Fresh developments emerge from bicentenary at House of Worship

December 20, 2019
Fresh developments emerge from bicentenary at House of Worship

A powerful evolution is happening in how Baha’is view the mission of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. 

“As a spiritual center for community, the House of Worship is at the intersection of worship and service,” says Rebecca Rice, program coordinator. 

In recent years, Temple staff have explored how local Baha’i communities can take initiative, how people who aren’t enrolled Baha’is can help plan and carry out programs, and how the presence of the House of Worship can be felt beyond its own environs.

“In preparing for the recent bicentenary celebrations,” she says, referring to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, herald of the Baha’i Faith, “we saw an increased capacity in Baha’is and friends of the Faith to arrange devotional programs at the Temple and to invite family and friends.”  

Youths lead a devotional program the evening of Oct. 28 at the House of Worship. Photo by Ron Browne

For instance, a group of youth from two Chicago neighborhoods organized a devotional program in several languages for Oct. 28, the eve of that holy day. All are involved in community-building activity, few of them are enrolled in the Baha’i Faith, and their backgrounds include African, Middle Eastern and Latin American.

A mother and child share a moment at a reverently arranged Archives exhibition Oct. 29 at the Baha’i House of Worship Welcome Center. Photo by Vladimir Shilov

Building of capacity was also evident in other programs for this special anniversary. The local Baha’i communities in Evanston and Wilmette took the lead in organizing two devotional programs the morning and afternoon of Oct. 29. 

An afternoon program was also offered Oct. 30 for the anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith. Attendees at both afternoon programs had opportunities to view a reverently arranged Archives exhibition in the Welcome Center, with Tablets, relics, rare books and other items associated with the central figures of the Faith.

A Spanish-language program the evening of Oct. 29 was also organized by Baha’is and friends from Chicago who made special efforts to invite friends and family.

The integral role of the arts in House of Worship activities was evident all during celebrations of these twin holy birthdays. 

The Baha’i House of Worship Choir and the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra join forces Oct. 26 for an enthusiastically received performance in Foundation Hall of the House of Worship. Photo by Vladimir Shilov

Even before offering music at three of the devotional gatherings, the Baha’i House of Worship Choir sang at a concert Oct. 26 with the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra, and at a bicentenary service dozens of miles south on the University of Chicago campus on Oct. 27.

Quite the busy itinerary, but as House of Worship Music Director Van Gilmer notes, this effort has its influence. Many visitors feel the power of music at the Temple, and a number have been moved “to further investigate how they might become a part of the choir and the diverse music it sings,” he says. 

Two other special experiences at the Welcome Center included an exhibition of locally produced visual arts inspired by the bicentenary and the display of the artwork “750.” 

Temple staff anticipate that what they learn from these experiences will influence how holy day celebrations and other Temple programs continue to develop. 


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