National institutional meeting fosters a collective vision for growth

Posted: 2020/04/30

Participants enjoy a plenary session at the national institutional meeting. Photo: Louis Brunet

The Universal House of Justice described institutional meetings as a space where the friends “come together in a meeting of consultation to reach a common vision for the growth of their community and discuss strategies for action. These ‘institutional meetings’ help to steer the friends away from thinking merely in terms of the mechanics of projects and to infuse their plans and subsequent action with the spirit of the Faith. They do much to reinforce the confidence of the institutions in devising the teaching strategies that will best serve the needs of their respective regions and in mobilizing the support of the Local Assemblies and the believers.”[1]

From 15-17 February, the National Spiritual Assembly held a national institutional meeting for over 100 attendees including the Counsellors, Regional Bahá’í Councils, institute boards, Auxiliary Board members and collaborators from across Canada. The aim of the gathering was to consult and clarify understanding around questions being faced in the teaching work, disseminate lessons learned from each region and strengthen a collective vision as the Canadian Bahá’í community enters the final year of the Five Year Plan.

The last gathering of this kind was called just before the Plan’s launch over four years ago – cycle 0, it was called – and focused on thinking about how clusters could be grouped together and how these groupings might support each other so that the strongest clusters could become true reservoirs of experience and human resources, allowing for the movement of each of Canada’s clusters along a continuum of growth. And what a distance we have come.

The community-building endeavour is stronger than it has ever been. The last statistical report submission, just days before this gathering, reported some 20,000 participants in 3,900 core activities – an increase of almost 3,000 participants from the time of the biannual survey in October 2019, and an increase of some 500 core activities. The junior youth programme has the highest number of participants ever. This was an extraordinary moment that the friends registered together.

Auxiliary Board member Nabih Ardekany delivers a panel presentation during the national institutional meeting. Photo: Louis Brunet

Yet as the House of Justice said at the Plan’s beginning, writing a letter addressed jointly to the Bahá’ís of the United States and the Bahá’ís of Canada: “You have already accomplished that which is worthy of the gratitude and admiration of the entire Bahá’í world, but your mission is far from complete. After a century of resolute action, you should, more than ever before, be able to discern the straight path traced by heavenly inspiration across the many stages of the Divine Plan since its systematic execution began in 1937, and thus grasp the full implications of the latest stage about to open.”

Midway through the gathering, the institutions from each region had an opportunity to reflect on letters they had written to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá four years ago, indicating their pledges to meet the goals of the Plan by the centenary of His Ascension in 2021. Each region felt assured and rededicated to reaching these goals. What also became clear from all those present was that offering this gift to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would require the contributions of every believer and friend of the Faith.

The materials studied at the gathering solidified the friends’ identity as one country, part of one North American continent set on learning to work together to meet the goals of the current Plan. They were reminded of the spiritual legacy of North America, a community that throughout history has repeatedly turned with ever greater devotion to the Head of Faith, attracting immense victories.

For instance, in 1948, just a few months before Ridván, the community in North America was struggling to win its goal of establishing 175 Local Spiritual Assemblies. Shoghi Effendi wrote to the friends in America expressing his confidence that the community would “yet emerge triumphant over the prevailing crisis” which would in turn serve to “strengthen the attachment and reinforce the brotherly affection of its Guardian.”[2]

Only a few months later, after intensive effort, the community exceeded its goal, raising almost 200 Local Spiritual Assemblies – an “heroic feat” coupled with other “brilliant achievements” that transcended the “fondest hopes” of the Guardian. One of these achievements was the establishment of the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada that same year.[3]

It is this spiritual legacy that must now inspire these next steps. The North American community is like a tuning fork, resonating to the vibrations of the voice of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the Tablets of the Divine Plan. Now is the time for His summons to reach each soul to contribute to these final months of the Plan, to advance significantly towards the goal of universal participation in a sustained, coordinated and unanimously supported endeavour.

The National Spiritual Assembly expressed its confidence that during the next year, Canada’s remaining first milestone clusters will pass the second milestone, with an expanding nucleus evident in each. Those with already-established intensive programmes of growth will continue to move towards the third milestone, with an expanding nucleus beginning to grow in a neighbourhood or neighbourhoods. Many will join the 14 clusters that have passed the third milestone and are now advancing towards the frontiers of learning.

All the institutions left with conviction, faith and love that their communities would arise to meet these goals, setting before them a calendar of teaching conferences, reflection gatherings, intensive campaigns, seminars, home visits and devotionals to extend what has been learned to the whole community. As a country it was clear that we have generated enough learning to achieve these goals; it is now only a matter of extending this experience to cluster after cluster.

To achieve the aims of the gathering, the consultation focused on five themes. As well as exploring the spiritual legacy of North America, participants discussed fostering a unified vision of growth, seeing how all believers and friends of the Faith can contribute a share in the development of Bahá’u’lláh’s Cause. Further themes explored include an expanding nucleus of friends, the training institute as an instrument of limitless potentialities and mutual support among a group of adjoining clusters.

Representatives from regional agencies in Quebec consult during a breakout session. Photo: Louis Brunet

Friends from each region delivered panel presentations, including photos and, in some cases, videos sharing some of the strongest experiences of growth in the country, providing clarity on the path forward for other clusters. Each shared their communities’ narratives, including the obstacles and victories they had experienced and highlighting the capacities they developed in achieving growth.

What was apparent almost immediately among all those participating was the progress every region has made. Questions that seemed mysterious in 2015 were made clearer as each region offered what they had learned. Every experience from the regions benefitted the consultation as a whole and aided in showing a picture of how the country has progressed. Examples from coast to coast brought joy and hope; it was particularly encouraging to hear profound examples emerging from the young friends in the gathering.

By next Ridván, an army of tutors – some of them mobile tutors who are assisting from outside the cluster, some from within – will have assisted every cluster past the first milestone to find youth and draw them into the institute. Every milestone two cluster will have advanced towards a basic junior youth spiritual empowerment programme that engages 50 to 100 junior youth, beginning with the first step, the establishment of one group. In some clusters, a trickle of youth will have become a flow, in others the flow a mighty river: a movement irrepressible.

Devotional gatherings in a myriad forms – candles and quiet, on a soccer field, with a few friends and in families – will have become sustained beacons of light that will have connected countless – truly countless – numbers of diverse Canadians with their Creator and drawn them into the study of the Revelation in children’s classes, junior youth groups and study circles.

Now, of course, this vision is being pursued in a different fashion than was imagined as the friends gathered in the meeting, in a completely changed landscape that has since emerged as a result of the global health crisis. This challenge has released an astonishing creativity on the part of the friends, who have moved teaching conferences and institute seminars online, who have nurtured a connection to the Creator not only by intensifying prayer in their families but by reaching out to their neighbours and friends to include them in inspiring virtual spaces. In neighbourhoods where the community-building work has involved the families of children and junior youth, parents are even more engaged in actively supporting their children in this new environment.

Central to the consultations that weekend was a consciousness that the North America we seek to spiritually illumine is not the same as it was when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá revealed the Tablets of the Divine Plan. The peoples of the world have been drawn to its shores, often in tragic circumstances. It is they who are becoming we, in neighbourhoods across the country, who in the beauty of our diversity will carry aloft the banner of Bahá’u’lláh, who are equipped to accelerate the movement of clusters towards the farthest frontiers, “to usher in the time anticipated by Shoghi Effendi at the start of your collective exertions, when the communities you build will directly combat and eventually eradicate the forces of corruption, of moral laxity, and of ingrained prejudice eating away at the vitals of society.”[4]

At the close of the gathering, the National Spiritual Assembly determined to raise a call to the friends, including for the material resources and properties that will be needed to support this mighty movement. With the Counsellors, they pledged to be at the side of all those who arise, including in intense prayer at every meeting and in their individual devotions. “This, with all the mysterious love that He casts into our hearts, and with absolute confidence in His grace and your capacity, we promise.”

 

[1] The Universal House of Justice, The Institution of the Counsellors, 29 January 2001, p. 12.

[2] Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 46.

[3] Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 48.

[4] From the Universal House of Justice to the chosen recipients of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets of the Divine Plan, the Bahá’ís of the United States and the Bahá’ís of Canada, 26 March 2016.