Dozens connect, explore ideas at Green Acre author event

September 28, 2018
Dozens connect, explore ideas at Green Acre author event

Dozens of people, with the help of four Baha’i authors, encountered and reflected on fresh ideas about human nature and relationships at the “Conversations of the Heart” gathering at Green Acre Baha’i School in Eliot, Maine, this past April.

And some of the connections made there are still vital. “Some participants felt so inspired and empowered that they started to make plans with each other,” says Martha Martinez, program coordinator at Green Acre. “Real connections were made and from our follow-up these connections have stayed strong.”

This response has been so encouraging that at least one follow-up has been planned.

The next “Conversations of the Heart” session is open to the public Nov. 2–4 at Bosch Baha’i School in Santa Cruz, California, with dynamic authors, facilitated dialogue, and artistic presentations.

The gathering originated from a question the programming team at Green Acre asked itself: “How can we generate elevated and meaningful conversations around spiritual and social concepts that relate learning to everyday life and include the whole community?”

Janet Ruhe-Schoen refers to a story from the life of Tahirih in her presentation during the “Conversations of the Heart” program at Green Acre Bahá’í School. Photo by Nat Yogachandra

Consultation on that question led the school to collaborate with the U.S. Baha’i Publishing Trust on developing the program. They chose authors to invite for learning, exploration and reflection, and ultimately attracted 50 participants, including Baha’is and their friends from the local area as well as other states.

The entire program was designed “to set the individual, whether Baha’i or not, on a path to understand the nature of our relationships with one another as we all labor together to build a peaceful community,” says Nat Yogachandra, general manager of the Baha’i Publishing Trust.

Workshops included:

  • “Mind, Soul, and Relationships: Healing from the Inside Out” with psychologist Patricia McIlvride (who has been published as Patricia Romano McGraw). This discussion of the neurobiology of healing drew on cutting-edge brain science and Baha’i writings on the health of the soul.
  • “Beyond Barriers: Overcoming Racial and Gender Stigmas to Conquer Fear and Function as a World Citizen” with Janet Ruhe-Schoen. This conversation focused on the living legacies of Louis G. Gregory, 20th-century African American lawyer and pioneer of racial integration, and Tahirih, 19th-century Iranian champion of women’s freedom.
  • “The Power of Stories: Connecting to Virtues and Building Community” with Amy Renshaw, senior editor of Brilliant Star children’s magazine. Stories from her book Voyage of Love: ‘Abdu’l-Baha in North America and other sources inspired explorations of how stories touch people’s hearts and help them connect with others.
  • “Abraham: His Life and Legacy” with Frances Worthington. The author facilitated a discussion of how followers of different religions have more in common than they may realize, with stories and ideas from her book Abraham: One God, Three Wives, Five Religions.
Amy Renshaw (right), Brilliant Star senior editor and author, facilitates a group exploration of the power of stories to form connections, during the “Conversations of the Heart” program at Green Acre Bahá’í School. Photo by Nat Yogachandra

Even during the generous breaks between these sessions, Martinez recalls, “No one was sitting alone — everyone was talking with someone.” Guests who had never been to a Baha’i event before “indicated that having the time and space to talk to the authors was a highlight … a rare gift to actually have so much access to the presenters.”

Since then, she adds, two nearby residents have become committed to attending weekly programs at Green Acre that invite people from the area to explore locally important issues together.

Two other attendees, feeling they had made lasting friendships with Baha’is during the weekend, returned to their homes in Florida and Illinois and began attending Baha’i devotional gatherings — even hosting in one case.

“I sensed a spirit of optimism and hope,” Yogachandra says, adding that “The environment … created spaces where justice, fairness and inclusiveness were exhibited.”  

See more information about Baha’i centers of learning and their programs.

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