How are Regional Baha’i Councils aiding the process of learning and growth in areas that are working to build on the considerable momentum of the past five years?
Here are some thoughts and strategies aimed primarily — but by no means exclusively, they make clear — at advanced clusters of Baha’i communities, most of which established intensive programs of growth (IPGs) during the Five Year Plan of 2006–2011.
The Regional Council of the Central States reports still being in the early stages of developing strategies to advance the frontiers of learning. For a glimpse of its vision for the process of learning under way throughout the region, click here.
Randolph Dobbs, secretary, Southwestern States:
Accompaniment seems to be the broad-spectrum treatment effective for all clusters.
In August, the Southwestern Regional Council met with Counselor Navid Serrano, who shared his experience from a recent visit to Cali, Colombia, where he attended a Continental Board of Counselors meeting and also visited some of the clusters in that country.
The Counselor said that accompaniment is vigorous at every level, from the neighborhood on up to the national level, and that over the years this accompaniment has become very systematic.
Those involved in their respective service at the neighborhood level receive a visit from someone at the cluster level at least once a month and sometimes at least every two weeks. This accompaniment is such that the person offering service is visited as well as the actual core activity.
Projecting this accompaniment strategy on to our own regional circumstance, we have three regional assistants serving the Regional Training Institute who each operate at a sub-regional level. These friends visit cluster coordinators, who in turn accompany those serving at the neighborhood level.
In addition, we also have three regional assistants directly serving the Regional Council and also serving at the sub-regional level whose job it is to visit Area Teaching Committees in more advanced clusters.
But the principle of accompaniment applies equally in advanced clusters as it would in emerging clusters.
Some of the lessons learned are about being systematic as well as organic — in other words, not to move too quickly beyond one’s resources and to consider our efforts in terms of building and sustaining long-term relationships.
Corinne Mills, assistant secretary for cluster advancement, Southeastern States:
This is a very interesting process to reflect on, considering the reality of what is happening in the clusters.
For the advanced clusters the Council has undertaken core team seminars which have provided a focus on the institute material – primarily [Ruhi] Books 1, 2, 6 and portions of 7 — and the current guidance.
The participants at the seminars reflect in small groups how selected sections and quotes from the institute material impacts them as individuals and their service on the core team.
In our discussions and conversations we increasingly emphasize the importance to think BIG: embracing ever-increasing numbers into the Faith and to assist with the community-building process.
Together we reflect on paragraph 4 from the Dec. 28, 2010, message [from the Universal House of Justice] and how a program of growth within a neighborhood of these advanced IPGs is a real possibility.
The core team has an exercise to reflect on next steps for the neighborhoods that show the most receptivity and potential.
We have a conversation with them on this paragraph and the implications it has in the neighborhood such that their cluster, by the end of the Five Year Plan, will realize the growth of going from tens serving hundreds to hundreds serving thousands — primarily through a process of advancing the Faith in neighborhood after neighborhood.
We also focus on skills: studying a prayer, sharing/exploring a deepening theme together, introducing a Baha’i topic into conversation, and of course directly teaching the Faith.
We are learning through these seminars that it is vital the cluster agencies see examples and understand that in each of these instances there are possible teaching opportunities.
We want to explore together with them how to transition from studying a prayer with a seeker to a conversation that may lead to giving the Message of Baha’u’llah.
The same is true for the transition of introducing a Baha’i topic — transition to directly teaching the Faith according to the seeker’s interest — and transitioning to an invitation to join the Faith and/or to learn together with us in the community building process.
We are also holding these seminars for all intensive program of growth core teams in addition to the [most] advanced clusters.
Chet Makoski, secretary, Northeastern States:
A regional institutional meeting May 21–22 captured ideas on how to intensify expansion phases.
Many of these concepts are being applied by the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants, Council members in support of cluster development activities, and the regional training institute board of directors strengthening the institute process in clusters.
We’ve created a Google Calendar to monitor their activities and other activities so Council members can more easily allocate their time to support these clusters.
Possible lines of action also were identified at the meeting for Area Teaching Committees and Local Spiritual Assemblies to consider.
The May 10 letter that prepared us for this meeting is informative of an approach in which the Council is currently engaged to learn more personally and comprehensively from the intensive programs of growth in six selected clusters.
As the letter explained, learning from those clusters “might then be translated to actions taken in the remaining clusters with an intensive program of growth so that they all can reach higher levels of intensity.”
The Council also shared in the letter some preliminary thoughts for reflection and asked that attendees likewise share reflections in advance of the meeting. The Council’s reflections center on “what we want to learn and what actions we can take in the region over the next two [three-month] cycles.”
Those two cycles, the letter noted, would take the region to the end of October, the midpoint of the first year of the new Plan, and would “coincide with possible changes in membership on our institutions, leading us to collaborate in new ways in the following months and years.”
Aniela Costello, cluster development coordinator, South Central States:
What we’re seeing from Area Teaching Committees across the board is cycle by cycle [an approach to] take one person and raise that person up to do what he or she can do. We’re all replaceable, serving for only a limited amount of time, and cycle by cycle we’re reflecting and seeing the fruits of our accompaniment.
We can move a cluster through our communications, and the ATCs in the South Central region spend a lot of good quality time during the expansion phase sending out stories of the victories and challenges every single day. And soon someone who isn’t on board wants to share her story. Enthusiasm is infectious.
In the South Central region we talk about accompanying teaching teams and finding what they’re good at. Once we do that — and it takes a couple of hours in an interview format — you can plug them in and help them establish a core activity in their neighborhood very easily. Then it’s [a matter of] following up, because teams need to learn to find waiting souls, learn to reflect, get the skills they need to add the second or third core activity by working with other teams.
Understanding the vision of what we’re building is key. If the friends don’t understand what we are doing in a neighborhood, they can’t — they won’t — get on board.
Having a meaningful and distinctive conversation is something very different from [saying] “Betty, I see you’re pregnant, I’m praying for you and your baby” and seeing where that goes. If you share a prayer with Betty, and she asks about the prayer and wants the prayer, that’s a very different conversation and maybe Betty will now come and reflect with us, through the institute process, on the spiritual.
That process lays out the ground rules — truthfulness is the foundation of all virtue, for example — through which we can order ourselves and can talk intimately about how they affect our block, our parenting, our relationship with our spouse. And as we break down each old imprisoning thought, look at what happens! Now our community, our neighborhood, our block is resonating a very different spiritual wavelength.
So we’ve got to get better at communicating vision, we’ve got to get better at accompaniment. And in clusters where they are advancing the frontiers of learning, building up their neighborhoods, the friends are getting the refreshers they need, reflecting on the needs of the seeker and the neighborhood, and they’re going out and doing the work.