Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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.

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