New Councils start a process of learning in three regions

Counselor Farah Guchani-Rosenberg offers opening comments for the Sept. 17–18 orientation gathering. Photo by Nancy Wong

It’s been nearly 19 years since Regional Bahá’í Councils were established in the United States, and a lot has been learned about their role in helping build the Kingdom of God on earth.

Learning itself, in fact, is a major element in that role, as evidenced by the discussion and the study materials at the orientation gathering for three new Councils on Sept. 17–18 at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.

Alongside Counselors Farah Guchani-Rosenberg and Sonlla Heern and six members of the National Spiritual Assembly, all 19 members of the newly created Councils serving the Appalachian States, Heartland States and Midwestern States spent the weekend immersed in study, consultation and hospitality, then elected officers as they grasped the reins of their duties.

A special message on behalf of the Universal House of Justice celebrated the formation of the new institutions, which are now among 12 Regional Councils serving the U.S. Bahá’í community, and re-emphasized their basic duty: “overseeing the execution of the global Plan in areas under their jurisdiction.” (Click here for the membership of the new Councils.)

The occasion marked “a historic advance in development of the Faith in this country,” Guchani-Rosenberg noted at the gathering’s beginning. Indeed, it is the fourth expansion of the number of Councils since they were created in 1997.  

Intimate and quiet spaces gave the Council members ample time for rich discussion centered on vital topics:

  • Regional Bahá’í Councils and this stage of the Divine Plan.
  • Qualities and attitudes required of those who serve on institutions.
  • Functions and characteristics of the Councils.
  • Attention to the operation of training institutes.
  • Fostering the effective functioning of Area Teaching Committees.
  • Following the progress of clusters and nurturing a learning process.

Programs of growth in many clusters of localities are expected to become intensive by the end of the new Plan in 2021. Crucial to that progress is how the Councils accompany the clusters across their regions in that development.

Fortunately, all Council members were experienced in the community-building activities they will be fostering. Beyond the local level, some had been members of Regional Councils that served many more states; others brought in perspectives from past service on Auxiliary Boards or regional training institute boards or in coordination roles.  

During the weekend’s discussions, the Counselors and National Assembly members largely posed questions and helped steer a thought process that was partly structured by guidance and texts compiled by the Assembly’s offices. Among the most reflective questions came when Heern asked the members “What is the Council to you?” then followed up with: “How would you love the friends to describe the Council?”

Among thoughts shared over the course of the weekend:

A member of the Midwestern Council — which serves Indiana, Michigan and Ohio — pondered many functions of the Councils including movement of homefront pioneers, managing funds, overseeing training institutes and coordinators and more. She noted her experience with past Councils guides her not to micromanage but rather to support.

A member of the Appalachian Council — serving Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia — anticipated the Council must be alert for “priceless opportunities” to encourage activities in particular places.

A member of the Heartland Council — serving Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin — said she felt “eagerness to learn, asking questions, … [facilitating] flows of information, … a desire to accompany the friends” were essential qualities.

Heern noted the Councils will be developing relationships with other agencies including the training institutes as well as the Area Teaching Committee and other agencies in each cluster, in part to ensure they are reading reality and assigning resources wisely.

While the administration of training institutes will still be evolving in these Councils’ early stages, a general sense was shared that study circles, junior youth groups and children’s classes can go forward at full steam, and a Midwestern Council member said one essential thing is to provide coordinators with “what they need to do their job.”

Time was spent reflecting on how a Council will know when a cluster needs an ATC to be appointed; thoughts included watching to see when activity is “being held back because of the absence of an ATC” or when the institute process is strong enough that the committee would be of help in energizing teaching, devotional gatherings and regular reflection meetings.  

With these Councils just getting started in their development, Guchani-Rosenberg said her own experience as a Council member for a number of years taught her the importance of a spirit of collaboration and constant capacity building, both within each Council and in relationships with agencies in the region.

And she assured them: “This institution is always evolving, expanding. … We can’t ever say, ‘We got this.’”

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