A neighborhood’s experience: How the bicentenary transformed relationships
Bahá’ís in Somerville, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, are beginning to see entire families engage in a process of spiritual empowerment.
They are seeing an evolution in the language they use in inviting people to engage in community-building activities, as well as the ways they collaborate with them, as they understand each other’s needs better and connect the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh to those needs.
All this, says Hayon Thapaliya, flows from a concerted effort to make friends with residents of the Mystic Projects neighborhood, particularly in the months leading to the bicentenary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh in October 2017.
“It sparked a desire and motivation to continue a dialogue and pattern of activity and collaboration that encompassed two bicentenary celebrations and a two-day junior youth camp for the whole Boston cluster [of local communities],” says Thapaliya, who serves on the Somerville Spiritual Assembly.
“Capacities were stretched, new horizons explored, and a greater appreciation for the complexity of the work at hand and perseverance required of those working for the Cause was acknowledged.”
Since the outreach began in Mystic Projects, several children have been enrolled in spiritual education classes. Mothers of a number of those children have joined in study circles in Spanish and English.
“These are our first study circles with parents from the neighborhood,” she says. “Additionally, youths have been invited to gatherings that are happening on a weekly basis in the neighborhood.”
Looking back, Thapaliya can detect a “huge learning curve” in Somerville Bahá’ís’ understanding.
They now have a much better idea, she says, “what it truly means to love and nurture unity and fellowship between people from extremely diverse social and economic backgrounds.”
One part of that learning process came when children from the neighborhood agreed to take part in the local celebration of the Anniversary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh. Hannah Mehegan, an animator for a junior youth group, says they were “happy to serve in this way.”
But while they were preparing, she notes, “there were moments of tension.” Some of the neighborhood children came to feel they were being treated differently from other participants.
“From this we learned that to truly make a space that is welcoming to all” regardless of background, “we must … not only be comfortable with but also love differences in language, manners of speaking and unfamiliar actions that may at first seem awkward or inappropriate.”
In particular, says Mehegan, “We learned that we need to pause and reflect on ourselves and consider whether we are correcting the children because of our own discomfort.”