Cincinnati Baha’is gain visibility, collaborators through festival participation
When Baha’is saw their allotted space for the Festival of Faiths in Cincinnati, Ohio, it felt like divine intervention. The booth, with its poster saying “One God, One Faith,” was the first that all 1,500-plus attendees saw as they entered the room.
And the Baha’is made full use of that fortuitous location, says Deborah Clark Vance, who serves as corresponding secretary of the Cincinnati Spiritual Assembly, the Faith’s local governing body.
They led festival-goers through a virtues game, answered questions, took down contact information from those who want to learn about Baha’i-sponsored activities for building community, and connected with groups eager to explore collaborative efforts.
When an invitation to participate in the festival had arrived five months earlier, the Cincinnati Assembly decided to go ahead after investigation turned up positive experiences at similar events by Baha’is in neighboring states, says Vance.
The festival theme of “Compassion through Action,” designed to connect diverse people and get them working together in service, was enticing as well. Vance says the aim of the steering committee, which Baha’is immediately joined, is “community building in a big way.”
As visitors passed the Baha’i booth, the big draw was a scaled-down version of a game once used successfully by Baha’is in nearby Yellow Springs.
“For ours,” says Vance, “we used a small wading pool filled with sand to represent the earth and set it on a table. In the sand we placed nine rocks on which we’d written negative values such as greed, anger, intolerance, stereotyping.
“We then made the antidote to the negative rocks: We taped a silk flower to a tongue depressor painted in a bright color on which we’d affixed a label naming one of 18 positive attributes — love, hope, patience, etc.”
Visitors were asked whether “they’d like to help change the world by removing the negative attributes from the earth and planting a flower of virtue in its place,” relates Vance.
“We had discussions with them about which virtue might be effective for any particular negative attribute, and of course there were no wrong answers. To those who completed the game, we gave out stickers of ‘No room in my heart for prejudice.’”
Since the Baha’i Faith is “pretty much unknown in this city, so many encounters at the booth were basic,” says Vance. But by the end of the day, “two pages of our guest book were filled with email addresses of those who would like to be informed of our events.”
But that’s not all, she says. “Upstairs was a meditation room where one of our members hosted a devotional gathering. The idea there was for visitors to experience the flavor of what it’s like for any of the faith traditions to join in devotions.”
Vance says there was also a conference room where “compassionate conversations occurred that were designed to allow people to discuss critical issues — racism and discrimination, poverty and hunger, refugees, civility, and addiction — and maybe connect with each other and want to work together.”