Plans are taking shape for bicentenary celebrations tied to community building
Baha’is worldwide will, in October 2019, celebrate the second of two major 200-year anniversaries: the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab, the Herald of the Baha’i Faith. This follows a special period of activity that included the 2017 bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Faith. Here are some plans starting to be made in various parts of the country for this fall’s celebration:
In Westminster, Colorado, a friend of the Baha’is will be serving on the committee to plan celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Birth of the Bab.
“She can provide an objective perspective from a friend’s point of view,” says Cheryl Ann Chamberlain. “She has attended many Holy Day [observances] and we are curious to hear her suggestions.”
In nearby Aurora, Charlotte Babcock says the hope is that Baha’i youths and their peers in neighborhoods where the core activities of community building are flourishing “will be active participants in the planning, as they were in the  bicentenary celebration for the birth of Baha’u’llah.”
These are but two examples of how Baha’i communities nationwide are looking “to really ensure this year’s focus is broad-based, less event-focused, and more integrated” into the process of making neighborhoods better places to live, in the words of Breeana Woods of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Since the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, communities have been nurturing relationships made or strengthened through that holy occasion and encouraging these friends’ engagement in the spiritual and material development of their neighborhoods.
Plans are imaginative and wide-ranging
As part of their preparations, Westminster Baha’is are consciously holding Holy Day commemorations near neighborhoods in which core activities have been initiated, “knowing that at some point, those communities will want to attend,” says Chamberlain.
“As a Spiritual Assembly” — the local Baha’i governing council — “we encourage community members to … keep in contact with everyone who was invited to the [first] bicentenary — whether or not they could attend — and to begin talking about the upcoming bicentenary now.” She adds that local Baha’is have consulted as a community on this topic at several Feast gatherings.
In Aurora, Baha’is have been inviting friends to the upcoming bicentenary as part of visits to neighbors in the neighborhoods where activities are being held.
The 2017 celebration had 200 participants, says Babcock. “The hope is, now that we have more activity, unity and understanding of the importance of Baha’u’llah’s revelation, that number will grow.”
Sacramento, California, Baha’is aim to widen that circle in the coming months, says Naseem Arfai, with a “two-part action plan” in advance of the bicentenary.
The first, says Arfai, has as its centerpiece “a special series of well-prepared fireside presentations for family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.” The second involves “laying the groundwork to initiate junior youth programs in the Oak Park neighborhood, a historically African-American sector of Sacramento.”
Baha’is in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights have a more modest but still powerfully symbolic agenda, says Nancy Yavrom: Add a permanent descriptive sign to a meditation garden that was planted at the time of the bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah and has been lovingly tended ever since.
Planning in Madison, Wisconsin, has just begun, say Carmel Morgan-Weisberg and David Martin. An appointed task force is eyeing a community-wide gathering for the bicentenary, but individuals are being encouraged to initiate neighborhood-level celebrations as well.
Louisville, Kentucky, Baha’is will be building on the spirit of a different type of commemoration: the 75th anniversary of the formation of the city’s Spiritual Assembly. Events in April and October 2018 depicted the growth of the Louisville Baha’i community since 1943 through archival photographs and acted-out vignettes, says Nancy Harris.
Small community has big ambitions
Baha’is in Caldwell, Idaho, near Boise, aren’t letting the small size of their community dictate the scope of planning for the bicentenary.
“Some of those in our community had read The Dawn-Breakers — a history of the earliest believers — years ago,” relates Gwen Chavarria.
“But when we agreed to study it together over the year leading up to the bicentenary of the Birth of the Bab we have been able to explore it to new depths through each other’s insights and knowledge, thus reminding us of the profundity of spiritual truths contained in this unique volume.”
Chavarria says the study is preparing Caldwell Baha’is to share with people they meet “stories from the dramatic saga of the life of the Bab. We meet every other week, covering one chapter per session, with a different group member volunteering to lead the study each time.”
To spiritually prepare themselves for the bicentenary, Caldwell Baha’is also have created a bingo card of challenges such as “Offer to accompany someone in their outreach effort” and “Say no to something you want and give the money to the Baha’i Fund instead.”
The ideas for challenges, she says, came from the practices of the Ruhi Institute training curriculum, the website Soul Pancake, and even Dear Abby. “We’re just using the cards as individuals with no outward reward for achieving bingo, although we do talk about our accomplishments at each Feast.”
The community has reserved a display counter near the front entrance of the public library for the month of September “to exhibit a tribute to this momentous anniversary,” says Chavarria. The content is yet to be determined.
For the bicentenary itself the Baha’is are planning three different celebrations:
- On a day shortly before the actual date, a “birthday party” for members of a children’s class in the Farmway Village neighborhood and their parents.
- On the eve of the birth of the Bab, a public celebration featuring a program based on a theatrical work.
- On the day of the birth of the Bab, a more-informal open house at the home of a believer, thus replicating a successful event held on the bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah.
Leading up to those occasions, says Chavarria, several auxiliary efforts will be mounted. They include visits to neighbors, an art contest for children, a booth at the city’s downtown festival and a posting to Facebook of a series of stories about the life of the Bab.