Seeker's diary: Minneapolis Bahai Center
Where: Minneapolis Bahai Center, 3644 Chicago Av. S., Minneapolis. Phone: 612-823-3494, Web site: http://www.twincitiesbahai.org
Services: Devotional gatherings are held at 7:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of the month.
Pastor: The denomination has no ordained clergy.
Statement of Belief: "Bahais believe in One God, the oneness of humankind, independent investigation of truth, the essential harmony of science and religion, equality of men and women, elimination of prejudice of all kinds, universal compulsory education, spiritual solutions to economic problems, a universal auxiliary language (and) universal peace upheld by a world federation.
Worship service: It's the Seeker's normal practice, when attending a service with which he is not familiar, to sit as unobtrusively as possible toward the rear of the sanctuary. This was a bit difficult, since the chairs were set in a circle and there were only four other people present. (I was told afterward that attendance varies and that this was not a worship service but a time for meditation and reflection.)
The group meets in a mansion-like building in south Minneapolis. The chairs faced a centerpiece filled with flowers and candles. Some 50 votive candles were placed throughout the sanctuary and the combination of the scent, along with the flowers, filled the room with a delightful aroma. Prior to the service I was invited to cleanse my hands with rose water.
The hourlong devotion consisted of readings from the Bahai sacred texts, along with readings from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Recorded music of a variety of genres, both instrumental and choral, was interspersed between the readings. The theme was "Remembrance of God," and I had the sense that we were attempting to reach out and touch the untouchable and contemplate the incomprehensible.
That transcendence of God lies at the very heart of Bahai belief, and its consequence has been the cause for the continuing persecution of the sect. In 1844, a young Persian, who took the title "The Bab" (Gate), declared that he was an independent messenger who was preparing the way for the coming of another manifestation (messenger) of God, a prophet who would soon show himself. There is a striking parallel between the ministry and the ultimate fate of the Bab and John the Baptist in the Christian tradition. Thousands became followers and as their numbers increased so did persecution by the Muslim clergy, who believed that the Qur'an explicitly said that Mohammed was to be the last prophet or messenger of God. Nearly 20,000 followers of the Bab were put to death for their beliefs, and the Bab himself was imprisoned and executed in 1850.
In 1853, Mirza Husayn, an imprisoned follower of the Bab who had been exiled to Baghdad, claimed that he was the Baha'u'llah, the Glory of God, and the prophet the Bab had predicted. Baha'u'llah led a life of constant banishment, from Baghdad to Constantinople and finally to Akka in present-day Israel, where he died in 1892.
The core beliefs of the faith are the result of the teachings, not only of the Baha'u'llah , but his predecessors as well. Bahais believe that there is only one God who is the source of all creation. God is unknowable but has sent great prophets to humankind through which the Holy Spirit has revealed his word. Those messengers include Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, the Bab and Baha'u'llah. Bahais belief is that there will be more messengers.
Current estimates are that there are some 6 million Bahai in the world today.
Programs and services: The Minneapolis Bahai Center offers classes and discussion groups on the tenets of the faith. Volunteers staff the office on a limited basis throughout the week. Call for a listing of upcoming activities or check the local Web site.
If you go: Take Interstate Hwy. 35W south of downtown Minneapolis to the 35th/36th Street exit. Go east on 36th about eight blocks to Chicago Avenue. The church is at the intersection of 36th Street and Chicago Avenue.
-- Tom Di Nanni is a Twin Cities religion analyst. He is seeking a worshiping experience as a first-time visitor. If you know of a community that you'd like him to visit, e-mail him at email@example.com
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