Gatherings in Cleveland, Reno tap into tutors’ learnings

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Baha’is are still learning about the unique role of tutors in the life of our local communities: not just to facilitate learning in study circles, but also to accompany those circles’ participants in acts of service.

That “learning by doing” approach is what makes local tutor gatherings — meetings of people who have been serving as tutors for Ruhi Institute courses — especially rich opportunities to reflect on practices and plan future service in clusters of communities nationwide.

For example, an action-oriented tutor gathering focusing on home visits in the Cleveland, Ohio, area in October helped clarify “how vital and basic home visits are to building a new feeling of community in neighborhoods,” one participant reports.

The same month, a gathering in the Reno, Nevada, area shared lots of laughter as well as lessons on encouraging study circle participants, or “collaborators,” to take opportunities in their personal lives “to enter into meaningful and distinctive conversations with local residents,” as urged in the Dec. 28, 2010, letter of the Universal House of Justice.

Hands-on experience in Ohio

The Oct. 15 tutor gathering in University Heights, Ohio, focused on the joyful connection and transformation that arise from sharing the Word of God in spiritual conversations with receptive souls — key concepts in Arising to Serve, Book 2 in the Ruhi course sequence.

Many participants “blossom” from study circles and service, it was observed, strengthening their ability to develop meaningful friendships through spiritual conversations.

Tutors not only experience the joy of helping others. It was noted they also grow in their ability to teach the Faith and to accompany others in service, as all collaborators learn to humbly serve together.

Action followed study and reflection on the meeting’s agenda. Small groups went out and visited the homes of people who had previously agreed to receive them.

Those visited included the parent of a children’s class member, the parent of a junior youth group member, new junior youth animators, seekers, potential study circle participants, a new mother, and more.

Among the learnings:

  • Pray and read the Writings about home visits before going.
  • Have an idea or plan of what will be discussed, but be flexible about the discussion; go with the flow and practice detachment.
  • A planned visit should have a beginning, a middle that transitions into spiritual conversation, and a closing.
  • Share in offered hospitality.
  • Listen carefully and invite the host to share about his/her life.
  • Pray silently if you’re not doing the talking.
  • Be attentive for openings to share Bahá’u’lláh and the Word of God naturally.
  • Be natural and authentic; don’t lecture.
  • Share joy, love, and connection, as well as look for commonalities.
  • Remember it can be easy to misread a person or situation; don’t make assumptions.
  • Make even a short visit meaningful.
  • Look for opportunities to make a difference and further connect the host to core Baha’i activities including devotinal gatherings, children’s classes, junior youth groups and study circles.
  • Adapt to the needs of each circumstance.
  • Affirm the strengths and gifts of the host; express gratitude for the visit.

All the teams expressed how much they enjoyed the visits and look forward to doing more. They came back humbled and grateful, inspired and moved by the spiritual connection with others, and this was enhanced by the ability to reflect as a group about the shared experience.

“Only by the individual effort of exploring this path of service, and meditating on the experience afterwards, do we begin to learn and understand how the spiritual nature of our relationship with others is elevated through the experience,” a participant shared afterward.

Reflection and planning in Nevada

In Reno, the fellowship and mutual learning was so energetic at the laughter-filled Oct. 30 tutor gathering that the friends sometimes found themselves helping each other finish prayers.

Reflecting on a quotation from ‘Abdu’l-Baha about “divine institutes,” they realized the “institute” is bigger than any of them imagined. Everyone in the world can be part of the institute, which is brought to life by the four core activities.

They also shared thoughts and experiences regarding “meaningful and distinctive conversations” and opportunities to have them, especially with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.

Whether we’re venturing away from home or serving as “pioneers in our own neighborhood,” the building of spiritual community takes time, commitment, love and the willingness to accept everyone’s contribution. In fact, even though collective teaching of the Faith sometimes involves looking for receptive souls in a specific neighborhood, experience indicated that it’s more sustainable when the teachers are out to build real friendships.

If we are shy or intimidated, group members reflected, we can approach the task simply — for example, just following ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s example of being a good listener — and build confidence by finding approaches that work for us and our friends.

Revisiting a section of Walking Together on a Path of Service, the Ruhi Book 7 course for training of tutors, brought these reflections:

  • Tutors can bring a fresh Ruhi book without any answers written in it to study circle, to reinforce a humble posture of learning and avoid the idea that they have “the answers.”
  • In larger study circles it is easier for the person serving as a tutor to “disappear” and for all the collaborators to own the experience.
  • It is important for a tutor to understand the learning styles of fellow collaborators. The Ruhi materials allow for learning by everyone’s learning style.
  • It is important not to bring our own hangups to the experience, as this might affect the experience of those who have learning styles different from our own.
  • We can become good at asking questions, which heightens the experience of discovery.

Action suggestions shared were:

  • Say the Tablet of Ahmad daily for the entire cycle for those serving as tutors.
  • Build on conversations in the neighborhood.
  • Make a conscious effort to meet with friends face to face every week.
  • Start a new study circle with those who are ready. Be available.
  • Reconnect with people with whom a study circle was started but not yet completed because of life circumstances.
  • Get off the email and have face-to-face meetings.
  • Identify junior youths and match them with animators.

Susanne Alexander in Cleveland and Renée Jaenicke in Reno contributed to this report. Their accounts first appeared in cluster newsletters, The Emerald and The Northern Nevada Bahá’í Historian.