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Tuesday January 12, 1993 Vol. 9 No. 2
Page 11


Switching to Baha'i religion proves to be end of the search


BIRDS HILL - Brenda Maxwell remembers being overcome with fear for her parents upon learning of their decision to become followers of the Baha'i faith.

"I was 12 when my parents became Baha'is. I prayed very hard to save themů I was very upset," Maxwell says.

Now married with children of her own, Maxwell too, is a member of the Baha'i faith, and has been since she was 14. She says when her parents became Baha'is her concern prompted her to research that faith as well as many others. Her final conclusion was that the Baha'i religion was not only good for her parents, it was good for her as well.

" The Baha'i faith made sense to me after I investigated," she says. Stuart Hanks, Maxwell's mother, became a Baha'i in 1967. Prior to that Hanks was a Baptist. She says her decision to switch wasn't due to dissatisfaction with her faith, but more because she felt she was still looking for something.

"I didn't know what I was searching for, but when I found it, I knew," Hank says.

The Baha'i religion, just over 100 years old, is fairly new when compared to others which have been around for thousands of years. Like Hanks, many Baha'is formerly had different religious backgrounds. Under their new faith they believe in all pat prophets, but also that religion prog[r]essively evolves, and that Baha'u'llah is God's spokesman for this age.

Baha'u'llah was a Persian nobleman who was committed to writing the teachings of His revelation. When he died in 1892 his eldest son, Abdu'l-Baha, was appointed as the Centre of His Covenant and carried on his teachings. Following his death in 1921, Shoghi Effendi, Abdu'l-Baha's grandson, became the Guardian of the Faith and the interpreter of its scripture.

Hanks says she was attracted to the Baha'i religion for a number of reasons, one being that though the spiritual teachings remain the same, the social teachings advance with the changing society.

Geraldine Guilfoyle echoes Hanks' feelings and says that her introduction to the Baha'i religion 18 years ago in her homeland of Ireland didn't convert her from her Roman Catholic upbringing immediately, but it definitely planted a seed.

"I was a searching young adult looking for justice in the world," Guilfoyle says. She and her husband came to Canada 11 years ago and five years later she became a member of the Baha'i faith.

Guilfoyle's, Hanks', and Maxwell's stories of joining the Baha'i faith are probably typical of other members of the religion. The following has grown rather quickly and now is established in about 300 countries and major territories on the globe. There are five million Baha'is in the world today, with about 25,000 of them here in Canada.

The Baha'is' desire to unite humankind and work towards universal education is a big drawing card for many of its followers. On a local level, Maxwell says they work toward breaking down barriers between different races and religions and promote equality for all. On a larger scale, Baha'is are involved with the United Nations and Maxwell is very proud of their involvement at the recent World Summit in Brazil. "We believe it's possible to establish a system for the world to operate as a country does," Maxwell says.

To an outsider, the Baha'i religion might seem to be run in unorganized fashion. There is no clergy in the Baha'i faith, and the members don't gather on any particular day of the week. They operate on a 19-month calendar, with each month having 19 days. At the beginning of month they have a feast. They also organize weekly gatherings. Guilfoyle stresses that "it's not just a loosely knit group of people. The calendar keeps us in touch with when feasts are coming up and when the holy days are," she says.

The Universal House of Justice is the governing body of the Baha'i faith, and each country has a National Spiritual Assembly which is further broken down into Local Spiritual Assemblies. Each year the local assembly elects nine people to run their affairs. Guilfoyle says these people do not take the place of priests. They are not responsible to the electorate, they are responsible to God.

The Baha'is have a House of Worship on every continent, which the closest one being in Wilmette, Illinois. Maxwell says a unique feature of these Houses of Worship is they have nine doors, representing all religions. "They're welcoming everyone," she says.

When Maxwell's parents joined the Baha'i faith, she did not have to follow in their footsteps. Everyone is encouraged to make the decision on their own. "It's important for everyone to read and write so they can read the writings for themselves," Hanks says.

Guilfoyle says the Baha'i faith involves children, and keeps them informed with what is happening in other parts of the world. "The children and youths aren't alienated. They feel they're part of the wave of change," she says. "It gives them a global perspective, a sense of purpose." For this reason, she says, many children make the decision to become members of the faith.

Baha'is from around the world gathered together in New York city in November of 1992 for their second Baha'i World Congress. The first was held in 1963, and Maxwell says this one had special meaning as it was held during their holy year. For a period of four days, 27,000 Baha'is celebrated and acknowledged the centenary of Baha'u'llah's passing. About 15 East St. Paul members of the Baha'i faith made the trip to New York. Maxwell, Hanks, and Guilfoyle were part of the delegation. A choir, consisting of 400 singers from around the world, and an international orchestra performed there.

An inspiring moment came when Shoghi Effendi's wife spoke at the conference.

Guilfoyle says the atmosphere was incredible, and for her, there was a special meeting. She met up with the couple who had originally introduced her to the Baha'i faith 18 years ago in Ireland. According to Maxwell, another important aspect of the Congress was the reuniting of the Persian community. Many Baha'is have left Iran, or been forced out, and the Congress provided an opportunity for them to join together again.

©Copyright 1993, THE SELKIRK JOURNAL

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