Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The news is the cluster newsletter!

The last couple of years have seen the growth of an exciting new medium of communication and learning:  cluster-level newsletters.  We are always happy to see issues of these newsletters, and we recently received a VERY exciting example, that of San Francisco-San Mateo, CA (A).  It was full of data and tables, showing the number of core activities from cycle to cycle of that cluster’s intensive program of growth, as well as numbers of people who have completed the various training institute courses.  Want to know who’s on the area teaching committee or need to contact your cluster institute coordinator?—Their contact information is clearly listed right there!  So the newsletter becomes a means to facilitate learning and participation.  Here is an excerpt of one of the newsletter’s articles
Dear Friends in Cluster CA-NC 09,
We are now in the 16th cycle of our intensive program of Growth. The current cycle was launched with a cluster-wide picnic and barbecue held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in San Mateo, followed by our quarterly Cluster Reflection Meeting.  Approximately 50 people attended the barbecue and picnic and the Reflection Meeting.  Just prior to the Reflection Meeting, theBahá’í world received the Ridván Letter from the Universal House of Justice. . . .

What a special Ridván Letter it is!  The letter is filled with love, guidance, and encouragement.  In addition, we were all congratulated for accomplishing the goal of creating 1500 intensive programs of growth one year prior to the end of the Five Year Plan.
Throughout this year, the final year of the current Five Year Plan, we are all encouraged to read and study the letter individually and in groups as much as possible.
Throughout this newsletter you will find several passages from the Writings of the Faith, selected portions of the Ridván letter, relevant information on our current cycle of growth, cluster statistics, important dates, teaching stories, and contact information for the Area Teaching Committee and Cluster Institute Coordinators.
Please know that the Area Teaching Committee and Cluster Institute Coordinators are here to serve you.  If you have any questions regarding teaching activities going on throughout the cluster or would like to start or be involved in any one of the core activities you are welcome to contact any of the persons listed below.
With Love,
Your Area Teaching Committee
The newsletter also gives a summary of the goals from the last reflection meeting:
26 regular home visits
1 new fireside
2 new study circles
2 new devotional meetings
2 children’s classes
Expand the community of interest by 27
Teaching teams have also pledged to strengthen and deepen friendships and relationships with their community of interest by hosting social activities such as picnics and barbecues, a housewarming and tea time.  The current teams include:
East Palo Alto
San Mateo
Western Addition
Team Biosphere

Encouragement in action

It is a joy to watch one of the friends in action as they encourage and accompany the other friends in their service.  What follows is an excerpt of an email from a regional seeker response coordinator to a member of a cluster’s core team about a seeker in their cluster who had contacted the 800-22UNITE phone line.  Some interesting aspects of this message (besides its overall loving and uplifting tone!):  Asking the core team member to match the seeker with human resources in the cluster who have received the relevant training from the institute courses, encouraging the local friends to ascertain the seeker’s interests and needs so that appropriate follow-up steps can be arranged, and reminding the local friends to coordinate and share information with each other so that their response to the seeker can be as effective as possible.
Dear J,
As the seeker response coordinator for our region, I’m emailing you (and will phone you today too) as the cluster development facilitator for your cluster, to see if you might be able to find us a local experienced Bahá’í to promptly contact (by mail) this new seeker residing in __. . . .

A couple of days ago, __ left a message on the 800-22UNITE phone line and asked for Bahá’í literature to be mailed to him, which the National Teaching Office has done.  I am eager to pass on to you his information so that you might be able to arrange as promptly as possible for a local Ruhi-trained Bahá’í to write a warm note to him, mention the seeker’s 800# call, ask if he received his literature, has any questions about the Faith, would like a home visit, other literature, etc.
As he has only supplied his mailing address, and only requested literature (i.e., he did not request visitors), postal mail is currently our option for communicating with him and striving to nurture his attraction to the Faith—perhaps accompany him into core activities, if we are able to learn if his interest lies there.
Something he said in his message implied that he might already be meeting with a local Bahá’í.  If he did meet with a Bahá’í, it might mean that a door has opened for further interaction, nurturing, teaching, etc.  Therefore, I would like to ask if you could try to learn if any Bahá’ís in the area did meet with him?  If we can learn he is in contact with a local friend, you or I could talk to that person to see how it went, and then arrange appropriate follow-up through home visits, etc.
I’ll wait for your reply before sending you __’s contact information.  Please feel free to call or email me with any questions or ideas you might have about making contact with him.  We are trying to swiftly arrange for Bahá’í contact with this seeker, since we know that the sooner he experiences warm contact and conversation, the more likely his flame of interest will be sustained and assited to grow.

Empowering Local Spiritual Assemblies to empower their communities

What is the role of a Local Spiritual Assembly in the Five Year Plan?  This has been a key topic of learning throughout the country.  One Regional Bahá’í Council has organized a series of training workshops in which several Local Spiritual Assemblies come together to reflect on this question and learn from the experiences of other Assemblies, as well as consider certain specific steps that they can take.
A few months after the workshop the Regional Bahá’í Council followed up with the participating Local Spiritual Assemblies and asked them to share what insights they gained and how they have tried to apply this learning to their work.  What follows is a very inspiring response from one Local Assembly—you can see how their example helped encourage some of the veteran believers to participate in the institute process, which has further empowered them to serve!
Dear Friends,
First we wish to say how grateful we are that our Regional Council provided such a wonderful experience at the training workshop.  We came away with a better understanding of the role of Local Spiritual Assemblies in the Five Year Plan, along with new energy to implement the lessons learned to the working of our own Assembly. . . .

[After studying more and consulting together] we each now have a very clear understanding of the role of the Assembly in promoting and supporting cluster growth and that it is the role of the Assembly to lead by example in this area. . . . our Assembly members stand ready to assist the friends in planning devotional gatherings, accompanying them as they begin home visits, etc.  To this end we are particularly pleased to advise that during this past year approximately nine of the Persian friends in our community began the study of the Ruhi books in a combination of Farsi and English.  With the assistance of one of the Persian members of our Assembly, these friends have now completed Books 1, 2 and 3, and will soon begin Book 4.
In addition, they have also worked on sharing Anna’s conversation together so to become more comfortable sharing the Faith in English.  Two of these friends have now become teachers for the two children’s classes that have recently begun again in our community.  Their assistants are some of the younger youth who have also completed these courses.

A long series of love, unity, care, effective follow-up and the core activities

Sometimes when you haven’t heard from someone for a while, checking back in with them brings a wonderful surprise.  The following story is an example of this.  Also, we said it a few days ago, and we’re saying it again:  lots of seekers are VERY interested in the training institute courses!
The seeker had originally contacted the Bahá’ís through the public Web site www.bahai.us:
My best friend is a Bahá’í.  He wanted me to learn more about his religion and I am really interested in it.  I am very busy with school and work but I do want to make time for this.  Please give me more information!  Thank you so much. . . .

Some time later, the regional seeker response coordinator followed up with this seeker by sending an interactive email with links to several Bahá’í sites on the internet, including some Bahá’í videos.
The seeker then emailed back:
I watched the videos and they were very uplifting!  I was in Ruhi classes before but I got too busy.  I am now at a place where I would be able to participate in Ruhi classes again if at all possible.  I would really love to attend and learn about the Faith.  Is there any way I can attend a study circle?
Thank you for the videos and for your consideration.
Some time later the regional seeker response coordinator shared this news:
Dear Friends,
Today I heard the super news that this friend declared at a recent devotional!
She had been in our database for a couple of years, and had also been corresponding with her Bahá’í friend all along.  She responded to one of the emails I sent out.  Then a teaching team called on her and met with her at a coffee shop.  Then she attended a Holy Day celebration, followed by a Book 1 study circle.  Her enrollment is just one of the details in a long series of love, unity, care, effective follow-up and the core activities.  The journey continues . . .

Keep your eyes and ears open

At the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, IL, visitors can fill out cards to request more information on the Faith, on Bahá’í activities near them, to be put in touch with a local believer, etc.  The card also has a box that people can mark if they want more information on how to join the Faith.
When someone who visited the House of Worship from another part of the country filled out such an “interest card”, the regional seeker response coordinator for her region was notified:
Would you be willing to investigate further, either directly with __ or through your contacts at the cluster level, to determine if anyone has asked her about her interest in becoming a Bahá’í?  This is not an actual declaration, but we would also not want to avoid missing this important request of the seeker.
The regional seeker response coordinator later reported:
Thank you for prompting me.  I got a hold of __ and she said she wanted to become a Bahá’í, so I affirmed her.  A very receptive soul.
The registration was completed online.

Monday, June 28, 2010

She has seen a transformation in him

This is a story of a study circle in Scottsdale, AZ (A)—and what a delight!  Sometimes the transforming power of the core activities may not be immediately apparent to us, but it is very real.  And it is also a reminder:  people are watching!  And that opens the door for more opportunities to reach out and make friends.
My husband and I have been holding a Ruhi Book 1 study circle with a young couple we met a few months ago.  This morning, I received a call from the husband's mother asking about our “get-togethers”.  At first I was worried she was not happy with her son and his wife joining our study circle, as I had heard on a few occasions that our friend's mother was a very devout Christian.  But to my surprise, she called to say that she has seen a transformation in her son.  She shared a few stories with me about how he is praying more often, and that in her conversations with him, and in the way he talks about relying on God and trusting in Him she notices his faith has increased.  She mentioned that her son was happy about his new friends and she was calling to find out if she and her husband could also join the group!  I was so happy to have received this call this morning that I thought I should share it with all of you.

I will always remember my first conversation with a Baha'i

Here is an excerpt from an email from an individual who recently declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh online  The regional seeker response coordinator had first called them to affirm their declaration, and then later followed up with an email that provided more information about the Faith.  What this email from a new believer makes crystal clear is the immense importance of the “conversation between two souls” emphasized by the Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan 2010 message.  Such conversations can have far-reaching and lasting influence!
Good Morning,
I want to thank you for the wonderful conversation yesterday!  I was exhilarated for quite some time afternoon, and I find it quite interesting that my friend also telephoned you!  I had not known that.  After our lovely talk I came into my home beaming and enthusiastic and I imagine I perhaps piqued the interest of the others around me.
I cannot wait to begin exploration of all the materials within your email.  Thank you again for your most loving welcome into this Faith.  I am grateful to you for your time and joy and shall ever remember my first conversation with a Bahá’í member as being as a fountain overflowing with that for which I was longing, parched, for quite some time.
Peace, friend.

Learning to explain who we are and what we are trying to do

This brief report from a neighborhood association meeting Long Beach, CA (A) is truly inspiring.  It is yet another example of the high interest in the core activities.  But more importantly, it shows the growing capacity of the friends to engage the wider society, explain who we are and what we are doing, convey our sincerity (all these things take learning by doing, by the way).  An unexpected surprise at the end of the meeting is an additional reason to smile.
Monday evening, 3 of the friends (including the Area Teaching Committee secretary) attended the neighborhood association’s monthly meeting in order to explain the purpose and benefit of Bahá’í children’s classes. . . .

Questions were asked by some of the members of the neighborhood association’s committee.  At first a couple of them had some reservations, but as the meeting went forward, some of the residents of that neighborhood gave very positive comments about the endeavor, expressing the real need for it.  So most everyone present agreed the children’s classes could be worthwhile.  They also came to understand the Bahá’ís have no ulterior motive but are have the purpose of community building, of which children’s classes are a central focus.
The turning point came when one of the neighborhood association committee members asked the Bahá’ís, “Have any of you been to Samoa and visited the Bahá’í temple there?”  The friends said they had not.  He then continued, “Samoa had been having some problems with its youth, and the Bahá’ís’ program really turned things around.”
After such a positive endorsement, the meeting concluded, and the neighborhood association will contact __ with a decision about using the community room for the children’s classes.  When we left, we met two young women who are interested in helping out with this.

If it hadn't been for the dog . . .

. . . then some of the friends in Monterey County, CA (A) MIGHT have spent several months away from the children in their children’s class!  This story made me laugh, but it also made me think.  It’s a sign of the immense interest in core activities, often much higher than we assume.
Last summer in __, 2 of the friends held a children’s class in their neighborhood, and they planned to offer the class again this summer.  But apparently the children were not going to wait a whole year! . . .

One recent Sunday afternoon, __’s husband was out walking the family dog.  All of a sudden a little boy pointed to the dog and said “Hey, I know that dog!”  The boy remembered that this was the “teacher’s” dog.  The next thing __’s husband knew, an army of children was following him home!  When the children saw __, they said, “When are we having the class again?”  So she told them that she and the other teacher would come the next day!
When the 2 teachers arrived the next day, they found the little boy and his sister, who then helped them round up another 15 or so children.  One of the teachers explained to the children that because of her new work schedule, she would not be able to come to class every week, so that another co-teacher would be needed to help out.  She asked the children to raise their hand if they had an older brother or sister in high school that might like to help teach the class; one of the children said her older sister might be interested.  So she was invited to come the following week.
When the older sister came, one of the teachers gave an overview of the children’s class and invited her to join a training—she came to the __ home the following weekend and started Book 1!

A growing pattern of core activities and co-workers

In the Ridvan 2010 message, the Universal House of Justice urges the friends to spend this coming year working with receptive populations to “find those souls longing to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society and work alongside one another in their neighbourhoods and villages to begin a process of collective transformation.”  What does that process of reaching out look like on the ground?  This story from Fort Collins, CO (A) provides a wonderful example.  The believers are engaging residents of a neighborhood, who earnestly want to help their children of all ages, in the various core activities.
Dear friends,
What a wonderful time in our Faith!  On Tuesday, K began tutoring a Book 1 study circle in __.  4 youth came and were so excited that they want to bring other friends.  Adults, parents of the children, all over the park have expressed interest in taking it in both English and Spanish.  We have to be flexible because their work schedules are constantly changing. . . .

The pre-youth activities are growing, beginning with 2 friends and expanding in a few short weeks to 6.  J was standing outside the clubhouse two weeks ago and a girl came up asking if this is where the special classes were being held and could she join.
The children’s classes continue to grow, both grade levels, and it is felt that we have to start another one to cover the children in the southern part of the neighborhood—one lady who lives there is very excited.
We have been working with one youth who is taking Book 3 to be a children’s class teacher, but she wants to know about the Faith now.  So we will step back with her and offer Book 1.  We also paid a home visit to a man who says that he had been trying to think of ways to help the pre-youth in the neighborhood but had almost completely given up.  WOW!  It sounds like he will be interested in a Book 5 study circle, which we can begin next week.
In the Ridvan 2010 message, the Universal House of Justice tells us that:  “The significance of this development should not be underestimated.  In every cluster, once a consistent pattern of action is in place, attention needs to be given to extending it more broadly through a network of co-workers and acquaintances, while energies are, at the same time, focused on smaller pockets of the population, each of which should become a centre of intensive activity.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two conversations

Both these stories come from the same A-stage cluster in the Southwestern region.  They are both about conversations:  those that a teacher has with a seeker, those between people who are rapidly becoming close friends, those among people who are yearning for a safe social space to talk about God and religion.  It is this safe space that is an immensely important service that the Bahá’ís can provide to their neighbors through home visits (well, one of these was a “reverse home visit”, but that’s immaterial).  The respect and sensitivity of the friends, is crucial, as is the ability to truly listen.  As one of the teaching team members states, “We were able to gain a much better understanding of the thoughts and feelings our friends hold dear in their hearts.”
Conversation 1:
At a recent devotional, a young family in our study circle expressed anxiety about rejecting Christ if they were to accept Bahá’u’lláh and follow His teachings.  One member of our teaching team encouraged them to pray to Christ and gave them a copy of the Kitáb-i-Íqán.  Two other members of our teaching team made plans to visit the family and read Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh together. . . .

We visited the family in their home.  Together we tried to recite from memory the first paragraph of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “they that tread the path of faith . . . must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly, their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth.”  Then we studied and discussed several paragraphs of the Lawh-i-Aqdas (Tablet to the Christians), where Bahá’u’lláh writes about Jesus Christ, “He hath testified of Me, and I do testify of Him” and “This ‘Ye cannot bear it now’.”
The family continues to read and deepen their understanding of Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings and develop close ties of friendship with members of our teaching team.
Conversation 2:
On Sunday a teaching partner and I got together to say prayers and visit a few friends of ours to discuss the Faith.  We sent one friend a text message asking how he was and could we come over for a little bit to chat.  He responded saying that he was going out, but would it be okay if he and his friend came by to my house in 15 minutes.  Of course I said, “Yes!”
We immediately went into cleaning mode, washing dishes, boiling water for tea, and ran around the corner to grab a few sweets from the store.  It’s amazing how fast you can straighten up a house and get ready for guests when the pressure is on!  A few minutes later, they arrived.
After talking for a few minutes on various topics, the conversation turned to talking about religion and faith.  Our contact’s friend talked about how she feels about religion in general.  Like many, she believes in God but has a negative feeling when religions try to force others to believe as they do and are not respectful of others’ beliefs.
Throughout the hour we enjoyed each other’s company tremendously, and we all agreed how wonderful it is to have a place where we can sit and talk about spiritual topics, share our heartfelt feelings and understandings without fear of being judged or made to feel like we are misinformed.  We were able to gain a much better understanding of the thoughts and feelings our friends hold dear in their hearts regarding family, religion, unity, and many other things.  We were also able to share many of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, as well as a few prayers.
The first prayer we shared, one of the contacts responded “Oh!  That’s a good one!”  Next we shared the “Remover of Difficulties” prayer, to which my friend responded, “I like that one, can you say it again?”
Before they left we agreed to get together again soon.  We will see where it goes from here.

She was overwhelmed with the effort that was made to connect with

This story is an excellent example of clusters (3 in all) working together to follow up with a seeker who had called the 800-22UNITE phone line, and “match” them with other Bahá’ís who lived nearby and who also spoke their native language.  This rapid and dedicated efforts helped provide a strong foundation for the warm friendships that then developed.
Last month __ called 800-22UNITE.  We guessed her cluster based on the area code of the phone number she provided.  From her accent, it seems that she was a Spanish speaker.
One of the friends in that cluster received the notification of __’s inquiry and immediately left a voice mail for her.  They talked on the phone the next day and it was learned that she actually lives in another cluster.  She also revealed that she speaks Portuguese rather than Spanish. . . .

So this believer then called M, who lives near this seeker, as well as K and A, who live nearby (now 3 clusters are all involved!).
It turns out K and A speak Portuguese and they know other Portuguese-speaking Bahá’ís that are tutors.  So a Portuguese Ruhi Book 1 study circle was set up.  All the while this multi-cluster accompaniment was being monitored by the regional seeker response coordinator, and some prayers and other literature in Portuguese were located and sent to the believer that lives nearest to her so she could receive it at the fireside scheduled for her the next night.
Over the course of her first month’s contact with the Bahá’ís, __ was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and effort that was made to connect with her, find Bahá’ís who could converse with her in her native language, as well as provide literature in her language.
She subsequently declared at a fireside last month, and has started bringing her family to events and they are interested as well.

What kind of person goes out of their way to help a soul on their search?

The Seeker Response System is about collaboration—for example, between the regional and cluster levels—to follow up with and meet the needs of people who reach out to the Bahá’í community.  In this case, an individual in a C-stage cluster contacted the public Web site at www.bahai.us.  A team of 2 believers in the area then met with him.  Two thinks are particularly striking about this story:  First, the team engaged him in a conversation where both sides were sharing and listening.  Second, the seeker was genuinely moved by the Bahá’ís taking the time to come meet with him personally.
The Auxiliary Board member and I met with __ at a park and answered a number of questions.  He had typed out his questions and we answered them while also sharing quotes and concepts from Anna’s conversation where they were pertinent to the discussion.  We wanted him to empty his cup first. . . .

After that first meeting he emailed us back:
It was also nice to meet you!  You were very helpful in answering my questions and very thorough.  I really appreciate you taking time out of your afternoon to come and meet a total stranger.  What kind of person goes out to help another soul on their search?  I think it takes a truly thoughtful and genuine person to assist another in such a way.
I hope to be able to continue meeting with one or both of you as time permits and we are able.  Maybe one day soon I could join you at a worship meeting?  If you are open to that let me know.
We hope to see him on the weekends.  I’ll consult with __ to see when we can connect with him again and meet his needs.
This teaching team member then provided an update
We will do our best to meet with him and share the deepening themes from Ruhi Book 2 as a start.  He knows about the Ruhi Institute and is interested in taking the books in the sequence.

Friday, June 25, 2010

You just go to the website and hit the button

This is quite intriguing:  We came across an internet discussion on a variety of topics about the Bahá’í Faith.  Then someone raised the question, how do you actually become a Bahá’í?  Immediately someone else described the online declaration process and the follow-up by the friends at the regional and local levels!
A. “ . . . how does one go about converting to the Bahá’í Faith?  I know most faiths have some kind of specific ritual that converts must go through.  Christians have baptism, Muslims have the shahadah, etc.  In case anybody is wondering, I’m not ready to officially convert yet.  I’m just curious.” . . .

B. “Don’t feel bad!  I did that a couple of times before I “declared”.  And there isn’t any ritual.  There’s just “declaring”.  You go to the US Bahá’í website, hit “I want to be a Bahá’í,” and then you fill out a form with your name and basic contact info (email, address, phone).  A Bahá’í will follow up with you, making sure you know what you’re doing, and then they’ll set you up with a Local Spiritual Assembly.  So it’s mostly just filling out a small questionnaire, a quick (or in my case, hour-long) phone chat, and done.  You’ll know it’s official when you get your ID card in the mail.”
A. “Oh, OK.  Unfortunately I seem to be in an isolated area which probably doesn’t have any Bahá’ís, but knowing how diverse the Bahá’í community is, I could be wrong!”
B. “I’m an isolated Bahá’í.  My closest Local Spiritual Assembly is over an hour away.  The phone call for me about my declaration came from another state—and they regularly check up on me to see how I’m doing regarding faith.  They also called someone closer by who is going to drive down to meet me since he’s responsible for welcoming new Bahá’ís in this general area.  So don’t feel bad for being isolated.  Bahá’ís will find a way around it.  J

Starting a conversation with the clusters

Growth requires decentralization in many aspects of how we do things.  And decentralization requires—you guessed it—capacity building at the cluster level.  One area where particularly exciting developments are occurring is in learning how to respond to those individuals that reach out to the Bahá’í community through the 800-22UNITE phone line and the public Web site www.bahai.us.  Here, a regional seeker response coordinator shares some of the most significant recent learning with friends at the cluster level.  This is a beginning of a conversation that will help empower more of the friends on the ground, both widening and deepening the pool of human resources!
Dear friends,
In April, the seeker response representatives that serve at the regional levels across the U.S. had a conference call to share insights about this amazing process we're engaged in:  to effectively respond to those dear souls to reach out to us to learn more about the Bahá’í Faith!  I thought you might be interested to hear some of the ideas that were shared.  I'm sure, with all of your experience, many of these will be familiar joys and challenges.  And, I hope others will serve to expand and/or enhance your service.  Of course, if you all have any additional insights or questions, please do feel free to share! . . .

1) Rapid response is crucial!!
2) A phone response, when possible, is much more effective than email or post mail, for most individuals.
3) When email is used, dynamic emails that give the seeker things to do and links to click on are very effective.
4) It takes time to follow up with seekers and nurture their learning.  Utilizing local resources (e.g. other teachers in the area) is essential.
5) Entering in detailed notes on the Action Log (and all of the drop-down items such as “started core activities”, etc.) and the Future Action feature is very important.
6) Follow up with older seekers and re-establish contact.
7) Listen effectively and be ready to adapt your approach based on what they say.
8) Offering to share Anna’s conversation with a seeker can warm their hearts and help strengthen a connection with them.
9) Engage the Area Teaching Committee.
10) Use the framework of action describe in the 5-Year Plan when responding (e.g. make a home visit, offer Anna's conversation, have a devotional with the seeker, start Book 1, etc.).  As much as possible, go to the seeker instead of inviting the seeker to you!

A year later still going strong

What happens when a new believer is on fire and the follow-up process goes as it should?  We received a brief update about an individual who declared his belief in Bahá’u’lláh online a little over a year ago.  Now, one year later, he is actively involved in his local Bahá’í community AND has helped develop a website for the community!
Thank you for your feedback on the first version of the proposed website for the Bahá’ís  of __.  Many improvements and tweaks were made as a result of your input. As you know, there is such a vast amount of info about the Faith that we could overwhelm a visitor.  Rather than reinvent the wheel and incorporate all that info here, I have used quite a few links (including some from your last suggestions, thank you!) throughout the text as well as on a dedicated Links page to give the reader access to that additional info.  I still have a few things that I am trying to get working properly, but nothing that would stand in the way of getting this up and running live very soon.  Refinements and changes will be an ongoing process.
Again, my thanks.

Praying on YouTube

The Hartford-Tolland, CT (A) cluster has found a wonderful way to enlist all of the believers to be involved in its intensive program of growth through prayer, and developed an innovative means of encouraging this:
Good morning!  I thought you might enjoy this example of how the Hartford/Tolland (CT) cluster is encouraging all Bahá’í in the cluster to pray for the expansion efforts, regardless of their ability to do the direct teaching part.  It’s really lovely.  Enjoy!
Well friends, as we embark on this expansion phase, I decided to throw together another video including our goals.  We all need to pray to be bold and detached during this expansion phase and for cycles to come. This is our time.

When we do what we are supposed to the results follow

In case you were wondering if the goal of vibrant communities with neighborhood-level core activities only happens after an intensive program of growth is launched, read this absolutely beautiful story from a C-stage cluster in the Central region.  In this case, an individual “felt the fear and did it anyway”, arising to serve, reaching out to their neighbors, working very hard and consistently to start a devotional meeting—and now there are several core activities in the neighborhood.  The struggles—and the confirmations—in the story speak for themselves.
Dear Friends,
I am writing to inform you of the following activities in my neighborhood.  Although I had been virtually inactive for the past few years, I was recently inspired on my recent pilgrimage, most specifically by the evening talk given by one of the members of the International Teaching Center, Mrs. Rachel Ndegwa.
While listening to her talk I gained a new understanding of what I needed to do when I returned to my community.  Indeed, I had such a burning desire to rush home to do service that I could barely contain myself in my chair and spent the rest of the pilgrimage planning and praying for what I would do when I returned.  More than anything I prayed for steadfastness, that my enthusiasm would not wane when I returned. . . .

Briefly my plan was to start a neighborhood devotional gathering.  When I returned I designed an invitation and the first devotional program.  Then I went out into my neighborhood.  I went alone.  Indeed I did not tell anyone about my plan except for my daughter who had accompanied me on pilgrimage.  I felt that I needed to do it alone—to prove to myself that this would and could work even in the most stripped-down fashion—all alone.  I remembered Martha Root's lonely travels and how much she accomplished.  And I remembered a prayer by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about being alone and yet still serving.
I begged Bahá’u’lláh to allow me to just speak to people I saw on the street even though there were probably not going to be many on a Monday afternoon.  As I walked by my next-door neighbor's house, I saw that their two daughters, both young adults, were in the front yard.  I approached them, gave them the invitation and devotional program, invited them, and then chit-chatted about our dogs.  As I left their yard, I felt a sigh of relief and momentum build.  "That wasn't so hard," I told myself.  Within 25 minutes, I had handed out 5 invitations which was exactly my goal for that day!  In particular I felt good about one woman who seem to magically walk out of her front door as if waiting for me.  She had a lovely smile, and we greeted each other warmly.  She commented positively on the program, saying that she was gratified to see a quote from the Qur’án.  She told me she was Muslim.
I learned from this first outing that by saying, "Hi, I'm your neighbor," people let down their guard and listened to what I had to say.  These were my neighbors, and they were happy to greet a fellow neighbor.
The next few days went out again, but I was less successful in handing out invitations.  I felt disappointed.  The next day, I was awakened by a knock on the door.  It was my Muslim neighbor!  She came in and told me that she had shown the program to her husband.  She explained that her husband was in the process of establishing a non-profit organization to create a community center for youth.  She showed me a flyer which explained his plan and pointed to the bullet that said that they would like to provide classes on the history of world religions to youth.  She told me that her husband had sent her over to ask me if I would be willing to teach such a class.  I said, "Yes!  Indeed, let's start right away here in the neighborhood.  We don't need to wait for a physical center to be built."  She said, "okay" and we decided that her children would be the first students.  I was elated beyond words!
Two days later, this beautiful soul came to our first neighborhood devotions with all her beautiful children.  And we had our first children's class right away following the devotions.
In the meantime, that Wednesday, we had the first Ruhi Book 1 study circle in our home that my daughter had organized by inviting a couple of her friends with whom she had spoken about spiritual matters and who had shown receptivity.
Within 10 days of initiating our plans, our home had turned into a neighborhood gathering point hosting 3 core activities!  I was overjoyed and grateful beyond belief.  I offered many prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude.  I was also in awe of the process and the wisdom of our Institutions.
Three weeks passed and we continued having devotions, study circles which had grown to 5 participants, and children's classes which had grown to 9 children.  I realized that this enterprise was going to be one that required a long-term commitment, and a lot of hard work.
In the meantime, since the first day that I had gone out, I had re-visited my next-door neighbor.  I had found out from the daughters that the mother was ill.  I made her some freshly squeezed orange juice and knocked on her door.  Her husband answered and ushered me into the living room.  While on pilgrimage I had prayed specifically for this family.  Indeed, I prayed fervently on more than one occasion as I had always had a good feeling about them.  The daughters especially were very sweet girls and I had enjoyed my conversations with the mother.  So, that day, when I went into their home, it felt like a new beginning.
We spoke for nearly 2 hours.  I told her that I had recently returned from pilgrimage and had been praying for them.  I went home feeling very happy.
I continued to call this neighbor a couple of times a week.  One day, she said she would come over.  And she did.  When the time seemed right I explained about the study circle and said it is sort of like a Bible study.  She immediately showed interest.  I explained a bit more about it, and she said she would like to come.  I was pleasantly surprised.  She asked me if she could also bring her daughters and her son.  She explained that she had not been involved in her church for several years, but she would like her children to come also to receive spiritual education.  I explained that I also offered a children's class that her son would be welcome to attend, and she gladly agreed.
Today her son joined the children's class.  He was the only white boy in a class of 8; the rest are African Americans.  Even though the predominant ethnicity in this part of Indiana is white, the class has turned out to be mostly black.  The children all get along—here is this little boy sitting happily between two black children watching a movie after children's classes.
So far, 4 neighborhood families had participated in at least 1 core activity, and all core activities now have neighborhood participation.
I have left out many details.  There are other contacts and conversations that have not reached a point of fruition.  But all of this involves small, daily interactions with neighbors—people who share my block and with whom the possibility of creating a new kind of spiritual community in our neighborhood exists.  I feel that it is the small acts, the imperfections, the uncertainties that make the story so compelling—even as I have lived it and now recount it.
The main point of this story, and the main lesson I have learned, is that when we do what we are supposed to do results follow.  I consider myself to be an ordinary Bahá’í with plenty of flaws.  I had lost hope.  Then, by the Grace of God, I found the solution through the blessing of pilgrimage, and was not only confirmed by the actual experience as described above, but by the Ridvan Message that came out while I was in the midst of my efforts.
I have been so busy, that I still have not participated in other community activities such as the Feast or Holy Day gatherings.  I know that I will, but I have been actively engaged in what I know I need to do, and the confirmations keep coming.  I am sharing this story because many have told me that they are inspired by it and that I must share it.
I do not know what lies ahead, but I do know that what has occurred in the past 6 weeks is more than I ever imagined possible.

She wants to start a study circle as soon as possible

The Ridvan 2010 message of the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the world urges us to “strengthen the institute process in the cluster”, to increase significantly the number of study circle tutors, and to markedly raise “the quality of the educational process” fostered by these study circles, so that local populations can experience an environment where they “see themselves as active agents of their own learning, as protagonists of a constant effort to apply knowledge to effect individual and collective transformation.”  So study circles are clearly a high priority for us all!
So many of the teaching stories we receive for this blog confirm the high interest in study circles, as well as their transforming effect in seekers, new believers and veteran believers alike.  Here is one story of a woman who recently declared her belief in Bahá’u’lláh online—it is just one of the latest examples of this process.
__ returned my call.  She shared a wonderful story that she gave permission to be shared with others. . . .

She grew up in Chicago and could see the House of Worship from the window of her family's apartment.  Even at a young age, she felt very drawn to the Bahá’í Faith.  A few years ago, she passed the House of Worship by chance and went in.  Since then she has been studying the details of the Faith.  As she studied it, she realized that she could become a member of the Bahá’í Faith without abandoning her family or her belief in her former religion.  She was especially drawn to the teachings about equality.  She understands the position of Bahá’u’lláh and the basics of the Faith.  As we reviewed the topics from Anna's conversation, it became clear that she is ready to become a Bahá’í.  She wants to start a study circle as soon as possible.
__ travels a lot overseas, and the reason we had not been able to make contact with her recently was because she was out of the country.