Sunday, January 31, 2010

Share your SED endeavors and learn what others are doing!

Around the United States, a number of new and ongoing social and economic development (SED) initiatives are underway. Share what you have learned with others by sending your story to Whatever the focus, however big or small, your experiences can inspire others to also take action. We eagerly await your stories!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No matter what you're doing, always bring someone along

One special aspect of junior youth groups is the “animator gathering”. This is a regular meeting where animators in a cluster or region can come together to share experiences, identify lessons learned, consult on challenges, encourage each other, and plan future actions. These gatherings play a vital role in building the capacity of animators and in sustaining junior youth groups. We are happy to share the report of a recent animator gathering held in Eugene, OR (A). The participants framed their consultations with review of some key guidance, studied specific sections of Ruhi Book 5 (Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth), sharing their own experiences, and experiences of other animators around the world, and practical exercises to build skills related to group formation. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a very rich set of insights. One particularly striking point is that we should make accompaniment a constant aspect of our service, to “always bring someone along” with us for every task.

Eight friends gathered in Eugene for an animator gathering. Our thoughts were on the Bahá’ís on trial occurring that same hour; our prayers and devotional music were focused on our beloved friends in Iran and for assistance to raise up souls who would "adorn the world of being with a new raiment and a wondrous robe". After a round of introductions in which we shared joyous moments from our own memories when we were junior youth, a brief message was conveyed on behalf of the Regional Institute Coordinator expressing admiration for the steadfast service of the friends in Eugene. The Cluster Institute Coordinator, in whose home we were meeting, has also been very supportive of the animators, and gratitude was expressed for her assistance and support. . . .

We then began studying the guidance on the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program. We reflected upon the vision of junior youth who would be empowered to "rescue their peers", and how "spiritual battles will be on the street corners of village and city, in the school hallways and places of recreation". (from a December 1988 letter of the International Teaching Center) The paragraph on junior youth in the Ridvan 2000 message was also read. We then familiarized ourselves with the purpose and nature of the program.

Several comments from youth who had participated in the junior youth activities in rural India (obtained from the Ruhi Institute’s Web site at were shared. These comments were inspiring and clearly illustrated the program's potential for encouraging junior youth and youth to bring about social change within their own communities. One comment led to an excited discussion on the use of the book “Breezes of Confirmation” and how junior youth in our region have responded to it.

One animator in Eugene shared how a junior youth who had difficulty reading often showed that he grasped the concepts in the book despite struggling with the language. This was evident as the junior youth would enthusiastically re-tell the story to other participants in his group when they had missed a group meeting.

A conversation on the nature of accompaniment then ensued. The logo on the front of the Ruhi books—of people holding hands—depicted beautifully how we may be engaged in service. The friends were encouraged to always bring along someone as they serve, whether in starting new groups, in animating, in planning group meetings or studying and reflecting, so that the learning experience is always shared with others. We hope to develop more systematic ways of noting what we are learning and communicating it with others effectively.

We then went through some of the sections of Unit 3 in Ruhi Book 5. Many creative and practical approaches on how to form groups were shared by the participants. Some of the approaches had already been tried by animators and others will be attempted as new groups form and current groups expand in number.

One approach is to encourage the junior youth to invite their friends. Two experiences were shared about how a junior youth who visited previously existing groups had a sense about what the purpose of the program was and therefore found it easy to invite their friends to something they had themselves experienced. An interesting insight was shared that, as a result of attending a junior youth group, it is easier for a junior youth to define their Bahá’í identity by the activities the group engages in (e.g., service, study, arts). This therefore provides them a means to teach their peers about the Faith, not simply by describing principles but through actual deeds.

One animator mentioned that having group meetings in a common public area, particularly in warm weather, has also been an effective way to attract new members. Another suggestion was to hold a series of service projects in a particular neighborhood that would attract the attention of those living there, and provide a natural way to introduce the program.

As more members join a junior youth group, they would also then invite their other friends—this has been a successful approach for one group in Eugene which has now almost doubled in size. One challenge of this approach (friends inviting friends) is the animators are trying to find a systematic way to follow up with the parents, since they are not making the initial introductions to the program for the junior youth.

Since Eugene is a city that lends itself to micro-neighborhoods, it was suggested that the friends interact at a local level (community markets, free classes, local schools), to get to know parents of junior youth or teachers, and introduce the program to them.

The group also split itself into pairs who practiced introducing the junior youth program to each other, as one might do to a parent. The purpose of this was to familiarize participants with the language and the concepts with which we might describe the program. The Ridvan 2000 paragraph on junior youth was suggested as a guide as to how to present key ideas about junior youth and the purpose of the program.

The Cluster Institute Coordinator and a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly also shared the guidelines from the National Spiritual Assembly for the protection of junior youth—specifically on ensuring that at all times, two adults or animators were present with the junior youth.

One group requested for help in identifying an animator, as one of our youth will be leaving to serve at the World Center later this year. Two participants immediately offered their assistance to help sustain this group, such was the spirit of community and desire to serve amongst the friends present!

Plans were then made about when the next animator gathering could be held. Since an intensive weekend covering Unit 3 of Book 5 is already planned for February, the next animator gathering will be in March. One suggested topic for the next gathering would be the nature of complementary activities such as arts and crafts in a group. It was announced that an intensive (4-day weekend) Book 5 will be held in early February and another during Spring Break.

The gathering ended with a song about the Bahá’ís in Iran. The friends left with resolute hearts about their plans to complete Book 5 as soon as possible, focus on expanding their groups, and ensuring existing groups continue to be sustained. We all felt moved by the sacrifices of the Bahá’ís in Iran, and were determined to strive in our service, in recognition of their sacrifices.

Focused learning moves Knoxville forward

Some types of progress take center stage, and other types of progress occur behind the scenes. But all progress involves the growing capacity of the believers to reach out to their neighbors and share the Message. This report from Knoxville, TN (A) is especially interesting because the friends have been involved in some very focused learning about a specific part of the teaching process: inviting seekers to declare. To spread the learning (and increase their capacity), they organized a gathering to build their skills in a practical way.

I wanted to give you a report about a gathering that was based on an idea you and I had discussed some time back. We had shared experiences about things we had recently learned about directly inviting seekers to declare. You had suggested that maybe the area teaching committee should host a special meeting in the community to share these ideas. Well, we ended up doing just that, and it was very fun and inspiring for all who were able to attend. . . .

We called it the "Learning and sharing about teaching meeting" (long title, I know) and it was held at the Knoxville Bahá’í Center. There were 12 people who attended from all corners of the cluster. We of course didn’t mean for it to be replacement of the Reflection Gathering, and it wasn’t; it’s just that we were at the middle of our IPG cycle and we wanted to share these ideas as soon as possible rather than waiting for the next reflection gathering that wouldn’t be until the end of the cycle.

At this meeting, we reviewed new and creative ways of inviting people to declare, shared teaching success stories over the past year and got motivation from the excitement of others who had been teaching their own community of interest and in their own neighborhoods with family and friends. . . .

So, some new and interesting things we learned from each other were:

To challenge our friends and seekers to learn more about the Bahá’í Faith from the international Web site, and say, “Next time we meet, let’s discuss the most interesting thing you found out about the Faith from the website." That resulted in a declaration.

To say to a seeker or during a home visit, "It seems like you love Bahá’u’lláh and the principles of the Bahá’í Faith. Is there any reason you would not want to become a Bahá’í?" That resulted in a declaration.

To ask a seeker, "Have you prayed about the Bahá’í Faith? What does your heart tell you?" This also resulted in a declaration.

We read the super cool recent letter from our Regional Bahá’í Council about how college campuses can be considered receptive populations, and therefore decided to definitely increase the number of firesides on college campuses this semester. Many of the adults who were present volunteered and made a commitment to come and help the youth on college campuses this year.

Another idea stemming from that letter was to spend time this semester approaching college professors in specific departments in the colleges near where we live to ask if we can do a presentation about the Bahá’í Faith, such as in the Sociology, Religious Studies, African-American Studies, Psychology, Women's Studies, and American culture departments, because they might be more inclined to want their students to learn about the Bahá’í Faith.

This meeting had a devotional portion, and we also consulted on the themes we found in the Bahá’í Holy Writings used during that devotional. The biggest themes were:

We should approach teaching with great joy, become detached from the outcome, and realize we are just an instrument of Bahá’u’lláh.

We should not get dismayed if there are not as many of us doing the teaching work as we would like to see right now, because the truth is that the angels of the Concourse on High are with us when we open our lips to teach, and that is all the help we need.

The importance of having our personal lives and character in line with the Bahá’í teachings when we are teachers of the Faith ourselves.

Next time when we have this meeting, which will be coming up soon, we are going to do the same meeting, but make it longer so that we can incorporate more teaching, role-play, and practice of Anna's conversation, as well as learn from other ways of direct teaching that may have worked for people between now and then.

All in all, it was a really great idea, and the area teaching committee got several emails from people who thanked us for hosting that gathering. Thanks so much for the idea.

And since that time, the momentum hasn’t slowed down a bit. Here’s some recent news about one particular locality in the Knoxville cluster, and how the friends are arising with confidence to try out new approaches.

Dear friends,

Here is a picture of some of the Knox County Bahá’ís who got together for the first community devotional of 2010. We gathered together to pray for Haiti, the Yaran in Iran, and some of our family members who passed away in 2009. The devotional program was very moving and emotional, and yet also very uplifting and spiritually strengthening!

At the last Nineteen Day Feast, the Knox County community made a commitment to have weekly devotional gatherings and deepenings this year, in order to raise the level of core activities in the cluster, as well as to help strengthen our own Bahá’í community and ourselves, and to ultimately make the Five Year Plan a reality! People have already signed up for hosting these activities in their own homes and in their various neighborhoods, as opposed to just hosting them in the Bahá’í Center. This helps decentralize the activities of the Five Year Plan, so that we can more easily invite friends and neighbors.

This is a special accomplishment because the Knox County community has recently become much smaller, with only about 30 people remaining after many moved away this past year. It is also a milestone for community members to open up their own homes to host core activities. In the past, they had assisted with plenty of teaching projects and study circles in the homes of new believers, but there were all in other areas of the cluster and not in the Knox County locality itself. There had also been a pattern in the past of relying on the Knoxville Bahá’í Center and just waiting for events to be held there. That is now changed.

Please keep Knox County in your prayers so that we can all arise in unity to accomplish the goals of the Five Year Plan! Hopefully we can add more core activities to these regularly scheduled devotionals as the year progresses.

Different doorways, same loving response

Every day, seekers continue to reach out to the Bahá’í community through the public Web site or the 800-22UNITE phone line. Each story is unique, and it is amazing to see some of the channels through which people first learn of the Faith. And when this individual contacted the Bahá’ís, regional seeker response specialists from various parts of the country worked together to welcome him and put him in touch with the local friends.

Dear Friends,

I received a call today from a man who has been on a very interesting search and path.

I asked how he got my contact information, and he told me that he had visited a Christian Web site called “Religious Facts”. On that site, he learned about the other world religions, and so decided to investigate the Bahá’í Faith. . . .

He went online and also called the 800-22UNITE phone line, and some information and a prayer book was mailed to him. He had also visited the local library and was very disappointed that they had very little information on the Faith.

He said that the letter he was mailed had my 800 number. I explained that I would be happy to assist him, but since he lives in __ I would turn his information over to you and that you would work with him. We spent about 45 minutes going over Anna’s presentation. He is remarkable and very deep in his understanding of the Teachings.

Loving greetings to you both!

This individual later registered online, and the regional specialists are arranging for follow-up by the local friends.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gaining courage in Boise

Boise, ID (A) just launched its intensive program of growth, and the report of its first expansion phase is quite exciting. The one thing that strikes me the most about this story is that you can see the friends, each in their own way, gradually gaining courage to do things they haven’t done before. Note also the enthusiastic response of neighbors, seekers, and members of the community of interest to the core activities. What a thrilling start!

The IPG launch in the Boise cluster had 23 friends at the prayer gathering and lunch. With the love and assistance of a member of the Regional Bahá’í Council, we were guided to the field of action. His wise counsel prepared us for what was to be a successful day. We met at the home of a friend who has home front pioneered to a neighborhood that we had identified as receptive. . . .

25 people—3 of whom had recently declared as a result of their participating in a Book 1 study circle—gathered to be assigned into teaching teams. The teams were met with receptivity and families were open to have their children attend the Bahá’í children’s class. A devotional gathering held in the home of the homefront pioneer was attended by 5 seekers. Many other contacts were also made.

A key area of learning for the friends: individuals who were initially uncomfortable with going into the neighborhood found that, by being the “prayer partner” on the teaching team in the field gave them the joy and confidence to also teach.

One of the friends had started a children’s class in her neighborhood. She wanted to start a devotional gathering as well, but was a little apprehensive. She shared her fear with a neighbor who is a member of the community of interest. A short while late, she came home after being out and saw this friend running up to her. This friend then explained that had already visited all the neighbors and invited them to the prayer meeting! In other words, this friend had already arranged for the devotional, and all the Bahá’í then had to do was to set the time and place!

We are only getting started but confirmations are assisting the friends of the cluster to move forward with confidence.

We would like to thank the members of the Continental Board of Counselors, the National Spiritual Assembly, the Regional Bahá’í Council, the Regional Training Institute, the Office of Cluster Advancement, and every resource sent to our cluster for giving us the direction, guidance, training, love and courage to launch our Intensive Program of Growth. We humbly lay the effort on the foot steps of the Universal House of Justice and beg for their/your prayers as this cluster moves forward.

Humbly submitted


Laughter is the best introduction

I already knew that technology had opened the doors to teach the Faith in new ways, but hadn’t anticipated the following gem from Bloomington, IN (C). I’m still laughing.

In Bloomington, Indiana at our information tables at the Farmer's Market the following introductory lines almost always bring a good smile if not a full laugh:

What is the Bahá’í Faith:

"We invite you to investigate the possibility that about every thousand years the Creator sends a new software upgrade." . . .

"The Bahá’í Faith is the newest software upgrade that came to the planet on May 23rd, 1844 to lay the spiritual foundation for a new global civilization and a peaceful planet."

"Interestingly, the next day, May 24th, 1844, Samuel Morse typed out the first Morse Code: 'What hath God wrought?' God has created a spiritual and technological process to unify and harmonize the planet."

Warmest regards,


Monday, January 25, 2010

From Seeker to Protagonist

The story SEEMED familiar. At least at the beginning. But this report of a few declarations in East Valley, AZ (A) then took a surprising and delightful turn. A dedicated teaching team with a clear vision empowers brand new believers to become protagonists of community-building. You’re going to enjoy this (my favorite part is where they literally “laid it all on the table”!)

A couple who were interested to learn about the Faith attended a Holy Day celebration, as well as a Bahá’í conference. Immediately after the conference, they were invited to a fireside, at which a Bahá’í shared a conversation with them like Anna does in Ruhi Book 6. The Bahá’í asked them if they believed in Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for today. They both said yes and declared. . . .

So far, so good. Directly teaching seekers who then declare. This is happening more and more.

One of the new believers wanted all of their family members to also know about the Faith, so appointments were made to meet with them, resulting in another couple of declarations.

New believers then teach their family members. Again, we’re happy, and this is another process that is happening more and more. But here’s where it gets interesting . . .

On the third day, the teaching team visited the family again and conveyed the concept of building a spiritual civilization and the need for collaborators.

In other words, welcome to the Faith, now, let’s get to work! (This aint just a congregation.)

The teaching team laid the 7 Ruhi books on the table and explained the purpose of each book.

(In other words, a clear and simple framework for how we carry out this work. And these aren’t just books to read, but steps in preparing you for real acts of service.)

Initially there was a hesitation on the part of the new believers about their ability to carry out these acts of service. By the end of the conversation, however, one of them said, “I can do this.”


The tutors immediately explained the idea of team building and formed a team with the new family. The first line of action was to start a children’s class in their neighborhood, and the first step planned to carry this out is for the new teaching team to walk their neighborhood together and invite the neighbors’ children to the Bahá’í children’s classes.

Now that’s accompaniment! A seeker is now a protagonist of progress!

Each effort has to yield new fruit

In some regions, certain clusters have been identified as “Learning Labs”. These clusters regularly host visitors from other clusters (and sometimes other parts of the country), enabling the visitors, through on-the-ground participation in service, learn from their experiences. It is a conversation arising out of action. We are VERY excited to share some intriguing and rich insights generated from a recent visit to one such Learning Lab. Working within the vision outlined by the Universal House of Justice, the friends are reaching out to their neighbors, focusing on finding new human resources, and walking together to build new patterns of community life.

Here are just some of the insights shared by the friends in the Learning Lab cluster:

A few cycles ago the cluster was focused on trying to achieve high numbers of declarations over the two-week expansion phase. This level of enrollments had proven to be beyond the capacity of the community to carry out consolidation, and so was therefore unsustainable. . . .

Now the focus is on coherent growth: This is growth that is structured but organic. The “structure” is formed by a network of core activities that takes root ever more strongly in a neighborhood, and the key unit of service is the teaching team.

Thus the focus is on establishing an initial core activity with a family or group of neighbors. It is CRUCIAL that the team be able to mobilize resources from the neighborhood they are serving. Thus, teaching projects do not begin with trying to share direct presentations about the Faith. Rather, they focus first on finding people who want to collaborate in realizing the work and vision of building a spiritual community through establishing core activities. When these individuals become interested in learning about the Faith, then at that point the teachers would of course then teach them.

Each effort has to yield new fruit. For example, a devotional meeting could lead to opportunities to share Anna’s conversation or to start children’s classes. The friends here have learned that when an effort does not yield fruit, it becomes unsustainable and eventually dies out. This is not a bad thing, because it frees up resources for other efforts with more potential.

A teaching team needs to be grounded in the terms of discourse used by the Universal House of Justice; for example, children’s class teachers need to view their service in terms of creating centers of attraction for children that strengthen the roots of Faith in society. Unless we view our efforts the way the Universal House of Justice views them, we will not achieve the results that the Universal House of Justice is calling for.

Efficient collaboration and sharing of learning between teams, support, prayer, encouragement, and joy are all vital.

In short, “intensity” does not mean bringing many people to one uniform level of activity. Now it involves everyone stretching just a bit more each IPG cycle and thereby gaining a little more capacity to serve. The “intensity” is in the rhythmic pattern of progress, rather than a frenetic pace of fragmented effort.

And here are some of the ways how the visitors “carried the learning home”, particularly the goal of each effort yielding additional fruits:

A Book 6 study circle has taken on, as part of its regular activity, home visits to a new believer to share the deepening themes from Book 2. The goal is to start a Book 1 study circle with this believer upon the completion of the deepening themes.

A monthly devotional gathering has resulting in a number of participants declaring their Faith in Bahá’u’lláh, and appears to be ready to give birth to a Book 1 study circle.

Home visits to another new believer is attracting the sustained attention of family and friends—growing the community of interest.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Accompaniment brings rapid results

When you visit a community for a brief time, what sort of impact can you expect to bring about? A very profound impact, with dedication and focus! Here is a thrilling example of how a team of “mobile teachers” used the art of accompaniment to raise up 2 new junior youth groups in the Rio Grande Valley, TX (now an A!) cluster. It was part of a region-wide effort to use the Winter break to assist priority cluster.

Dear Friends,

We just wanted to share this exciting news from the results of a team of 3 young adult mobile teachers/tutors/animators that visited the Rio Grande Valley cluster (a goal cluster) at the end of December and early January.

This is one example of many young adult mobile teachers that visited goal clusters during the Winter break. . . .

Loving regards,


The good news is that J and I helped to establish a junior youth group in one locality, and E started a second group in another locality. The guys carried out a “crash course” animator training, and they accompanied the new animators to the point of actually launching the group.

These 3 believers have helped in other ways as well, but to have established 2 new junior youth groups in such a short period of time is quite an accomplishment, one that probably would not have happened without their experience and youthfulness. We are so grateful.

Much love,


Uniting a campus in prayer for Haiti

We wish to share this beautiful initiative spearheaded by the Bahá’í Campus Association at New York University. They have started a campaign of individual prayers and are planning an interfaith prayer event, at NYU. Below is a letter they have sent to all the religious clubs at that university. This is such a heartfelt outpouring of service, that we wanted to encourage the Bahá’ís at other colleges and universities to also consider a similar effort!

The president of the Bahá’í Campus Association gives some background to this endeavor:

In the past few weeks, the NYU campus has been hosting numerous student-run efforts to provide material relief for those affected by the disaster in Haiti. In light of the message from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Haiti along with reflection upon a quote by Shoghi Effendi (below), however, we felt it was incredibly important to summon spiritual support for the victims of the Haiti disaster as well. We have therefore used our resources as a Bahá'í Club at NYU to initiate a "Prayers for Haiti" campaign (and a Prayers for Haiti interfaith event) by reaching to all other spiritual clubs on campus. Below is the letter which we have written to the other clubs on campus (others are welcome to use it as well). . . .

Here is the letter:

To the spiritual clubs of NYU:

"...When such a crisis sweeps over the world no person should hope to remain intact. We belong to an organic unit and when one part of the organism suffers all the rest of the body will feel its consequence."—Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í writings

Dear friends,

In this time of extreme suffering for the people of Haiti and those all around the world who are touched by the disaster there, it is clear that our global community must rise up in every way we can to support those affected. Monetary and material support is, of course, of great necessity, but the importance of providing spiritual support is immeasurably important as well.

On behalf of the Bahá'í Club, I would therefore like to initiate the creation of a "Prayers for Haiti" event and campaign in the upcoming weeks. It would be a beautiful thing for all the clubs providing spiritual leadership on campus to pledge as one unified body that we will say daily prayers for those affected by the disaster in Haiti. Any clubs interested in co-sponsoring and hosting an inter-faith “Prayers for Haiti” devotional event, please contact us as soon as possible.

Thank you for your faithful support of those affected by the disaster in Haiti, and may our prayers spread comfort to those in need.

NYU Bahá’í Club

"So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."—Bahá’u’lláh

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Connecting seekers in "clusters within the cluster"

When someone calls the 800-22UNITE phone line or asks for information through the public Web site, the Seeker Response System “regional specialists” ensure that the inquiry is followed up. They are assisted by the grassroots efforts of the friends at the local and cluster levels. This story from an A-stage cluster in the Northeast region is particularly intriguing. The cluster is very large with numerous seekers and new believers in isolated and remote areas. This has required a creative—and dedicated—approach on the part of the local friends, including keeping track of human resources at the level of “clusters within the cluster”.

Here is the report from a local believer to regional seeker response specialist.

Dear R,

Another great evening with an excited seeker, this time in __ County! She went home with enough reading material for a month. __ has explored and attend prayer services of a number of religions. She found reference to the Bahá’í Faith online, and then you entered her search. It has taken a while to bring this face to face meeting to fruition. . . .

__ is sincere, searching, and wants to begin a Ruhi Book 1 study circle. When I asked if she had a friend or coworker who would also like to join this study circle, she responded positively and will try to invite a friend. She will let us know about what times work best for her. In the meantime, I will be staying in touch with her by email.

Since L is from the same part of the cluster, I will also approach her about this study circle. There is another couple of seekers nearby who I met at work. I will also write them, either to join this study circle, or meeting another time to learn more about the Faith. That’s the plan anyway.

Thank you ever so much for your guidance and loving presence in my life while I am traveling snowy blowy roads and praying and meeting these beautiful souls in our cluster.


And here is the loving and encouraging reply:

Dearest S,

You are surely one of the angels in this mortal plane, walking a spiritual life on practical feet. I am constantly amazed and in awe of your devotion and ingenuity in finding ways to accompany and connect these dear ones.

Warmest Bahá'í love and gratitude!


Goal: Make Mistakes

Here’s a gem from an A-stage cluster in the Central region. What was one of their goals for their most recent expansion phase? “Make mistakes and learn from them”!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Local Web sites a key tool

An individual believer from the San Francisco-San Mateo, CA (A) cluster shared this very useful teaching tool. The worldwide Bahá’í community has an official Web site,, and the national Bahá’í community also has an official Web site, Well, it’s becoming increasingly common for local Bahá’í communities to have their own Web sites as well.

Alláh'u'Abhá! In the rapidly expanding world of communications, it has been helpful for our community to have and maintain a website—with contact links, for seekers to send emails, as well as a contact number for the community. It's like localizing 1-800-22UNITE. We list firesides and other calendar events online, too.

We've also posted links to other communities in our area, so folks can get “linked up” with the community, even if they don't happen to live right in our locality.

So friends, we’d love it if you share your own experiences with setting up, using and maintaining local Web sites!

Milwaukee's IPG launches

It is always a joy when a cluster reaches that special point where it advances to the A-stage. It just happened in Milwaukee, WI. Here are some excerpts from that community’s newsletter helping orient the friends to this new chapter in the growth of the Faith, how they can participate, and the evolution of the cluster’s administrative structure. Most of all, you can feel the joy of launching an IPG!

Our cluster has attained the A-level! And there’s still time to join in the first ever expansion phase. What is the expansion phase? Here is what the Universal House of Justice says in its December 27, 2005 letter. . . .

“The expansion phase, often a period of two weeks, demands the highest level of intensity. Its objective is to widen the circle of those interested in the Faith, to find receptive souls and to teach them. Although this phase might include some element of proclamation, it should not be seen as a time to hold a few events for this purpose or to undertake a set of activities that merely convey information. Experience suggests that the more closely teaching approaches and methods are aligned with the capacity acquired from the study of the institute courses the more rewarding the results.”

How do you participate in this cluster’s first expansion phase? Teach and pray during the week. Make home visits, host devotional meetings, teach children’s classes, hold a fireside, offer Bahá’u’lláh’s message to others, and invite people to join you.

An Area Teaching Committee has been formed!

In response to the increased level of activity in our cluster, the Regional Bahá’í Council has formed our Area Teaching Committee! It assists with the advancement of the Five Year Plan by administering aspects of systematic effort to achieve accelerated expansion and consolidation. As part of the core team for the cluster, the Area Teaching Committee works closely with the Auxiliary Board members and Cluster Institute Coordinator.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Heart 2 Help Haiti - using institute experience to help the world

We asked for inspiring stories of SED initiatives and efforts to reach out and address the needs of the wider community. This is a beautiful and touching example of an endeavor that is supporting the relief work in response to the recent earthquake in Haiti. Called A Heart 2 Help Haiti (there is a link to its website in the description below), it describes simple ways in which the friends can, for example, make Valentine’s Day cards or decorated cookies, to raise funds to donate to reputable organizations such as the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders.

This is not just a meritorious initiative in its own right, it is also a brilliant example of the friends using the skills they’ve gained through the institute process to begin programs in their community focused on the betterment of the world. It is a grassroots initiative, easily replicable in clusters across the country, particularly well-suited to children’s classes and junior youth groups (note how this believer connected it to the concepts learned in one of the children’s classes).

It's been extremely sad watching the devastating news from Haiti, a feeling most of us likely share. We were thinking that aside from a modest financial contribution our family could make, we wished there was more we could do to help. I was trying to think of an idea for a fundraising project that would be very simple to carry out and came up with the idea of A Heart 2 Help Haiti.

This project can be done by anyone in any venue. But I'd also like to offer that it is a project could easily be done with Neighborhood Children's Classes. It would go well with Ruhi Book 3, Lesson 3 dealing with the issues of compassion and justice. It might also be something that junior youth groups would be interested to participate in. It could also be a wonderful opportunity for a community to do charitable works in preparation for the upcoming Ayyam-i-Ha season.

Friday, January 8, 2010

"We are looking at college clubs as networks of teaching teams."

How can Bahá’ís on a college or university campus most effectively teach the Faith? How can they most effectively contribute to the efforts in their cluster overall, including, if it’s an A-stage cluster, their cluster’s intensive program of growth? How can cluster agencies support the initiatives of Bahá’ís on campus? These are compelling questions, and we were exciting to receive the following insights that have been gained from a number of experiences on campus. Some key elements: individual initiative, on-campus teaching teams, flexibility, and regular communication with the core team.

The discussion was sparked from an initial question from a member of a Regional Bahá’í Council to all the Auxiliary Board members in the region:

Dear friends,

A question has come up recently about youth groups and college clubs. In your experiences within your clusters, are there organizations, institutions and/or agencies responsible for campus clubs and/or youth groups? For example, there is a cluster in which weekly firesides are taking place at a local college. The person coordinating the firesides also hopes to involve all youth of the cluster, and wants to know how such an effort could be coordinated and supported. . . .

One Auxiliary Board member’s reply:

We've been experimenting with looking at college clubs as networks of teaching teams. For example, two friends on a teaching team live in the same dorm and develop friendships with and find new members of the community of interest from other residents of that dorm. They bring these seekers to regular events supported by the entire college club, but their focus is to nurture their interest through regular visits to those seekers. One member of the college club collects information about core activities, community of interest, and declarations and conveys this information to the area teaching committee secretary, much like a neighborhood coordinator might. The cluster institute coordinator is also involved with these campus associations as needed to provide refreshers or institute courses. In this way data is made available to and analyzed by the core team, which can then make recommendations as to where receptivity is being seen and how future activities can be planned.

We have been learning that colleges often cannot hold to the same cycle dates as the rest of the cluster due to midterms/major campus events that get in the way. For this reason we have been encouraging the Bahá’í Campus Associations to work on a different cycle, often with their own expansion activities being planned for more relaxed times of the year such as the beginning of the semester or right after exams. In this way, although the college students might be less visible to the greater Bahá’í community, by working in their natural environment and focusing on teaching their peers, we hope the sustainability of their efforts can increase.

These are just a few things we've been trying. I look forward to hearing other ideas!

Regional Bahá’í Council member:

This sounds very logical. Which universities in which clusters are involved?

Auxiliary Board member:

Most of this has been with one university. The other colleges in these clusters are less active, though we're working on that too.

The main challenge has been helping foster individual planning of teaching rather than trying to get everyone to do one activity. This can avoid college students feeling pulled away to support off-campus activities and therefore unable to focus on the many on-campus opportunities. It also helps reinforce for the non-college youth that just hanging out with college youth does not automatically mean you are serving.

One recent success: Teaching teams brought their seekers to a campus social event organized by the club. It was a place where the seekers could have a sense of community, and they were nurtured individually over the rest of the week. No teaching happened at the initial social event, yet most of the participants eventually became Bahá’ís!

Hope this is helpful!