When seekers reach out to the Bahá’í community, we hope that our reaching back can be done as soon as possible. But swift response is just part of the picture. Ideally the friends try to “match” the seeker with a Bahá’í who is able to effectively connect with him or her due to background, interests, relevant skills learned through the institute process, etc. And a great example comes from a report from an A-stage cluster in the Northeast region. And it’s also a wonderful story of an interfaith endeavor.
It all starts with the original request made by seeker through the public Web site www.bahai.us. His comment was, “I am a Chaplain Intern trying to reach a local Bahá’í Faith group in our county. Our chaplain group would like to learn about the Bahá’í Faith and attend a Bahá’í Faith service. Thank you for your help with this pursuit.” . . .
The regional seeker response specialist then mobilized local resources, who organized a combination devotional meeting and fireside. She notes: “M is my seeker contact for this cluster and she arranged for H to host the devotional gathering/fireside.”
The hosts then reported back on the meeting.
Here is my little report on yesterday's gathering.
First, we had the devotions:
We welcomed the 7 chaplain interns at the door and they were so grateful that we were opening our home. We had invited R and P as well. We all went around and once more introduced ourselves. I thanked everyone for coming and expressed how wonderful it was that they were interested in serving Bahá’ís in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care, etc.
We then explained the purpose and meaning of the devotional, our "service". It was emphasized that this was just one way of doing a devotional and there were many other ways of doing one. Two baskets were passed around, one had shorter quotations and the other had longer passages. The group was told they could "pass" if they didn't want to read something, but everyone participated. A music selection was played and everyone read their passage and we ended with another musical piece, the healing prayer. Although our guests were from a Christian background, all but one of them selected passages from the Bahá’í Writings for their reading. Our guests read so beautifully and with such feeling and understanding, it was a real joy.
R and P shared their recent experience of R's stay in the hospital and how the visit of a lay person deeply affected R and the process of healing. This one individual had stopped by to see R. When the visitor asked R what Bahá’í was, R found the strength to respond and had a long and loving talk with this gentleman. R shared how by listening and being present, the visiting lay person helped give him new energy and joy. He also read a favorite prayer of R's out loud for R. P confirmed that after that visit, she was more open to letting others visit R. The group was extremely interested in the experiences R and P shared, confirming for them how being present for someone and being an active listener can assist someone in such a situation. They asked how Bahá’ís would like to be served and we agreed that the reading of prayers and writings would be much appreciated by all Bahá’ís.
Then the gathering became a fireside:
After the devotion we decided to show "The Light of Unity" DVD because it gives an overview of the Faith. Again, it was so well received and our guests enjoyed the clarity of the vision of unity that was presented. We had further discussion on several topics. Finally, we went back into the kitchen for some more refreshments and socialized a bit more. I had a special feeling from one of the guests, and as we continued to talk, she said "sign me up" - we plan on following up with her and meeting her sometime soon. The original contact person stayed on longer and spoke at length with R
Both the chaplains indicated that they would like to bring future interns back to have the same introduction. One offered some helpful tips to us as a community. He suggested that we can call pastoral care units in hospitals when we know a community member is there so they can be visited. He also suggested sending materials to the hospital pastoral care unit so they have these on file. Perhaps we can discuss this further and do something throughout the Cluster.
It was such a blessing to have this opportunity to serve in this way.
The regional specialist reflects on some of the reasons for the success of this encounter:
This is a perfect example of the superb follow up provided by the area teaching committee secretary for the cluster, and her devoted coworkers.
The story also shows how important it can be when planning these kinds of events to selectively invite just a few Bahá’ís who have their own personal stories that relate to the interests of the guests (in this case R and P shared their experience with being visited in the hospital, which was an interest of the chaplain intern visitors), and how being open to moving seamlessly into a second part of the activity can reap wonderful results. Also wonderful was to see how future plans were made on the spot to meet with this newly enkindled soul.