Hosting Zoroastrians: What’s one more interfaith engagement for Cincinnati Baha’is?
It’s difficult to keep up with the opportunities for interfaith engagement that Cincinnati-area Baha’is have enjoyed since participating in the 2018 Festival of Faiths.
Two recent developments were an invitation for Deb Vance to submit an essay about “beloved community” to an Episcopal publication and the participation of Vance and her husband, Steve, in an interfaith conversation dubbed “Bespoken Cuppa.” More on those below.
Then came news that the Cincinnati Baha’i Center would play host to a gathering of Zoroastrians from up and down the western half of Ohio.
The gathering was part of an initiative called Sacred Connections that was born when a Sikh member of the Festival of Faiths steering committee said, “If we’re really serious about this, we need to pray together.”
The idea was to rotate among the congregations’ places of worship for devotions, education and socializing, says Vance. The Baha’is slated their day for June 2019. The Zoroastrians wanted to host one, too, but didn’t have a place. So the Baha’is opened their center to them.
Baha’is had met Ferydoun (“Fred”) and Becca Desai of Cincinnati’s Zoroastrian community at the Festival of Faiths. “Ferydoun said they’d handed out all their pamphlets at their booth,” recalls Vance, “and added that until now ‘no one has been interested in us for 3,000 years!’
“Fred and Becca quickly became more involved the interfaith communion happening here,” she says. “And when they visited the Baha’i Center, they said it gave them a warm feeling, ‘like home.’”
The Zoroastrian event was scheduled for March 23, right after the Naw-Rúz holiday they and Baha’is celebrate to mark the new year. When other Festival of Faiths steering committee members learned of this collaboration, they praised the Baha’is for acting in the spirit of religious unity.
The calendar for all the events was finished in January and posted online with links for individuals to register. “By February,” says Vance, “it was clear that interest for this event was quite high and we soon were planning for about 100 or more visitors at the Baha’i Center.”
That meant moving furniture to allow for rental chairs and for Zoroastrian displays that would be juxtaposed with quotes from the Baha’i writings to demonstrate shared beliefs.
It also meant meticulously measuring the center’s lawn so as many cars as possible could safely park. To make room “we also dug up and transplanted a 40-foot row of budding daffodil bulbs, some of which we transplanted into pots to beautify the front and back entrances,” says Vance.
For the program, attended by about 100 people of several faiths, prayers were shared and Zoroastrian tenets explained. Children and youths carried into the room portions of a traditional Iranian haft sin display and pointed out the significance of each of seven items that symbolize the beginning of spring.
Following the program, guests socialized over food. After most of them left, the Zoroastrians treated the Baha’is to even more food. What wasn’t eaten was donated to Serve City in suburban Hamilton.
“In the process of Sacred Connections we are not only getting to learn about one another’s religions and cultures, but also forming some lovely friendships,” the Desais wrote later.
Sharing thoughts and a ‘cuppa’
The “beloved community” essay was one of three submitted by people of different faiths at the invitation of Julie Murray, associate director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.
The title comes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Murray says the civil rights leader “often referred to the Beloved Community as the realization of the kingdom of God here on earth, where we all walk together as brothers and sisters regardless of race, creed, or nationality.”
Vance’s essay was posted online at http://www.dsoconnections.org/2019/03/07/bahai-beloved-community/ in addition to appearing in the bimonthly magazine Connections, which is mailed to more than 8,000 Episcopal households in southern Ohio.
Deb and Steve Vance also participated recently in a “Bespoken Cuppa” interfaith conversation, sponsored by a nonprofit organization that creates spaces for “crafted storytelling, genuine story listening, and story-driven mindfulness in order to experience belonging.”
Says Vance, “We were originally invited by [a local Muslim spiritual leader], who thought we’d enjoy it. Today we broke into small groups and swapped stories around the word ‘luck’ and ended up talking about God, spirit, prayer, and how great it is to be able to discuss these topics with people of other faiths.
“I was with two Christians and Steve was with a Christian and a Muslim. A woman in my group said she and her boyfriend had been studying up on the Baha’i Faith for their religion class.”