Ridvan Message to the US National Spiritual Assembly
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice2007-04-19
The Universal House of Justice
Department of the Secretariat
19 April 2007
To The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States
Dear Bahá'í Friends,
The Universal House of Justice notes that several days ago you sent to each of the delegates to your forthcoming National Convention a copy of your 2007 annual report, which presents much of the same analysis on the progress of the Five Year Plan in the United States contained in the 19 March 2007 letter that you had addressed to it. When sending your report to the delegates, you had not yet had the benefit of the guidance provided in the response dated 12 April 2007 written to you on behalf of the House of Justice. It therefore asks that you share with the delegates gathered at the Convention this message, which sets out some of the points made in the letter of 12 April.
While it is natural for the friends to be concerned over the current low rate of enrollments in the United States, it is important to step back and look at this development in a broader context. Enrollments have been in an overall decline in the United States for more than three decades, as the American Bahá'í community, like so many others, gradually abandoned efforts to register large numbers because it could not sustain the rapid expansion of the Faith. Indeed, it was precisely to meet the challenge of sustainability that the Four Year Plan set the Bahá'í world in 1996 on a path of intense learning about the growth of the Faith. In this light, what must be recognized is that the most recent sharp decline from some 2,000 to 1,000 annual enrollments occurred between 1997 and 2003, a period during which an appreciation for the provisions of the global Plans had not yet been fully gained in the United States and, as a result, emphasis was being given to certain kinds of measures to proclamation through the media, to initiatives designed specifically for and by Local Spiritual Assemblies, to inspirational appeals intended to capture the believers' imagination and stir them to action, and to extensive analyses of diverse topics. It should be clear, then, that a return to such measures will not serve the needs of the American Bahá'í community. This is not to suggest that there is no room for proclamation in the plans of action, for example, for a cluster in which the institute process is sufficiently advanced and in which new souls need to be attracted to firesides and core activities. Nor is it to diminish the importance of the evolving role Local Assemblies play in the new realities being created at the grassroots. However, what is essential is for such roles and functions to take shape within the framework for action that has been elaborated in the message dated 27 December 2005 to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors.
The present Five Year Plan calls for an understanding of how the diverse elements described in that message come together to create conditions conducive to the growth of the Faith. In every cluster the institutions and agencies guiding the process the Auxiliary Board members and the institute, together with the Area Teaching Committee need to examine the dynamics of growth on a regular basis and analyze the way in which these elements are working together, in order to identify gaps and determine what adjustments should be made. The analysis thus achieved must, of course, be the subject of thorough consultation in a reflection meeting with the generality of the believers, drawing them into the decision-making process. If there are insufficient numbers moving through the sequence of institute courses, steps will need to be taken to overcome this difficulty. If an environment is not being fostered in which friends with capacity to serve as tutors feel empowered to accompany others in their initial attempts to carry out acts of service, the spiritual requisites for the creation of such an environment should be explored. If those who have completed the courses are not being consistently mobilized in the field of service, if a growing number of seekers are not being brought into activities, if receptive populations are not being reached, then thought must be given as to how to remedy the situation not once, but over an extended period of time in which an ongoing process of consultation, action, and reflection leads to a better and better understanding of how to achieve sustained growth. Regional Bahá'í Councils will have to ensure that this becomes the mode of operation in cluster after cluster across the United States.
As such learning increasingly occurs at the cluster level, it will be important for it to be channeled to the Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assembly so that in their joint consultations they can consider where resources are most needed, whether in the form of encouragement, guidance, information, or funds. Additionally, the learning acquired will be transmitted to the World Centre so that the experience of the American Bahá'í community in applying the framework for action can contribute to the body of knowledge being generated by national communities all over the world, knowledge which will, in turn, continue to benefit the progress of clusters in the United States.
Given the crucial nature of the consultations that will take place at this year's National Convention in the United States, the Universal House of Justice has decided to send as its representative to the Convention Counsellor member of the International Teaching Centre Dr. .... It is confident that she will be able to address questions that arise in the course of the discussions. We are to assure you of its prayers in the Holy Shrines that the deliberations of the delegates may attract divine confirmations.
For Department of the Secretariat