In this series of blog posts we have been studying and reflecting on the guidance provided by the Universal House of Justice in its letter of 28 December 2010 addressed to the members of the five Continental Boards of Counsellors who were assembled on that day in Haifa for five days of deliberations on the course pursued by the Bahá’í community, worldwide, in its efforts to build a model for a future world civilization that progresses continuously and achieves a balance on both the material and spiritual aspects of our lives. The pace of this study has generally been about one per week, on the average, with some exceptions, but I have tried to post about 4 per month. Therefore for the month of June we study the four paragraphs of 21 to 24. The theme of these paragraphs is raising institutional capacity at the local level, and in this particular post we will focus on paragraph 24.
Throughout the decades of the second half of the twentieth century an increasing number of Baha’is responded to the call for homefront or international pioneering. Many of those who arrived in far flung pioneering posts taught the Faith as best as they could, trying to keep expansion and consolidation in balance while at the same time exerting effort to win the goals that were set at the outset of each plan. Some of these goals had to do with increasing the number of localities where Baha’is resided, and other goals were related to the objective of forming Spiritual Assemblies in an increasing number of villages. Yet other goals such as the building of Bahá’í centers or translation and publication of literature dealt with consolidation of the emerging communities. Great victories were won on all of these fronts.
Initially the visiting teachers had to assist with the electoral process of the newly formed Assemblies. Then there were various training classes and the use of traveling teachers to help the new friends appreciate the importance of performing the electoral process in a timely manner. Some even thought that we should “form now and function later”. This effort, valiant and heroic as it was, represented only our initial understanding of the complex dynamics of capacity building.
A few of the pioneers were astonished why the new friends would not, on their own, perform these routine administrative tasks. One may have heard an expression of surprise that after we have “told them” and even “showed them” how elections, meetings and minute keeping should be done still these were not done. This stood at great contrast against the devotion, utter self-sacrifice, a strong sense of commitment and identity, and many acts of service performed by these same new friends. When I would visit a remote home in a village, the residents would welcome me with open arms, gather together in large numbers, possibly slaughter their only remaining chicken in their yard to cook a befitting meal for me, as we would pray and sing together in great adoration of Baha’u’llah, the Blessed Beauty. They had, and still have, such a strong attraction to beauty of all things spiritual.
Reflection on these experiences then compels us to realize that raising capacity of villagers, indeed of anyone, to engage in formal institutional activity is not a simple task, and development is not something that we can simply "tell them" or “show them”. There is a long and methodic process for raising capacity, which requires careful attention and concerted effort. This lesson is not only relevant to the process of community building modeled by the Bahá’í community, but it has wide ramifications for other like-minded persons and organizations, including non-profit organizations and civil society groups intent on raising the capacity of people and institutions everywhere.
In study of paragraph 24 the following questions can be considered:
1 – Once a community grows in size and capacity, the friends will be drawn further into the life of society. Can you locate the paragraph in the Ridvan 2008 that explains this development in some detail?
2 – What have we learned from the systematization of the training and teaching work that might now be useful for us?
3 – How is a community challenged to take advantage of these lessons learned to respond to a widening range of issues that face the village?
4 – How are these new approaches similar to or different from previous approaches to social action, and socio-economic developments?
5 – How has the question of coherence within activities related to growth been achieved so far?
6 – How can such coherence now be extended to include social and economic action?
7 – The Spiritual Assembly is guided not to act as the executor of such socio-economic projects, but rather to act as the voice of moral authority, to ensure that such projects do not compromise the integrity of the activities that have so far been achieved. This task, now given to the Local Spiritual Assemblies, requires the highest level of maturity and intimate familiarity with the language, the concepts, and the dynamics of organic systems, of which both growth and social action form a part. Can you elaborate on this?
This last question is an excellent candidate for reflection, and I invite you to further comment on this concept, here on this blog.
Abdu’l-Baha wrote: “These Spiritual Assemblies are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions. What bounty is there greater than this?” [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, page 81]