National Convention 2018

Posted: 2018/10/12

The 70th Canadian National Convention opened with a resounding “Canada is here!” from the chair of the National Spiritual Assembly, Deloria Bighorn.

The main hall of the Toronto Bahá’í Centre, warmed through the presence of so many friends from across the country, was decorated with fresh flowers and stories of the many celebrations that took place throughout the country for the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The Convention was further enhanced by the presence of three special guests, two of whom who had served as members of the Universal House of Justice: Mr. Douglas Martin and Dr. Firaydoun, along with Dr. Firaydoun’s wife, Mrs. Vida Javaheri, newly returned from service in the Holy Land.

The Ridván message from the Universal House of Justice was read in French and English, and at its close, the delegates began their consultation on the message.

While many topics were brought up over the four days of the convention, the transformation to the Bahá’í community — noted by the Universal House of Justice in the Ridván message — was a common theme throughout the consultations of the delegates.

One delegate from rural Alberta said that the convention’s consultation had evolved since the last time she attended.

“I haven’t been here in about three years,” she told Bahá’í Canada, “and it’s so amazing to hear the confidence in everyone’s words. Before, people seemed so unsure about what they were doing but now there is this confidence that is really quite exciting.”

Love for the Institutions of the Faith

A number of delegates expressed a deep sense of gratitude from their communities for the flood of guidance and encouragement that came to every community in Canada through messages from the Universal House of Justice and the letters sent throughout the year by the National Spiritual Assembly.

“We are so grateful for all the messages sent to us last year,” said one delegate from British Columbia, directly addressing the members of the National Spiritual Assembly from where they sat across the room. “They were love letters to our community from you.”

She explained that every time a message came, a team of friends would meet to translate it into Persian and get it to the Persian-speaking friends as soon as possible. The study of these letters became a natural part of her community’s activities.

“We started to see a unified language in our community and we were able to take steps towards our bicentenary. The language is rising,” she said, “and we are so grateful. Thank you.”

Many delegates shared stories about how support from different institutions, such as the Auxiliary Board members, their assistants, Area Teaching Committees and planned intensive campaigns, played an important role in the growth of their community-building endeavours.

A delegate from Nunavut shared how the number of activities in the North has increased.

“In the past three years we have had growth with the support of a coordinator and the Auxiliary Board member,” he said. “We have children’s classes, devotionals, and for the bicentenary we restarted our Bahá’í radio program. We had some youth go and take part in a Book 5 intensive in Thunder Bay [Ont.], and when they came back they did some outreach. Now we have a junior youth group in Iqaluit. Most of our participants are from the wider community and most are Inuit.”

Love for the Universal House of Justice was commonly referenced and was further deepened through the stories told by the members of the National Spiritual Assembly who attended the International Convention in April. Each member stood and shared personal accounts of this Convention – which takes place every five years – helping to connect the friends in Canada to the extraordinary experience of gathering, with the peoples of the world, to elect the Universal House of Justice.

At the midpoint of the National Convention, the delegates engaged in their sacred task of electing the members of the National Spiritual Assembly for the coming year. Both the delegates and the observers – who watched from a room upstairs in the Centre – took time to pray and to create a sacred and rarified that was sustained while the delegates filled out their ballots.

Then the name of each delegate was called by locality, and one by one their ballots were dropped — either by their own hand or delivered by the head teller if the delegate had not been able to attend the convention in person — into the election box. When the last ballot was cast, the delegates broke into song, singing one of the prayers revealed for the Bahá’ís of Canada:

“O Thou incomparable God!  O Thou Lord of the Kingdom!  

These souls are Thy heavenly army.  Assist them and, with the cohorts of the Supreme Concourse, make them victorious, so that each one of them may become like unto a regiment and conquer these countries through the love of God and the illumination of divine teachings.

 

O God!  Be Thou their supporter and their helper, and in the wilderness, the mountain, the valley, the forests, the prairies and the seas, be Thou their confidant—so that they may cry out through the power of the Kingdom and the breath of the Holy Spirit.

Verily, Thou art the Powerful, the Mighty and the Omnipotent, and Thou art the Wise, the Hearing and the Seeing.”

A first-time delegate from a small community in B.C. said the election process deeply touched her heart. “When I was walking up to put my ballot in the box, I don’t have the words. I felt humble,” she told Bahá’í Canada. “My parents were delegates in the past and I felt them with me as I was walking up to put my ballot in. It’s a real honour.”

When the head teller returned with the election results, she announced that all 171 delegates cast ballots. The delegates cheered upon hearing of the 100 per cent participation of the friends in the election, as has been the case in previous years.

After the names of each member of the National Spiritual Assembly was announced, and the nine chosen friends stood together in front of the delegates, applause rang through the main hall as every person present stood to welcome the members to their service for the coming year.

Supporting the youth

On the second day, the delegates watched the film A Widening Embrace which had been presented at the International Convention in April. Counsellor Borna Noureddin, while greeting the delegates the evening before, described how the film shows the Plan in action. He encouraged the delegates to treat the film like a message from the House of Justice: deserving repeated viewing and study alongside the Ridván Message.

“One has to be alert to how this film was produced. There are 25 communities in this film. For every minute you see there, hundreds of hours were recorded,” he told the assembled delegates. Its content, he explained, was guided by the Universal House of Justice. “It’s not hard to imagine its connection to the Ridván Message and it’s important to look at it through this lens.”

With these comments in mind, and fresh from their initial study of the Ridván message, the delegates watched the film while taking note of the patterns of action that lead to the growth hoped for in every cluster.

A major component, many delegates commented, was the need to systematically support youth and raise up junior youth groups. One delegate from B.C., for example, explained how reflecting regularly in groups has helped to remove many of the barriers felt by those struggling to maintain a junior youth group over a long period of time.

“For the past 10 years, we have been trying to move youth through the institute process and into the field. What we realized is that we haven’t had the discipline [to reflect on] action. Now we are trying to meet at least on a weekly basis to reflect. It has removed any feelings of being alone and we are able to collaborate as a larger group.”

She added that people shouldn’t hesitate to ask youth to take part in intensive campaigns to study the sequence of courses, but rather should recognize the energy and capacity that allows them to dedicate their time to intensive study of the institute courses and participation in its community-building activities.

“We have also learned the power of the institute and the importance of attending the intensive campaigns. Those who are coming fall in love with the process and see themselves as protagonists in that process.”

From the Atlantic Provinces, a delegate shared how community-building is enhanced through the united efforts of the youth and the other members of the community.

“We developed teams during the [expansion] phase where it was everyone together — pairing youth with a non-youth — for home visits,” she said. She shared that when they decided to hold a junior youth camp – a period of intensity when one or more junior youth groups come together to study, serve and delve into the arts – they found that it wasn’t just the junior youth arriving to participate. “They came with their families, not just sending their children, but the whole family! It was a real relationship because everyone was there together.”

Preparing for the next bicentenary

With so much learned over the past year from preparing for and celebrating the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh with the wider community, the conversation among the delegates naturally included thoughts for the bicentenary of the Birth of the Báb. A common suggestion was that the friends begin studying The Dawnbreakers and Ruhi Book 4: The Twin Manifestations.

Delegates discussed how love for Bahá’u’lláh translates into love for the Báb, and vice versa.

“I couldn’t speak after the reading of the Ridván message yesterday,” said a delegate from Quebec. “For the first time in my Bahá’í existence I realized my proximity to the Báb and that we have the same mission as the Báb: to turn people toward Bahá’u’lláh. This is our way to clarify that it was so important that God sent a Manifestation to prepare humanity for the magnificence of Bahá’u’lláh. This is the most cherished desire of the Báb. We all must be a part of it.”

So many stories of friends coming together to celebrate the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh has helped show the Bahá’í community just how much needs to be done to not only prepare for the bicentenary of the Birth of the Báb but also to consolidate the efforts made to bring more people into the community-building activities of the Faith. A number of the delegates commented that the community must to continue to make sacrifices for this work and to bring the spirit of teaching into everyday life.

“The bicentenary was a great move forward,” said an Ontario-based delegate. “The world will take on a new plateau that has not been taken before. We want to make this way of inviting so many people to our Holy Days a way of life, not just a singular celebration for the bicentenaries.”

A delegate from Quebec offered words of encouragement to the friends, reminding them that every day calls for action.

“How many times have we heard this weekend that what is needed is herculean effort?”

Dr. Javaheri, in his address to the assembled delegates on the final evening of the Convention, shared how devotion to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision for humanity is one of the most precious assets for the betterment the world. He asked everyone to consider how their time is spent each day and called them to consider what higher levels of sacrifice they could offer Bahá’u’lláh in teaching His Cause.

While the weight of the work was not lost on those present, it was viewed with a sense of determination and strength born out of the intensity and the love shown through the period of the bicentenary by individuals in their neighbourhoods, villages and cities and through the messages of the National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice.

“I was reading the first paragraph from the House,” said a delegate from Ontario, holding up the Ridván Message. “It says that no community is the same since the bicentenary. I am not the same as I was two hours before this Convention. It is so beautiful how the guidance can transform us. There is no limit to how our communities can evolve and how we can evolve with them.”

In closing remarks, the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly expressed gratitude for the friends’ “gifts of thought” and said the consultations of the friends during the days of the National Convention will influence the consultation of the Assembly for the coming year.

She then told a story of a flower that blooms and leaves behind a beautiful fragrance as it fades, and she likened that flower to the spirit of the Convention.

“It’s the fragrance of faithfulness,” she said, looking out over the assembled delegates for the final time. “The faithfulness of friends who have given their all in this past year.”

The convention closed with prayers and one final song sung by a Saskatchewan and Manitoban delegate in memory of the Báb and His sacrifices. The delegates then bid farewell to one another before returning to their homes across the country to share both the spirit and the content of the Convention with the friends.