Pie and Prayers is slice of a growing momentum for Fort Wayne Baha’is
It all started with the simple act of two Baha’is wanting to help a third, newly enrolled Baha’i find a path for serving humanity.
To be sure, Fort Wayne, Indiana, has been blessed for many years with a breadth of Baha’i-initiated activities that foster community building.
But there’s been a steady growth the past three years in the nucleus of people hosting and assisting these activities.
In August 2016 the three men began a weekly devotional gathering they dubbed “Pie and Prayers,” with pie — and later pizza pie — enticing neighbors for an evening of spiritual uplift and socializing.
As Lisa Smits, who serves on the appointed Area Teaching Committee that oversees community-building efforts in this northeast Indiana cluster of Baha’i communities, recalls, “There was a strong focus on inviting friends and really making it an outward-looking event, not a devotional for the local Baha’i community.
“In fact, it was joked that the Baha’is were welcome to come, but only if they brought a friend.”
Over time more and more people attended the gathering and different approaches to prayer were tried, featuring interfaith writings on different themes as well as musical and audio/visual presentations.
Those larger numbers made the effort more complex. Accordingly, the nucleus of people organizing the devotional expanded to five, including Smits.
“We learned different ways to make a first-time attendee feel comfortable,” she says. “Lots of action, reflection and consultation went into the hosting of this devotional and it continues today as different people and different ideas emerge.”
Devotional leads to further engagement
The weekly gathering also became an introduction to the Baha’i teachings for people who contacted the Baha’is through the local Baha’i website or through a special phone number for inquiries about the Faith.
“Often the first event they were invited to was this weekly devotional. It was a comfortable and friendly arena for a new person,” says Smits.
One was a 17-year-old who learned about the Faith online and was interested in being trained to offer community-building activities. She and her mother were invited to Pie and Prayers, and after her first time attending, the teen declared her belief in Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith.
Immediately a study circle using the Ruhi Institute training curriculum was begun, says Smits. The young woman attended with three young Baha’is. Two members of the devotional nucleus facilitated. Upon its completion, a study circle focused on the skills of conducting children’s classes began.
And so by June 2018 a teen-led children’s class was humming alongside the devotional gathering, with parents enjoying the devotional while their children attended class.
Thirteen months later a junior youth group was added. A middle-schooler had been eager for more than a year to participate in one, but it was only be arranged with “a growing spirit of fellowship and unity … being fostered by the initial nucleus of friends, and now these two families with children,” says Smits.
One impetus was the shared experience of the families and nucleus attending the weekend Indiana Baha’i Summer School together, she says. In its aftermath the mother of a junior youth offered to organize a group for her child and his friends and cousins.
Two youths who had trained for this opportunity stepped up to facilitate the group. The two mothers also continued their study of the Ruhi courses, and their traveling tutor moved into the area. The nucleus was continuing to grow.
Now on Thursday nights, a study circle for the moms and the children’s class take place simultaneously. Afterward, the other devotional participants arrive and everyone partakes in the meal.
“It’s a very lively time of fellowship with joyful children, youths and adults,” says Smits.
Three and a half years of rich learning
And as the nucleus reflects on what has evolved since September 2016, Smits says some points of learning have emerged:
Accompaniment. “Accompaniment was important in the formation of this devotional. The new Baha’i wanted to start something and he was supported by other Baha’is. This accompaniment was the initial impetus to the nucleus of friends.”
A growing nucleus. “The nucleus of Baha’is and friends in our area has strengthened in the past few years partly because we’ve learned about each other through both service and social gatherings. We understand each other’s strengths and try to leverage those as much as possible. The group can depend on each other for assistance.”
Consistent schedule. “Having the devotional weekly was key to this process. It became part of our pattern of activity. We now have a weekly devotional, children’s class, study circle and junior youth group. (The junior youth group is the only event that meets on a separate day in a separate location.)”
Service by larger numbers accommodated. “While having a core group who know each other provides many benefits, we’ve also seen how new people bring energy and fresh ideas. Also, the activities belong to the nucleus of friends and not the individuals who started them or the family in whose homes the activities take place.”
Expanding activities. “As these friendships have evolved, other activities have occurred. Recently the nucleus organized a nine-day study of a narrative about the earliest Baha’is. The group is also focused on assisting youths to attend youth gatherings for further training.”
Continual flow of friends. “Engaging the wider community hasn’t been an easy task. We’ve tried several different ways to connect and interact with people, such as attending interfaith gatherings and inviting people to Baha’i events. There is a need to continually reflect and evaluate what can be improved in these areas.”
Force of attraction. “An interesting thing has been happening lately. We have had new Baha’is move into the community and some re-engage. The weekly events have been a way for them to meet some of the community members and to have a weekly event they can always attend.”
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