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Practical guidelines for LSAs to organize and teach more effectively.

Role of the Local Assembly in Cluster Growth

by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice, International Teaching Centre, and National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States

Friday, May 15, 2009 (Rev. Feb 06)

Role of the Local Assembly in Cluster Growth, Compilation

A compilation of letters from of the Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre and the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States on this important subject.

The Role of the Local Assembly in Cluster Growth

The survey indicated that the most significant initial contribution of Local Assemblies to the processes of growth was providing encouragement to the believers. This was particularly effective when an expansion of vision had resulted from the participation of Assembly members in the institute process as well as the study of Five Year Plan documents. Interactions with the cluster agencies were also identified as enabling Assemblies to make effective contributions. Such interactions often occur at the cluster level in the context particular plans of action. Another effective approach to building unity of vision and action has been the convening of conferences for Local Assembly members.

This approach has been employed in Canada where such gatherings held at the regional or cluster level by Regional Bahá'í Councils have done much to assist Local Assemblies to realign their administrative processes and priorities. Beyond these considerations, the leadership role of the Spiritual Assemblies -- be they national or local -- is of profound importance. It has been observed in many clusters that the processes of growth are greatly enhanced where this leadership role is exercised through the Assemblies' constant effort to maintain the vision of growth before the believers, allowing for the two essential movements to impact priorities, avoiding unnecessary distractions, providing the necessary resources, and reinforcing the plans and initiatives at the cluster level. Further, the dynamic force of individual example as the members of Assemblies themselves become personally involved in the cluster activities, actively supporting the efforts of the cluster agencies, is imperative.

(International Teaching Centre, Impact of Growth on Administration, July 2005)

Throughout the Plan, we have watched with the keenest interest the effects of these developments on the functioning of Local Spiritual Assemblies. It gives us pleasure to note that two types of progress are being made in this respect. In those clusters where most of the Local Assemblies have been extremely weak, a growing number are gradually assuming their responsibilities as they learn to guide specific activities of the Plan in the areas under their jurisdiction. At the same time, long-standing Local Spiritual Assemblies are exhibiting signs of added strength as they have come to embrace a vision of systematic growth -- this, often following a period of adjustment in which some struggled to understand the new realities being created at the cluster level.

What has brought us particular joy is to see that the process of growth unfolding around the world is gathering momentum in urban centres as well as rural areas. An important step taken in many large cities early in the current Plan was to divide them into sectors. This proved crucial to planning for sustained growth.
As communities expand, however, it is not unreasonable to expect that cities will need to be divided into smaller areas—perhaps ultimately into neighbourhoods--in each of which the Nineteen Day Feast is conducted. Maintaining a vision of the potential size of future communities is essential for the further development of Local Assemblies. To administer the affairs of communities whose membership will swell into the thousands, and to fulfil their purpose as the "trusted ones of the Merciful among men", those who serve on Spiritual Assemblies will necessarily undergo intense periods of learning in the years ahead. We intend to monitor the development of Local Spiritual Assemblies closely during the coming Plan and, as the size of the Bahá'í population and other circumstances in a locality demand, authorize a two-stage electoral process on a case-by-case basis, following the pattern developed in Tihran during the ministry of the Guardian.

(The Universal House of Justice, 27 Dec 05 - Next Five Year Plan)

The plans of action that Regional Councils, Area Teaching Committees [Cluster Growth Committees] and Local Spiritual Assemblies devise in the ensuing process need to go beyond the mere enumeration of goals to include an analysis of approaches to be adopted and lines of action to be followed. Indeed, at this level, planning and implementation must go hand in hand. If learning is to be the primary mode of operation in a community, then visions, strategies, goals and methods have to be re-examined time and again. As tasks are accomplished, obstacles removed, resources multiplied and lessons learned, modifications have to be made in goals and approaches, but in a way that continuity of action is maintained.

(The Universal House of Justice, The Institution of the Counsellors, p. 14)

All of this opens thrilling opportunities for Local Spiritual Assemblies. Theirs is the challenge, in collaboration with the Auxiliary Board members who counsel and assist them, to utilize the energies and talents of the swelling human resources available in their respective areas of jurisdiction both to create a vibrant community life and to begin influencing the society around them. In localities where Spiritual Assemblies do not exist or are not yet functioning at the necessary level, a step-by-step approach to the development of communities and Local Spiritual Assemblies is showing excellent promise.

(Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 17 January 2003 UHJ)

Ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring that their own community arises to the challenge must rest with the elected representatives of the believers, at local and national levels. The advancement of the Cause is an evolutionary process which takes place through trial and error, through reflection on experience and through wholehearted commitment to the teaching Plans and strategies devised by the House of Justice. Believers, like yourself, who appreciate the opportunities thus provided, can be of great assistance by encouraging their respective countries and assemblies to similarly invest themselves in the process.

Universal House of Justice, letter of 22 August 2002

Local Assembly as

• facilitator of individual planning

Expanding and intensifying lines of action in well-developed clusters require a shift in thinking on the part of many national communities, such as Canada, where well-functioning Local Spiritual Assemblies have traditionally focused on implementing one highly successful children's class, devotional gathering, and study circle, for its community or in cooperation with neighboring communities. Multiplying these lines of action so that their number grows in relation to the number of believers arising to serve and desiring to offer these services is a new concept and may meet with some resistance. The idea of having several study circles, children's classes, and devotional gatherings in one cluster, or even one community, challenges customary approaches to planning, placing individual initiative at the heart of the process with the Local Assembly acting as facilitator of that process. This change in mindset may be a greater challenge than producing the needed human resources for these tasks and will require your constant encouragement and support.

(24 Sept 2001, International Teaching Centre to Counsellors D. Smith and A.Ghadirian)

Local Assemblies –

• mobilize resources
• draw upon human resources trained by the Institutes for teaching and consolidation
• develops a strong line of communication with institute personnel (Area Coordinators)
• adopt an attitude of learning
• foster personal teaching
• nurture members of study circles
• encourage personal acts of service

Rigid criteria are obviously counterproductive, but a well-defined scheme to carry out evaluation is essential. Two criteria seem especially important: the strength of the human resources raised up by the training institute for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith in the cluster, and the ability of the institutions to mobilize these resources in the field of service.

(Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 17 January 2003 UHJ)

Every Assembly needs to ask itself, do we know who in our community is participating in institute courses and what books they have completed? Do we have a way of contacting these friends so we can "utilize their energies and talents ... both to create a vibrant community life and to begin influencing the society around them"?

What does our Assembly need to learn about how to do this effectively and how can we learn to do it - what is the next step we need to take? Do we have a strong line of communication with the institute personnel serving our area?

The National Spiritual Assembly is confident that with an attitude of learning and proper consultation, every Spiritual Assembly will be able to address these questions and will find itself a growing force for progress in the Plan. You are at a new stage of functioning that requires you to think in terms of steady and sustained growth, not just of assisting those currently in your community, arranging community events, and doing occasional proclamation or external affairs activities, important as these continue to be. We have not been this far into the process of entry by troops ever before, we have never seen what we are now seeing, so it is understandable if many of us find we do not quite know what the Assembly's role now is. By focusing sharply on fostering support for the institute process and utilizing the human resources emerging from institute courses, you will discover, step by step, a universe of new possibilities for diffusing "the spirit of union throughout the world". Your consultation with the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants on these questions will be most helpful.

(National Spiritual Assembly to All Local Assemblies & Regional Councils, 31 July 2003)

Since a key purpose of the study circle is to raise human resources that are to be utilized in the community, the Local Spiritual Assemblies, the area teaching committees, and the Auxiliary Board members will need to know where they are located and draw on their members for the tasks of teaching and consolidation. Several letters written on behalf of the House of Justice address the importance of collaboration in supporting the friends in their teaching endeavors:

... in a locality where the Local Spiritual Assembly is functioning, it would collaborate with the national institute or its branch in supporting the work of the study circles, while pursuing its own plans for the expansion and consolidation of the Cause.

Personal teaching requires stimulation from the institutions; it must be fostered by National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, on the one hand, and the Counsellors and their auxiliaries, on the other. The institutions should also nurture and support the members of study circles and other individuals in the community in acts of service that come about through personal initiative.

(February 2000 "Training Institutes and Systematic Growth")

Local Assemblies:

• Stimulate personal initiative
• Provide opportunities for collective learning and encouragement

One of the primary forces that propels growth is teaching undertaken by the friends on their own initiative. To properly flourish, however, personal teaching requires stimulation from the institutions; it must be fostered by National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, on the one hand, and the Counsellors and their auxiliaries, on the other.

The friends everywhere need encouragement. Regular gatherings, at various levels, need to be held to maintain and heighten their enthusiasm for teaching. Opportunities have to be created for them to share stories of the successes they have achieved and the methods they have used, so that they can learn from one another. Literature and teaching materials must be made available to them in abundance. Without concerted efforts of this kind, it is difficult to increase continually the number of believers arising to discharge their sacred duty to teach.

(April 1998 Training Institutes, International Teaching Centre)

Local Assemblies –

• design and execute plans using the talents of the friends

Working in close collaboration with the Counsellors, you will need to consider how you can consistently increase the number of Local Spiritual Assemblies that can design and execute plans which utilize the diverse talents of the friends, thus multiplying their powers as they unite in collective action.

(April 1998 Training Institutes International Teaching Centre)

Local Assemblies –

• execute teaching plans

The tasks before the Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assemblies are multiple and urgent. On the one hand, they will continue to strengthen the institutes and ensure that an increasing number of believers benefit from their programmes. On the other, they will support and encourage the friends in their individual teaching endeavours, assist Local Spiritual Assemblies in executing teaching plans, and establish long-term teaching projects in region after region. All the necessary elements are in place. The stage is set. There is every reason to believe that the combined effect of all these efforts will lead to the fulfilment of the major thrust of the Four Year Plan.

(April 1998 Training Institutes ITC)

Local Assemblies –

• formulate plans of expansion and consolidation

Institute participants, as well as other local believers, will take part in area-wide seminars and conferences, regional teaching campaigns, and small socio-economic development projects. Gradually, local collective endeavors will emerge, area committees and Local Spiritual Assemblies will formulate their own plans for
expansion and consolidation, and the friends will begin to shoulder the responsibilities of systematic growth in their communities.

(Feb 2000 Training Institutes and Systematic Growth)

Local Assemblies –

• are preoccupied with personal initiative, not administration of cluster

It would be preferable that the friends and Assemblies not become preoccupied with the question of administrative arrangements for the cluster before their real work has even begun. We believe you would be wise to gently but insistently focus them on what they need to do to promote growth: increasing personal initiative in teaching, and making systematic progress with establishing study circles, devotional gatherings and children's classes in more and more areas of each cluster as the human resources become available to do so.

(National Spiritual Assembly, 21 December 2001, Aspects of the Five Year Plan)

Local Assemblies –

• coordinate children's classes

• encourage children's class teachers to attend institute courses

• mobilize and co-ordinate the service of the believers

Children's education is the concern primarily of the Local Spiritual Assemblies who will be co-ordinating children's classes and encouraging children's class teachers to participate in training institute courses.

It is our understanding that in countries where Local Assemblies are not functioning at a level where children's classes are taking place under their auspices, the training institute, as an interim measure, can arrange programs for the children themselves.

In countries such as Canada most Assemblies have developed the capacity to arrange such classes. The institute's role, then, should focus on training an ever increasing number of children's class teachers at least up to Book 3 of the Ruhi courses, so that Assemblies, with the collaborative help of the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants, can mobilize and co-ordinate these believers' service.

(National Spiritual Assembly, 21 December 2001, Aspects of the Five Year Plan)

Local Assemblies –

• guide the endeavours of the friends

In the increased capacity of individuals to teach the Faith, as shown in the thrust of individual initiatives; in the improved ability of Spiritual Assemblies, Councils and committees to guide the endeavours of the friends; in the introduction of new patterns of thought and action which influenced the collective behaviour of the local community - in all such respects the system of training institutes demonstrated its indispensability as an engine of the process of entry by troops.... Concurrent with these kinds of developments, the members of our worldwide community also gave more attention to drawing on the power of prayer, to meditating on the sacred Word, and to deriving the spiritual benefits of participation in devotional gatherings. It is through the workings of these elements of an intensified individual and collective transformation that the size of the community is increasing. Although the number of new believers has as yet only slightly surpassed those of recent years, it is immensely gratifying to see that this increase is now geographically widespread, is engaging ever-larger segments of the community, and is successful in integrating new declarants into the life of the Cause.... The use of the arts became an important feature in the proclamation, teaching, deepening and devotional activities of the worldwide community.

(Ridvan 2000, from the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá'ís of the World)

Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 2001 Sep 19, Definition and Scope of 'Devotional Meetings'

Local Assemblies –

• welcome, encourage and accommodate the initiatives of individual responsible for increasing number of lines of action

Fundamental to any effective response to the immediate challenges facing the community are these requisites which are especially addressed to the individual and the Local Spiritual Assembly: On the one hand is the initiative that it is the duty and privilege of the individual to take in teaching the Cause and in obtaining a deeper understanding of the purpose and requirements of the Faith. Parallel with the exercise of such initiative is the necessity of the individual's participation in collective endeavours, such as community functions and projects. On the other hand is the role of the Local Spiritual Assembly to welcome, encourage and accommodate the initiatives of the individual believers to the maximum extent possible; and there is, too, the responsibility of the Assembly to devise or promote plans that will employ the talents and abilities of the individual members of its community, and that will involve individuals in collective action... The effects of conscientious attempts at realizing these inseparable requisites will be to expand and consolidate the community and to foster a climate of unified action.

(Ridvan Messages of the Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 152, 1995, p. 2 )

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