Conferences build confidence for individual, collective efforts alike
Baha’i community-building efforts gained a significant boost in the four Prairie States as a whole — with the Kansas City area in particular poised to reach a new stage — from a set of four conferences last summer aimed at accelerating the growth of those initiatives.
Still, the pledges of action that made this momentum possible were often very personal, sometimes centered on particular neighborhoods.
These conferences were among many around the country this summer focused on intensifying activity in the run-up to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, herald of the Baha’i Faith, in October.
“A highlight of the Kansas City conference was the number of pledges for new core activities, particularly devotional gatherings,” recalls Susan Bishop, secretary of the Regional Baha’i Council of the Prairie States.
Those 20 new pledges put the Kansas City cluster of communities within reach of a new milestone, with 100 core activities ongoing: devotionals, children’s spiritual education classes, junior youth groups, and study circles to build capacity to initiate all those activities.
The conferences also helped increase people’s confidence in informing neighbors about the vision of Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Faith, for humanity and inviting them to work alongside Baha’is to make it a reality.
Bishop tells of a man who, despite his reticent nature, agreed to go with a facilitator from the Kansas City conference to visit a family in a neighborhood of African immigrants.
And of a woman in St. Louis who heard stories like that and expressed the wish that she had been among those who were willing to set aside their fears.
One who did swallow his discomfort and go out from the St. Louis conference to meet people in a neighborhood was Mark Stannard, a Baha’i in Columbia, Missouri.
Here is his account:
“I was among the 15 or 20 people who chose to give it a go. I was not totally comfortable knocking on strangers’ doors and had the expectation that many people would not be comfortable talking to a stranger at their door.
“It gave me strength to have a teammate to go through the experience with as well as an invitation to give them [for a neighborhood gathering to talk about community building].
“As we walked down the street trying to get our courage up to go to the first house, we came across a modest home with a well-manicured yard and a couple of men sitting out on the front porch.
“We asked if they would mind speaking with us for a moment, and the homeowner welcomed us. We probably talked to him for about 20 minutes and learned a great deal about him — particularly how Jesus had taken away his addictions to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
“As we were getting to know each other I remember thinking that although we might not get to a lot of houses at this speed, even one good connection might be more valuable than numerous quicker but less in-depth conversations.
“We eventually said our goodbyes and moved on to the next home. A woman in her 30s or early 40s answered the door and immediately stepped out onto the porch to talk with us.
“It turned out that she was a transplant into the neighborhood from upstate New York. She again took time to speak with us about our efforts and about her desire to see improvements in the sense of community in the neighborhood.
“Again, 20 or more minutes lapsed as we enjoyed conversation centered around her neighborhood and living situation. I could tell that we were not disturbing her, as she was the one doing most of the talking and seemed in no hurry to end the conversation. She indicated a high likelihood that she would be attending [the] community-building gathering.
“After that we only had time to visit a couple more homes — one where nobody was home and one where we wound up having a brief but friendly exchange with a man who accepted a flyer to the gathering.
“This experience left me with an improved feeling toward how I might be accepted by strangers. It struck me that we had started relationships with these new people, and that there was something to follow up on and that these people shared our mission.”