It’s a new chapter in the unfolding story of our national Baha’i community and the institutions that guide it.
That milestone was declared by the Universal House of Justice and sensed throughout a weekend orientation for the 10 newly elected Regional Baha’i Councils, hosted by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States on Aug. 18–19 at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.
As the Councils prepared to fan out to serve the communities in their respective regions, Counselor Borna Noureddin — one of six members of the Continental Board of Counselors for the Americas who accompanied them in learning and consultation all weekend — said the 100-strong gathering had reinforced a “very powerful sense of partnership. … You’re not alone as you go forward.”
For his part, Mark Gilman of the South Central States Council said he sees “the resurgence of a confident vision and a unified vision, of moving from strength to strength, of following these pathways that the House of Justice is tracing for us.”
The weekend pivoted around a guidance-packed four-page letter issued Aug. 9 on behalf of the Universal House of Justice. It was timed to inform the launching of the 10 Councils, newly expanded from a cohort of six.
On the National Assembly’s behalf, Secretary Kenneth E. Bowers emphasized at the opening that the weekend’s purpose centered on a spiritual posture of learning. Technical details of how the Councils were to operate — even the elections of their officers — could wait for another date.
Instead of arranging a “top-down process” of point-by-point training, the National Assembly followed the principle that “we’re all in an orientation,” he said. “We’re all learning about how to advance the interests of the Cause.” And he promised the shared learning would be a continuous process.
Study and consultation
The format of the gathering was simple. After being welcomed to the holiest Baha’i House of Worship and briefed on the business of the weekend, members of the new Councils went straight to the heart of the orientation.
They broke up into six groups, each steered by a Counselor and including a National Assembly member, and studied the Aug. 9 letter section by section — absorbing its encouragement, consulting on its implications, referring to earlier letters shaping this Five Year Plan, and letting the guidance work on their habits of thought.
In addition to Noureddin, participating Counselors were Ann Boyles, Alison Milston, Garth Pollock, Navid Serrano and Anita Vandella Williams.
“I found it absolutely refreshing,” Great Lakes States Council member Hoda Kemp said about that discussion time. “It was insightful and it was wonderful to have that collaboration together.”
Several others said they were gratified to have an opportunity to discuss the principles involved in their service without having to decide on immediate action steps. Marsha Gilpatrick of the California Council said she especially appreciated the Counselors’ example of keeping everyone at ease, which the Councils can in turn emulate in their contact with cluster agencies.
In between small-group sessions, the Counselors offered thoughts and encouraged reflection on topics related to community building in this Plan:
- Capacity building; human resource development; junior youth spiritual empowerment program.
- Working with receptive populations; scheme of coordination.
- Service “in the spirit of humble fellowship.”
- The way forward.
Encourage, facilitate, respond
The Aug. 9 message encompasses all those topics and more, declaring, “A new chapter in the evolution of the Administrative Order in the United States is now opening, endowed with immense promise.” And it advises not only the Councils, but “all those who aim to assist the process of learning” at cluster level, to “do everything within their means to provide support, to lovingly encourage, to facilitate the efforts under way, and to respond, with flexibility and dispatch, to needs as they arise.”
Since Regional Baha’i Councils were first established in the United States in 1997, their functions and duties have evolved as new approaches to growth and consolidation emerge, especially in connection with the training institute and neighborhood-focused core activities. The number of Councils has gradually been expanded from the original four.
Vicki Abel of the Prairie States Council welcomed the opportunity to focus more human resources for accompaniment per cluster than the Councils could do when they served larger geographic areas. “Such excitement to think about what it will be like to serve this region,” she said.
Even the Northeastern States Council — serving the same geographical area as before, with many of the same members — is “as changed as any of the Councils here,” member Chet Makoski said, given fresh perspectives from the Aug. 9 message in such areas as coordination, communication and use of resources.
The orientation process, said Corinne Mills of the Atlantic States Council, helped drive home for her an important perspective: that rather than just a selected few, “the possibility exists for all clusters to have a program of growth by the end of this Plan.”
In addition to those already mentioned, members of the Councils serving the Northwestern, Northern Plains, Four Corners and Southeastern states participated.