Northeast strengthens skills in expanding prayer gatherings
Essentially, they’re planting seeds of a devotional spirit in more and more places.
Mirroring similar efforts around the country, Baha’is and their friends in the nine Northeastern States have focused in recent months on doubling the number of devotional gatherings, to “uplift more hearts, give hope to more spirits, and create more bonds of true friendship,” in the words of Marie McNair, secretary of the elected Northeast Regional Baha’i Council.
As summer turned into fall, the region was closing in on its goal of 995 devotional gatherings meeting regularly.
Whether in a home or a public location, each such gathering is a space open to people of all faiths where prayer and contemplation of scripture inspires service and community building.
Regional Councils across the country embarked this year on systematic drives to strengthen the knowledge and skills of Baha’i individuals and communities, with the aim of expanding the numbers of devotional gatherings and of their participants by Oct. 29, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, herald of the Baha’i Faith.
In the Northeast, some 425 devotionals had already sprouted up by January, when the Council serving those states launched its campaign.
Reports were coming in from individuals and local Baha’i communities that a “sense of unity” was emerging as many rallied around that goal, says McNair.
Baha’is “were becoming more experienced at inviting people to attend their devotions” and benefiting from the accompaniment of others with experience, she notes. “Levels of creativity astonished the Regional Council as the [Baha’is] came up with fascinating ways to have devotions with their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others.”
For example, a family began a devotional on the theme “Blessed is the Spot.” Each gathering was held in a locale that matched one in the popular Baha’i prayer: spot, house, place, city, etc.
“They have with them copies of the [prayer and] invite people who happen to be in the same place to join in,” says McNair. “So far they have chosen locations for each part of the prayer, but finding a cave is the one that looks to be most challenging.”
A popular prayer revealed by Baha’u’llah:
Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain,
and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island,
and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified.
Significantly, alongside this increase in the devotional spirit permeating neighborhoods, other core activities of community building also grew, she notes.
Near a major university, fellow students were invited to a devotional, and soon those students were inviting others — to the point it was not unusual for 50 people to attend.
After students talked about offering service, one began a second devotional, two have initiated a junior youth group and others are training to organize additional core activities.
The goal of 995 regular devotional gatherings in the Northeast was set in January, as the Council consulted with several elected and appointed Baha’i institutions and agencies. Of the 425 gatherings already being held, the agencies found, “Some were large with many friends invited, while others were small, perhaps just one’s family or one friend with another friend,” notes McNair. “Some were hosted by friends of the Faith.”
The Council’s first step was to consult with other national or regional Baha’i institutions. Next came a video call with 75 people representing clusters of Baha’i communities across the Northeast.
Then dozens of Spiritual Assemblies, governing councils for local Baha’i communities, were brought into the process to encourage each Baha’i community across the region to join in the campaign and “increase its devotional character,” says McNair.
In a total of nine locations, members of nearly every Assembly gathered to study, plan and take steps to implement the campaign. Council members met with members of some Assemblies or smaller groups who couldn’t attend the scheduled meetings.
All these preparations helped develop “an understanding that the campaign was not really about numbers but, indeed, about a wonderful, transformative spirit spurring the region forward,” says McNair.
Nevertheless, by tracking the numbers they had a tangible roadmap toward the goal. First reports bumped the number of devotionals to 506. The next announced number was 698, followed by 718 and 748 and 807. In August the Regional Council announced that the Northeast was at 895 with only 100 remaining to reach the goal by October.
“The result,” says McNair, “is that the region is witnessing dedication and unified action such that the Regional Council anticipates that the friends will not only win the goal but surpass it.”