Sunday, February 28, 2010

"What we are really trying to do is transform neighborhoods"

Why are we doing everything that we are doing?  Where is it all leading to?  What is our ultimate goal?  We aren’t just trying to get an ever-growing list of new believers.  We are trying to build a new civilization.  The friends in Monterey County, CA (A) have been doing a lot of reflection (and action, and learning) about how to build a real community and create bonds of true unity.  The insights gained and stories shared are VERY inspiring.
One believer states:
One question that really struck with me from our last Cluster Reflection Meeting was, “How do you create community?”  So with this in mind, I headed to our focus neighborhood for some home visits and teaching.  Here are some of the things I learned from my experiences:
Building community starts with relationships.  We need to build trust and friendships, which take time and commitment.  This won’t happen from just an occasional visit.  It takes consistency, and it takes the efforts of many. . . .

We can’t wait until we are perfectly trained in all aspects of teaching and relationship-building.  It must be Bahá’u’lláh’s sense of humor that N and I were the ones meeting the Hispanic families in this neighborhood, as our Spanish is terrible at best, but it didn’t ultimately matter.  Before you know it, as other translators weren’t available, I was even making phone calls to the Spanish-speaking friends, and pretty soon I was the translator!  Now that is beyond belief!  But I learned that relationship-building transcends language.
While I’m happy for the relationships built over these past weeks, now I need to work on my ability for more focused and deeper discussion of the Faith, making the transition from casual conversation to one like Anna and the Book 2 deepening themes.  After these weekends I am confident this will happen, but only if I keep practicing.  It won’t happen if I stay at home.
This neighborhood is an incredible gift to our cluster.  We need to seize the opportunity to assist in building this new Bahá’í community, consistently, systematically and with unity, as well as build our own capacity as teachers and servants.
Here is a young believer who has facilitated a Book 1 study circle with other youth.  They went away on vacation for a month and then returned.  Here is how she describes the reunion:
I really missed them, but didn’t even realize how much until I saw them again.  I saw them walk through the door and my heart just leapt!  We enjoyed catching up with one another—5 girlfriends just hanging out.  And we laughed the whole time!  Everything we talked about in one way or another led to laughter and more laughter.
Particularly profound is this comment shared by a believer at the recent cluster reflection meeting:
What we are really trying to do is transform neighborhoods and this process takes a great deal of time, years to fully accomplish (which is hard when we live in a society that wants instant results).  Our clusters are doing great work, and we are on the right track.  We just need to remain patient and steadfast.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oklahoma City focuses on firesides

Oklahoma City (A) is trying a new approach for their latest cycle of the intensive program of growth:  A focus on firesides.  These gatherings are based on the skills learned in the institute process.
This is our 6th cycle of growth!  The area teaching committee has designed a special focus for this coming expansion phase:  we are going to focus on firesides.
Each fireside will be oriented around sharing a conversation like Anna in Ruhi Book 6, complemented by the familiar warm personal interaction of the fireside.
The key is that it is a place to invite contacts (and new Bahá’ís) to learn about the Faith, rather than simply being a social gathering of Bahá’ís.
So have a fireside at your own home and invite your neighbors, friends and co-workers.  If you need help with the presentation, contact anyone on the area teaching committee.

Every seeker is participating in a study circle

Melbourne, FL (B) is moving forward fast.  This report from an individual believer’s visit to this cluster shows the growing confidence of the friends as a result of their experiences and accomplishments.  They have been particularly successful at engaging seekers in study circles and other core activities.
I arrived and facilitated a Book 6 study circle with a new Iranian Bahá’í, who was very engaged and had countless questions and ideas.  This individual is typically quiet, but the intimate environment of a study circle undoubtedly helped them be comfortable with sharing. . . .

The next day I assisted with a newly-started children’s class in a trailer park.  12 children had signed up for the class last weekend with permission from their parents.  Assisting the class was a seeker that had been first encountered during previous direct teaching efforts—he knows all of the children personally, is studying Book 1, attends devotional gatherings and offers free Spanish lessons after the devotional.  All of this has developed in little over a month.  The children’s class teacher said her experience at visiting the Atlanta training site moved her to start this class.
Later I facilitated a Book 4 study circle with seekers that I had met a couple of months ago, as well as a new seeker who recently joined the study circle.  She brings incredible spiritual depth to this already amazing group.  She speaks as if she is already a Bahá’í, and is fascinated by Bahá’u’lláh’s life, approaching it with great respect.
I then met with the core team and had a rich consultation.  They shared their experiences from the Atlanta training site and all had learned a great deal.  As a result, one of them recently completed Ruhi Book 5 and is now considering becoming an animator.  The group is looking towards the launching of the cluster’s intensive program of growth in a few weeks with excitement; they are confident and feel the success from their efforts so far.
More than anything, the friends have nurtured seekers well.  After the cluster development officer visited last fall and modeled how to invite seekers into study circles, these folks followed her lead.  Now, every seeker is participating in a study circle.  The Auxiliary Board member has visited weekly for several months, leading the group in direct teaching each time.  This has moved many folks beyond their comfort zone, and the many acts of teaching have clearly brought many blessings to this cluster.

Newsletter, coordination, describing core activities all part of being an A

Emerald Coast (Pensacola), FL (A) is one of several clusters that has recently launched an intensive program of growth.  It has brought them to new levels of capacity.  We are delighted to share some of the reports from the cluster’s recently-started newsletter.  In fact, the newsletter itself is part of the news!  One of the local friends explains:
Good morning!
We had consulted about the efficacy of cluster-level newsletters.  Here is an example of a believer who had felt lost in the new paradigm.  After an interview process in which the core team ascertained the resources in their cluster (everyone can be viewed as a resource, by the way), they found this soul who couldn't participate in the teaching work due to health issues, yet she was a great writer.  And so this newsletter was born.  Look at what her fruits yield every DAY during the expansion phase.  She serves in close collaboration with the area teaching committee secretary, freeing his attentions to the field work.  Everyone has a "part to play."  We all know that accompaniment is aiding the friends to widen their vision and walk into a path of service within the structure of the Five Year Plan. . . .

One of the articles in the newsletter discusses the most recent reflection meeting, and the new level of coordination and systematization of everyone’s efforts:
This was our first cluster reflection meeting as an “A” Cluster.  The tone of the meeting was quite different than previous meetings as the entire discussion centered on increasing the core activities and the community of interest.
As a new A cluster, we are still “getting our sea-legs.”  A big challenge is getting the teaching teams established and maintaining communication with them.  We have been operating so long as individuals who teach when an opportunity arises and don't report anything except enrollments.  The core group is establishing a statistics officer in each county in the cluster to maintain more frequent contact with the teaching teams in their area and keep accurate records.  This will remind the friends of the importance of teaching teams and effective communication
Another intriguing element at the reflection meeting was a “demonstration children’s class”, where all the participants could watch an actual class being conducted.
Each portion of a children’s class (prayer & memorization, song, story, coloring, and game) was presented by one or more of the friends in a class setting. Including the initial gathering, setting the children down (with need of reverence), sharing of prayers, how to help the children memorize short quotes and prayers, the process of teaching patience and sharing when passing out colors, instilling the theme for that day with the picture to color, and the game (always a hit).  Each of the exemplars were exceptional, assuring each of the viewers that they could follow their example with ease.
Particularly inspiring is an article encouraging the friends to describe the core activities consistent with the language used by the Universal House of Justice about their purpose and nature:
How to describe the core activities
Memorize: We are building a spiritual community and we need you!
The Bahá'í Faith is a world religion whose purpose is to unite all races and peoples into One Universal Cause, One Common Faith.
We’ve been asked to memorize and use these descriptions of core activities when inviting seekers:
Children’s Classes:  “Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, we’re working to involve more and more children in children’s classes to serve as centers of attraction for them and to strengthen the roots of Faith in society.”
Study Circles:  “Interactive classes where youth and adults discuss the meaning and implication of passages from the Creative Word in an atmosphere that is serious and uplifting.”
Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program:  “A program that assists junior youth to navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and to become empowered to direct their energies toward the advancement of civilization.”
Devotional Gatherings:  “Responding to the inmost longing of every heart to commune with its Maker, we carry out acts of collective worship in diverse settings, uniting with others in prayer, awakening spiritual susceptibilities, and shaping a pattern of life distinguished for its devotional character.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Connecting with seekers, connecting with the institute

The friends in the Waukegan, IL (B) cluster are strengthening their abilities to engage seekers and new believers in the institute process.  Here is the story of an individual who first reached out to the Bahá’ís through the Seeker Response System.
The regional specialist provides some background:
I just spoke with the cluster development facilitator.  She has had several contacts with __.  This seeker has been attending a Book 1 study circle, and last time was given the introductory brochure with the prayer book.  The registration card was pointed out to her, and she was invited to fill it out and send it in when she felt she was ready to become a Bahá’í. . . .

H has already covered much of the basics with __.  We agreed that I will call her this evening to complete the affirmation.
They have seen so much receptivity in this part of the cluster, and with D’s declaration at the House of Worship, there are now 9 adult Bahá’ís in this town.
That last individual, however, wasn’t initially easy to find.  The friends didn’t have an up-to-date phone number or even a certain address.  One of them attempted a home visit.  No one was there, but she left a prayer book and a note.
Contact was finally made and the regional specialist called the new believer to set up a time to carry out the affirmation.  She then notes:
I had a wonderful conversation with D to complete her affirmation.
D heard from a friend, several years ago, that she could go to the Bahá’í House of Worship to pray and meditate.  As she started doing that on a regular basis, she found that she was transformed in relation to getting angry, so people could not push her buttons.  The House of Worship became her spiritual home.  Friends started to notice and asking what was different.  For the last three years, she has been asking questions during her visits to the House of Worship and studying about the Faith.
D has been reading the Kitab-i-Aqdas, saying daily obligatory prayers, and is excited about participating in the Fast and getting to know the local Bahá’ís.  She has a Bahá’í calendar and had a few questions about Ayyam'i-Ha.
D is looking forward to you call later today.  She is already engaged in a personal devotional process.  I encouraged her to join a Book 1 study circle.
Have a joyous day.

House of Worship video plants seed

You just never know what will start someone on their path to the Faith!  We had to share this short but sweet story:
A friend of mine visited the Wilmette House of Worship 3 or 4 years ago.  The informational video about the Faith, which he and his wife viewed in Spanish, made a great impression on him, the explanation of progressive revelation in particular.  You may be interested to know that he later moved out West and became a Bahá’í and is now actively serving the Faith.  So it appears this video planted a fruitful seed!

A remarkable ability to naturally bring up the Faith

Here is the latest update from Rio Grande Valley, TX (A).  There is a junior youth group that has been started and is doing well and having the support of the local friends.  The final description of the friends’ capacities is particularly inspiring.
I twice visited the junior youth group that the travel teachers have helped 2 of the local friends have started up.  The group seems like it is doing very well.  Most of the junior youth are composed of the non-Baha'i relatives of the 2 animators (who live in the same neighborhood).  The participants are very attentive and enthusiastic, and they are already discussing what service they would like to do. . . .

Another youth from the wider community has expressed interest in starting up a junior youth group.  We studied the first two units of Ruhi Book 1 and some excerpts from Ruhi Book 5, we had our first meeting with 4 junior youth, which went very well.  Again, the junior youth seemed very enthusiastic, and by the second meeting two days later, they had already started planning different service activities for the future.  Also, on the second meeting, a Bahá’í junior youth joined the group, and two others expressed a desire to join as well.  I heard from a friend in the cluster that this group carried out its first act of service yesterday.  I believe both groups will do quite well.
One family held a devotional while I was there, and because of all the activity taking place at that time, they were able to invite a number of their neighbors and friends, and the devotional was consequently well attended.  A few of us also made a home visit to the mother of one of the junior youth to introduce ourselves and describe a little bit about the Faith.
The members of this cluster seem to have a remarkable ability to very naturally bring up the subject of the Bahá’í Faith with their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.  Most all the people in the community I met shared this trait.  The community certainly was also trying to open up opportunities for service to more people.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Keep it simple and start right away

Here is the touching story of an individual who declared her belief in Bahá’u’lláh online.  The regional seeker response specialist worked with the local friends to complete her enrollment and follow up with her.  The loving advice and encouragement of the regional specialist helped get the process going on the right track:  don’t hesitate, start with full enthusiasm, love and respect, and everything then moves forward with swiftness and joy.  Again, the vision of building spiritual communities was a central part of the initial conversations.
The regional specialist contacted the Local Spiritual Assembly with this report:
This evening I had the privilege of meeting __ over the phone.  We went through Anna's conversation and she is affirmed.  Praise God!  I found her to be intellectual and spiritual.  She came across the Faith after leaving church this Sunday, being a bit annoyed about how it went, looked up at the sky and asked God for a sign.  She wanted to be led to her heart's desire, the truth.  Next she sat down at the computer and started with 'the basic three' (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).  While on one of the sites, a word she had not seen nor heard of popped up:  Bahá’í.  She was curious and clicked on that link.  She did not get up for four hours.  (God answers all sincere prayers.) . . .

After we went through Anna's conversation together, we talked about how Bahá’ís are building the Kingdom in neighborhoods.  All the core activities interest her.  Since she has children, she liked the idea of having Bahá’í children's classes with her children in their home.
So, a few suggestions are:
Keep it simple when it comes to the children’s classes.  Include prayer and singing in each lesson, but start it right away and build on it as you go.
Identify 3 adults who live near her who want to devote a year to helping with the children’s class, and who can tutor a Book 1 study circle when the time is right.
She is eager to continue to learn, serve and be involved.  Do not delay in calling her and asking if you can visit and start a children’s class at her home.  She is ready to dive into the ocean.  So visit and say, “I brought my favorite quotation, would you like to hear it?”  Then really discuss why it touches your heart.
The next steps regarding completing the registration process are to complete eMembership.  Her information is now in the 'pending' queue of  eMembership.
So, I would suggest:
Call her by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.
Ask her if a couple of people could set up a home visit before a week goes by.  Either have 2 women, or a man and a woman, be on the team.
Congratulations on this wonderful addition to the community of the Greatest Name!
The local friends then reported later:
Hi!  Quick update:  Last night was our cluster meeting.  __ was there, plus 4 new Bahá’ís.  She is radiant and has now registered all of her kids as Bahá’ís.  This is a real expression of her trust in the Faith.  It was a very exciting and spirit-filled meeting for all of us.

Small in number, high in engagement

This is an excerpt of a description of a C-stage cluster in the Central region.  Though their numbers are small, the friends’ enthusiastic involvement in the institute process has more than made up the difference.
This is a small cluster of dedicated and supportive souls.  I believe most of the teaching has been taking place on the university campus.  When looking at the human resources statistics in this cluster, 50% have completed the sequence, and 66% are engaged in teaching activities.  So although the numbers are small, the percentages are high, and comparable with other clusters that have 4 or 5 times as many believers.

Meeting people where they are

“If you want me to be involved, you’ll have to meet me where I am.”  The friends in Savannah, GA (A) have completely taken that concept to heart.  Through consultation, a spirit of service, and a flexible approach, they have refined everything from reflection meetings to core activities, thus widening the circle of people involved the teaching work and community life.
Attendance at the last couple of reflection gatherings had been rather low, so we examined the format and had frank consultations with a few community members.  As a result we streamlined and reduced the length of the meetings, provided lunch and child care, and attempted to make the process more accessible by using simpler terms and explaining who the core team is and how they can assist individuals.  We also tried to look at the “bigger picture”, and review the real purpose of our core activities and teaching efforts, which is to assist in the transformation and the betterment of society. . . .

As a result of these simple changes, approximately 10 new people attended the reflection gathering.
The core team has also invited other friends with less experience in the core activities to accompany them until they gain confidence.  This is working really well and as a result will increase our available resources.
3 teaching teams have been visiting 3 families, each of which have been unable to attend existing core activities because of busy work schedules and other circumstances.  We have also learned that offering children’s classes at a set time and place is not convenient for many individuals, and that we need to offer neighborhood classes in their homes.  So these teams are ensuring that the children are able to participate in children’s classes in their own home; the teams also try to study Book 1 or share the Book 2 deepening themes with the parents while building friendships.  These activities have been very well accepted, and the Bahá’í families are very grateful that they can be involved in the core activities.  As a result of this, a small number of junior youth are excited about starting a junior youth group.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Institute empowers everyone

Encouragement, systematic action, and above all the institute process—these are some of the key ingredients to making growth sustainable.  And they are all there Washington, DC (A).  Participants in the institute courses and tutors alike are being empowered through a variety of means.  Particularly intriguing is how Ruhi 3 is not a textbook that is put on the shelf once the course is over, but a point of reference to which the teachers continually return.
It is better to focus on one neighborhood that already has resources in place and make sure that it is self-sustaining before moving on to another neighborhood.  If our focus is too diffuse, we will not be as effective.
An example of individual initiative:  One family decided to host an “expansion phase day” during the consolidation phase in order to expand the community of interest in one neighborhood.  This effort brought out 12 teachers and resulted in a gentleman declaring and enrolling his child. . . .

The growth in children’s classes is a result of the teachers’ increased confidence and unwillingness to get discouraged.  It is also a result of their enthusiasm in bringing in new teachers to collaborate with them to support and sustain growth.  Notably, teachers would return to Ruhi Book 3 and review it to refine their approach to teaching the class.  They were willing to try something out, make adjustments, consult with one another, and look back to Book 3 for guidance.
Personal visits of the cluster institute coordinator to study circles to support the tutors helped encourage them.  Monthly community “debriefs” and presentations at the Nineteen Day Feast proved effective for encouraging the friends.
Regular “tutor encounter” meetings that focused on a few key themes helped the tutors consider how to apply these to their own study circles, particularly the practice components.
Linking the practice components of study circles to the cycles of the intensive program of growth was extremely important on two fronts:  It helped support the cluster’s growth, and it enabled the participants to practice their skills in real situations.

When the teacher is happy, the children respond

Tacoma-Pierce County, WA (A) has more than a few IPG cycles under its belt, but the learning never stops.  Here are “just a few” insights gained about assessing a seeker’s receptivity, teaching teams, and children’s classes.  Want to know how sharing crayons contributes to building a new civilization or the importance of being happy?  Then read on!
Gauging Receptivity
We are learning to optimize our teaching by discerning the level of the seeker's interest or receptivity.  How to gauge receptivity?  The wisdom comes from practice, practice, practice, and the action of experience is the teacher. . . .

If uncertain of a person’s level of interest, use qualifying questions:  "Are you sure you would like me to come back?" Voice tone must convey sincerity in the commitment to return.
If there is immediate attraction, stay with that household.  Involve them in core activity as soon as possible and offer to return in the next few days.  Get phone numbers; emails, etc.  Ask questions such as “What is a good day for me to return?  Time?”  Assure the seeker that you will return!
Teaching Teams
It was noted that the understanding of teaching teams has increased during this cycle; skill levels for sharing Anna’s conversation and inviting seekers to core activities is now understood in the context of raising up spiritual communities.  This was the first cycle using this approach.  Several comments from individuals involved in the collective teaching effort expressed that this approach of talking about spiritual communities made things easier and a spiritual dialogue occurred naturally.
Two teaching teams, one each for two receptive neighborhoods.  The area teaching committee secretary has been encouraged to be in the field to facilitate these teams.  They also convene regular meetings with each team to plan next steps.  Such communication is strengthening the unity of these teaching teams.
Children's Classes
Connecting with parents is vital to sustaining children's attendance and success.  It is important to 1) share with them after each class their child’s progress and 2) extend the invitation to observe the class AND receive training to teach it.
Building spiritual community can begin with a children's class.  It takes perseverance to establish a core group of children.  Some children come but their parents have pulled them out.  Others have begged their parents to attend, and after the class the parents commented, "We want whatever will make our child a good person."  It takes times to establish but we are witnessing how children's classes can become centers of attraction.
The purpose of the children's classes is to create spiritual susceptibilities in the children.  The more closely our teaching efforts are aligned with the training in Book 3, the more effective the classes are.  Lining children up to prepare them for class really is an effective tool!  The children are better prepared for devotions.
A new neighborhood children's class has been started.  It has been observed that when the teacher is happy, the children respond with a bright willingness to learn.  Taking turns asking for crayons builds character in patience and manners:  accepting what they have is a foundation for justice, asking for what they need builds confidence.

The many roles of teaching teams

North Salt Lake Valley, UT (A) just launched its intensive program of growth.  A ton of effort, activity and learning has brought the friends to this point.  One important area of learning has been on the roles of teaching teams, and ways in which the cluster core team can encourage increasing numbers of believers to find their niche in supporting the teaching work.
We are realizing the increased importance of teaching teams, which are necessary for us on at least three major fronts:  1) To increase the community of interest by teaching friends, family, neighbors and co-workers, as well as in receptive neighborhoods.  2)  Seeker response:  Teams are needed that can make initial contact with seekers who call the 800-22UNITE phone line or public Web site, and can connect seekers or new Bahá’ís to study circles, particularly Ruhi Book 3.   3) Multiplying and sustaining core activities, especially junior youth groups and children’s classes. . . .

The core team has been exploring ways to continuously expand the circle of human resources in order to sustain and multiply core activities.  We are also exploring ways to increase the number of people involved by encouraging them to engage in the core activities at their comfort level.  For example, if someone does not feel ready to start a devotional gathering, they can support one or even assist someone who is hosting devotions by providing the program, refreshments, etc.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sharing the vision of a spiritual community

Over time, as a result of our collective experience and the successive guidance from the Universal House of Justice, the “big picture” is becoming ever clearer to the Bahá’ís.  And the friends are becoming increasingly skilled at sharing and communicating that big picture with their friends and neighbors.  A recent example of this is Medford-Ashland-Jackson County, OR (A), where the friends have focused on introducing the vision of creating a spiritual community through the core activities.
We found a receptive area in one locality and visited homes.  Our presentations centered around the concept of “Building A Spiritual Community”.  We invited the parents to bring their children to children’s classes and junior youth classes in their neighborhood center. . . .

We have a very receptive mobile home park manager that has offered to let us use the community room for any of the core activities.
Significant numbers of Bahá'ís arose to support this effort even though it required a major commute for many of them.
We have decided to not take on additional resource-intensive projects, since it is challenging enough to make contact with the parents and involve them in the children’s classes, and we want to make sure we can follow through with that..

Stimulating individual initiative

We act systematically and coordinate our efforts at the cluster level, but within this framework growth ultimately depends on the initiative of individuals arising to serve.  This brief report from the Hartford-Tolland, CT (A) cluster shares an interesting approach for mobilizing the friends:  a “pledging tool” to stimulate and track individual teaching efforts.  This tool, plus accompaniment, helped empower the friends to action, and also provided a way to quantitatively assess progress.  You can also see how the reflection meeting becomes a key part of the process.
The main goal for this quarter was to encourage individual teaching amongst the friends.  The cluster agencies consulted and created a useful pledging tool for the reflection meeting and planned and carried out a very successful reflection meeting where the friends reflected as a community and as individuals, consulted about the teaching work, and made personal teaching plans based on seekers and contacts in their lives. . . .

A simple system was created where pledges could be tracked, friends accompanied and we could all see progress from cycle to cycle.  Thus, at the previous reflection meeting on those present pledged to share Anna's presentation with 54 individuals, and at this reflection meeting reported that they accomplished sharing Anna's presentation with 32 individuals (59%).  The community had pledged to invite 41 individuals to devotional meetings and invited 32 (78%).  The community pledged to invite 22 friends to study circles and invited 10 (45%).  The community pledged to invite 6 children to children's classes and invited 8 (133%).  The community pledged to invite 2 junior youth to junior youth groups and invited 10 (500%).  The core team members worked to accompany the teachers and the results were very encouraging.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Be ready for many different things

When visiting people in their homes, either new believers or people to whom you are teaching the Faith, there are a lot of “nuts and bolts” that need to be in place to maximize their effectiveness.  Here is a very practical set of intriguing insights from Central Jersey (A).  One particularly important point is the value of carrying out such an effort in a neighborhood or building where there is already the presence of one of the friends.  Note also how we have to be ready to meet the wide range of possible needs and interests of the seeker.
It is very helpful to be able to do something like this in an apartment complex where a Bahá’í is currently residing, who is able to host events.  You can be talking as a friend of a neighbor, not as a stranger. . . .

It is good to have several "tools" in your toolbox.  Some people may just want to listen, and Anna's conversation is good for that.  Others may want to talk about specific teachings—be ready for that.  Others may want to read something or to look up more information on a website—be ready for both.  Some might benefit from a simple quote from the Writings (on children, or health, or death or work, or one of many other topics) for them to reflect on.  Others want an invitation to a planned event.  Some would like a return visit at a specific time that is convenient for them—be ready to return, or to send someone else, at any time.
Be sure to get their name, and if possible a telephone number, and if possible, set up a time for a return visit.  Call before returning to make sure they remembered it.
Keep detailed records of every visit and every attempted visit in order to do productive follow-up and to avoid re-contacting those who have expressed non-interest.  Include date and approximate time of visits.

Knowing your strengths, especially love

Each cluster is unique.  One important aspect of planning the teaching work is to know your strengths, what resources you have at your disposal, and identify opportunities.  Here is an excerpt from one such assessment of an A-stage cluster in the Northeastern region.  Note how love and unity are explicitly identified as an asset!
Community at a glance:  almost 80% are Persians, of which 65% are recent immigrants.  There is also a large population of Persian youth and young adults.
The Persian believers have a large circle of contacts among other Persians, so the next step is to develop skills to invite friends to core activities.
There is a palpable love among the community members, and a high degree of inclusiveness, in fellowship, consultation, translation and hospitality.
There is a large number of Bahá’í youth at the local university, some of whom will be there for up to 3 years, so there is real potential for learning and action.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

They came, they shared, they arose to act

A reflection meeting is a key moment in the cycle of activity for a cluster. The friends share their experiences, consult on what approaches have been effective, encourage each other, and plan for the upcoming expansion phase. This excerpt from a brief report of the most recent reflection meeting in Minneapolis, MN (A) conveys its joyful and energetic atmosphere. Perhaps most exciting is that the reflection meeting became a venue for a copious outpouring of pledges of specific service for the expansion phase.

Allah’u’Abha Friends,

On behalf of the Area Teaching Committee of Minneapolis we would like to thank you for such a wonderful Cluster Reflection Meeting. The energy in this room was amazing, and the commitments to intensify personal teaching efforts during the expansion phase were great! We had so many pledges that we started to run out of room on the board we were recording them on, which is SO exciting!

Not only do we have a new children’s class beginning, but we have several people in the community who have volunteered to reach out to people who have expressed interest in the Faith via the Seeker Response System. Several people committed to saying prayers during the expansion phase and holding additional devotional meetings for friends and neighbors.