In 1997 the Universal House of Justice created a new institution operating in a number of countries of the world known as Regional Baha'i Councils. The original impetus for this development came from large scale expansion and consolidation in India. For countries that are large with diverse regions and varied populations it is not possible any longer for a single National Spiritual Assembly to pay close attention to the spiritual needs of the entire community. This is particularly so because the community is not confined to avowed adherents of the Faith, but a large number of friends, family or neighbors who rightfully enjoy the spiritual programs offered by the Baha'is. The Councils then are executive arms of the National Spiritual Assemblies.
There are currently some 170 such administrative bodies in 45 countries of the world. These Councils are focused on helping the clusters learn how to engage in a systematic learning process. In US and many other countries, these Councils are formed by election, the voters being members of the Local Spiritual Assemblies within a region. The Councils operate a regional branch of the National Fund to ensure that funds are available for support of the core activities in each cluster. They also assist in the flow of information to and from the clusters, ensuring that various clusters in a region can learn from the experience of their sister clusters. Pioneers on the homefront are often deployed and assisted by the Councils. The organizational support for the Councils' secretary enables him or her to communicate regularly with the core teams in each cluster.
During the previous Five Year Plan, 2006 to 2011, each Council in US established an Office for Cluster Advancement. Often one member of the Council who had the greatest experience in the elements of the Plan would serve in this office. Gradually as more and more members gain first hand experience it is possible to broaden this concept. Ideally all the members of the Council are themselves among the most experienced teachers and trainers in the field. Their experience comes from having taught classes for children, or from befriending and animating a group of junior youth, or from hosting devotional meetings in their neighborhood, or from having served as a tutor of study circles. Some may have also served as institute coordinators or on Area Teaching Committees helping with cycles of activity for intensive programs of growth and with articulating their collective learning during various reflection meetings. Such ground level experience is absolutely indispensable in understanding the dynamics of growth.
Therein lies a major difference between Baha'i organization and service and many other organizations, both secular and religious. In the Baha'i conception, organization is not viewed as a hierarchy, and the people occupying certain roles are not considered as having positions. Everyone is a servant of humanity. And all work, including work on various institutions, are carried out with a spirit of service, which can alone elevate it to the level of worship. In paragraph 18 of its Plan, the Universal House of Justice enumerates four mechanisms for supporting learning in the field of action, and affirms that "... only if the Councils themselves are engaged in a process of learning will such mechanisms prove effective". As we build a future world civilization, this principle will guide the social structures that are to emerge.
Study of this paragraph suggests the following questions:
1 - As the community grows, in addition to the institutions operating at the level of the cluster, which other institutions need to develop increased capacity?
2 - What are the responsibilities of a National Spiritual Assembly in connection with growth of the community?
3 - What are the relationships between a National Spiritual Assembly and the Regional Baha'i Councils?
4 - Other than issues related to the growth, do the Council have responsibilities related to other matters such as justice or protection?
5 - Can you name four mechanisms that will serve to further the pattern of growth unfolding at the cluster level and the learning process associated with it?
6 - Under what conditions would such mechanisms prove effective?
7 - In what ways can regional systems created to support learning in action by an increasing number of participants in neighborhoods and villages unintentionally work against it?
The work of Baha'is on institutions is characterized with a unique sense of humility and oneness. Baha'u'llah wrote:
"And amongst the realms of unity is the unity of rank and station. It redoundeth to the exaltation of the Cause, glorifying it among all peoples. Ever since the seeking of preference and distinction came into play, the world hath been laid waste. It hath become desolate. Those who have quaffed from the ocean of divine utterance and fixed their gaze upon the Realm of Glory should regard themselves as being on the same level as the others and in the same station. Were this matter to be definitely established and conclusively demonstrated through the power and might of God, the world would become as the Abha Paradise. Indeed, man is noble, inasmuch as each one is a repository of the sign of God. Nevertheless, to regard oneself as superior in knowledge, learning or virtue, or to exalt oneself or seek preference, is a grievous transgression. Great is the blessedness of those who are adorned with the ornament of this unity and have been graciously confirmed by God." [Quoted in a letter of the Universal House of Justice, dated 27 March 1978]