Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First-hand Conference report

A spirited and faithful report from our Conference -

CommuNIqué - Newsletter of the Bahá'í Community in Northern Ireland
Issue 142 - 4 Ayyám-i-Há 165 BE - 1 March 2009 CE



London conference

Regional Conference London 3-4 January 2009.

Eight o'clock on the morning of Saturday 3 January saw 3,200 believers from Northern Europe pour through the doors of the Conference venue expecting to queue for registration. To their delight they were invited by smiling ushers to be seated in the hall. On their seats they found a pack containing copies of two messages from the Universal House of Justice, the 20 October 2008 message which had called us to this conference, and one dated 3 January 2009 addressed to the friends gathered at the Regional Conference in London, a conference badge to be filled in by each participant, and all the information needed to engage fully in the event. From the first "Dear friends. please be seated…" there was a pervading feeling of joyous expectation; no need to wait for the momentum to build in this Conference, perhaps the fact that attendance there was a response to the request of the Universal House of Justice created a unifying dynamic and imparted a sense of purpose. The opening element of the Conference was a devotional piece beautifully sung by the Bahá'í Choir from Northern Ireland.

With what joy the friends welcomed the representatives of the Universal House of Justice, members of the International Teaching Centre Counsellor Urnasaikhan Baatar and Counsellor Stephen Birkland. We were blessed also by the presence of six members of the European Board of Counsellors: Mrs Uta von Both, Mrs Vivien Craig, Dr Shirin Fozdar-Forudi, Mrs Saba Khabipour, Mrs Firouzeh Moghbel-Naderi and Mr Hannu Tapani Olkkonen. Members of the National Spiritual Assemblies and believers attended from the countries of the region: Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the host country the United Kingdom along with friends from other areas of the world.

At the beginning of the programme Counsellor Vivien Craig read the message of the Universal House of Justice dated that day. We were inspired by the words of the Supreme Body and began to relate to the focus of the Conference; to "deliberate on how to move at least 6 more clusters to the stage where the criteria for initiating intensive programmes of growth …. can be met by Ridvan 2009." We heard the call of the Universal House of Justice that "each individual - whatever his or her involvement with the Plan heretofore - shoulder a share of this vital undertaking." The opening address was by Counsellor Stephen Birkland of the International Teaching Centre, he told us wonderful stories from the history of the Faith, which he related in a very meaningful way to the situation in which we find ourselves today.

Counsellor Birkland conveyed the confidence of the Supreme Body in the ability of the Bahá'í community to respond to the needs of this time and inspired everyone to arise and make a contribution to the goals of the Plan. There was a wonderfully inclusive feeling that there is something that absolutely everyone can do and that each and every service offered is valued. He confirmed that our activities in this vast spiritual enterprise do not replace the activities of the past. Now, at the core of the Bahá'í community we have a group of activities essentially spiritual in nature, which connect the hearts and minds of the peoples of the earth with the Word of God. Our other activities support this.

Counsellor Urnasaikhan Baatar, also a representative of the Universal House of Justice, spoke so sweetly, clearly and fluently about the framework for action, in a manner which was explicit for every listener, even those who were new to the process for whatever reason. She explained everything from the core activities to the conditions necessary for sustained accelerated growth with absolute coherence, and shared with us the most recent learning in all areas of the Institute process. Counsellor Baatar stressed the urgency of our situation, and the need for every cluster to engage in a three-month cycle of action, reflection and consultation.

Every time the representatives of the Universal House of Justice spoke, we felt the power and love of the Supreme Body, and were drawn to the graceful, understanding and enthusiastic manner in which their representatives addressed us and shared with us their penetrating and insightful vision of how we should move forward.

Sprinkled across the pattern of the Conference were accounts by believers working within the most advanced of the clusters in our region. These touching, sincere accounts of sacrificial service, home-front pioneering, collective teaching work, work with children and junior youth and the effect that just one or two dedicated souls could have on sizeable numbers of individuals filled the hall with encouragement and the will to engage in this work. Hearts were moved by the evident success of the youth in particular, and their clear vision of the efficacy of service enhanced by training and taken forward through an intensive pattern of action and reflection.

In the course of her presentation of the needs of the Plan, Counsellor Shirin Fozdar-Foroudi referred to the wealth of experience we now have in the advanced clusters of the re gion. Our response to these critical times should be to look at our situation and plan change which will put the Faith central to our lives.

On the Sunday everyone attended cluster-based work-shops to consider in depth their own individual response to the needs of the Plan and to consult on the timing of the launching of intensive programmes of growth in the priority clusters throughout the region. It became crystal clear during this Conference that our first line of action now is to bring our priority clusters to the point of launching intensive programmes of growth as soon as possible, even if it means taking resources from our existing A clusters. As a result of cluster consultations, it was confirmed that 6 priority clusters will launch their intensive programmes of growth by Ridvan 2009, and a further 8 by the Birthday of Bahá'u'lláh in this year. Of these 10 will be in the UK, with one in Northern Ireland. The goal for Seven Valleys is now to launch an intensive programme of growth by 29 May 2009.

Many participants filled in forms making pledges of service bearing in mind the guidance of Counsellor Stephen Birkland that each individual should seek their own path of service, and decide in which specific area or areas they wish to make a contribution. There was a happy realization that there is a wealth of activities to choose from including prayer, home visits, starting one of the core activities, personal or collective teaching, firesides, pioneering and giving to the funds.

Every session of the Conference began with a devotional presented in a beautiful and artistic manner, and there was a cultural programme of music and dance on Saturday evening. As stated by the Universal House of Justice the Conference was "an opportunity for the friends to gather together, as much to celebrate the feats already achieved during the Plan as to deliberate on its current exigencies" both of these objectives were pursued with vigour in London, and were beautifully facilitated by the plans of the National Spiritual Assembly for every aspect of the precious hours we spent together. The bonds formed or strengthened between the believers from all participating communities have given us a new awareness of the relationships between the countries of our region.

There was a powerful sense of the hand of the Universal House of Justice in everything we did. The pervading feeling was one of being guided, supported and encouraged by them to move to intensified service to the needs of the Five Year Plan. Echoing in our hearts are the exhortations so lovingly expressed by the Supreme Body in their message to the Conference " not to be the least overawed by the challenge…… not to be deterred by the convulsions of a world order now in a state of inexorable decline, not to overlook the guarantee of divine assistance promised by Baha'u'llah to every believer who would champion His Cause."


(Photograph: Bahá’í World News Service)

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