciting than teaching the Faith and participating in the Five Year Plan!”


The Opportunities

Along with the energy and enthusiasm of the Bahá’ís in Queens, here are a few factors that led to the project’s creation and initial success:

1. Regular study of letters from the World Center.

In 2006, the Area Teaching Committee of New York City, in collaboration with the Local Spiritual Assembly, began leading short “Discussions on Growth” during each Nineteen Day Feast. These consultations enabled the friends to study recent letters from the Universal House of Justice and International Teaching Center and consult together on the progress of the teaching work.

2. Passion for teaching.

A core group of Bahá’ís was passionate about teaching. Believers often spoke about wanting to do more to share the Faith, and wanted to know how to collaborate effectively.

3. Unity. The borough’s most precious resource is the unity among the friends. Dinners before Feast, social nights and devotionals were held not out of obligation but because people wanted to be together.

4. Reflection. Quarterly Queens reflection meetings, a week before the cluster reflection meetings, gave the friends an extra opportunity to evaluate neighborhood resources, assess strengths and make collective plans.

5. Ruhi Book 6, “Teaching the Cause.” A core group of Queens Bahá’ís enrolled in a Book 6 study circle and began to study the dynamics of teaching. These friends arose immediately to implement what they were learning and formed the core of the project.

6. Knowledge of receptivity. Through months of work, the Table Teaching Team learned where in Queens the Faith was most warmly received. This information was critical in planning which populations to target.

7. Focus. The more people studied messages from the World Centre, progressed through study circles and participated in the “Discussions on Growth” at Feast, the more effectively they served together.

8. Diversity. Reflecting the area in which they live, the Bahá’ís in Queens come from every corner of the planet, bringing with them language, cultural and teaching skills that they eagerly harmonized in the project.

9. Institutional Support. As Area Teaching Committee and Local Spiritual Assembly members living in Queens, and serving as tutors and on teaching teams, began to see the enthusiasm build around teaching, the institutions began to support activities in subtle but effective ways that empowered individuals and promoted collective action.

The Challenges

The experience gained through the Queens Teaching Project, shed light on important areas for continued learning.

1. Follow up. Proclaiming the name of Bahá’u’lláh is easy. Walking with contacts, seekers and new believers on a path towards Bahá’u’lláh requires regular, consistent follow up. More home visits are needed.

2. Understanding the institute process. A coherent understanding of the Institute Process as the “engine of growth” — and its importance in sustaining the project — has emerged as the friends have engaged in the teaching work.

3. Too few tutors. The institute is working hard to train new tutors while a small group of tutors work to meet the needs of seekers and Bahá’ís ready to start Ruhi Book 1.

4. Diverging opinions. Discussions at Feast, informally and in study circles have focused on the range of teaching methods that people find “appropriate.” Respect for opinions and flexibility of approach allowed people to participate in the project in ways that were comfortable and exciting for them, which has been key to fostering unity.

5. Effort and results. Over the course of four intensive weekends of personal and street teaching, well over 1,500 pamphlets and invitations were distributed. Of the 1,500+ pamphlets handed out, 35 people joined the Bahá’í mailing list. Of these about 10 attended firesides,two declared and four plan to join a study circle.

6. Two few resources. One of the lessons learned immediately was the importance of having Spanish and Hindi speakers involved, as well as having literature in Spanish and Hindi. Materials needed to be ordered in advance.


Teaching blog said...

janet Says:

January 6th, 2008 at 10:30 am

what are these teaching tables and how and where did you set them up.Was there permission needed to do this?

Teaching blog said...

Bruce Says:

January 9th, 2008 at 3:17 pm edit

Hi Janet,

We had two “teaching tables” set up in two neighborhoods — Little India, the heart of the South Asian community, and the other a few blocks away in the Spanish section. Both areas have lots of foot traffic and people had proven to be receptive to the Faith, so we knew we’d get into good teaching encounters. We did not seek or need permission. Both areas have lots of street vendors so the teaching tables fit in culturally.

As for what the a “teaching table” is: Each table was a simple card table with a large, beautifully designed sign inviting people to learn about the Faith. The sign had a large photo of the Temple in India, with quotes from the Writings, smaller photos of Baha’is around the world etc. Each table also had literature in English, Spanish and one or two Indian languages, and was staffed by at least three Baha’is at a time.

We had so much fun together, and learned tons that is really helping the expansion phase we’re about to launch in two weeks.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes for your teaching endeavors,


Teaching blog said...

e Says:

January 9th, 2008 at 4:44 pm edit

this sounds like a great idea!