Godfrey and Gillian Nix in 2016
I believed in many of the principles of the Bahá’í Faith long before I heard the name. My family were strong Methodists so would not consider anything else. In fact my mum was told not to attend Girl Guides as it was held at the Anglican Church hall. My grandfather was a Methodist Lay Preacher and my Great Uncle was a Minister. Great Uncle Will and Aunt Nellie visited the Holy Land around 1910, travelling by Austrian Lloyd steamer and calling in at Joppa, Smyrna and Constantinople, with land trips to Nazareth and Galilee, Jerusalem, etc. They brought back Bedouin costumes used in Nativity plays for years afterwards, and a bottle of water from the River Jordan. Many of the family were christened with that water and according to the family the last few drops went on me. I attended the Sunday school and later was a member of the choir. I remember learning the whole of chapter 10 of the Gospel of St John one year, where Christ talks of the “One Fold” and the “Good Shepherd” who enters by “The Gate”.
Whilst at secondary school we had regular assemblies of worship (this was in the 1960s) and one week featured the science teachers – who were all practising Christians. One was a Baptist, one a Methodist, one a Quaker. All of them showed that their beliefs were not contrary to their scientific work.
I went to Sheffield to study engineering, and naturally I joined the Methodist Society. Each Wednesday they had a meeting and a speaker, but for the autumn term of 1968 they had the chaplains of several Christian denominations as well as lecturers who looked after the welfare of the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish students. Basically they all described their beliefs in the same way – to do good to others. The last speaker in the series was a Bahá’í who had come over from Burnley – I don’t remember his name. When he spoke of the promises of Christ I was immediately interested. When he explained that the name of the forerunner of the Bahá’í Faith, The Báb, means “The Gate” I wanted to know more, and to meet the local Bahá’ís.
I met Anne and Fred Halliday who had both themselves been Methodists. I told them I wanted to be a Bahá’í, but Anne said it was not the right time as it would cause trouble in my family. I asked when the right time would be and she said “You will know”. It was January 1969. I did tell my parents, but despite me saying I was not a member, they were most upset and I promised never to talk to them about it. However, I had not promised to stay away from the Bahá’ís. Indeed, I could not keep myself away, and continued visiting both the local community and attending weekend schools across the country, in Burnley, York and elsewhere.
I borrowed a couple of books the first time I had visited Anne and Fred, and took them back the next week. “Don’t you like them?” asked Anne. I replied that I not only liked them, but I had read them completely and was wanting to borrow more books. This went on for several weeks until I had read most of the books they had. I found Thief in the Night by William Sears was the most intriguing, with all its references to the Bible and to other books covering the history of the 1800s. With all the resources of the Sheffield University Library, I checked out every one of the references, even going so far as to learn some Greek so that I could make use of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and delving deep into the archives so that I could read copies of The Times newspaper from that period.
It culminated in the Attleborough Spring School, Easter 1970. I had been writing copious notes at every meeting I went to, but at Attleborough I had almost stopped writing and I had several comments that I was about to declare. I returned to Sheffield for the summer term, but was desperate to meet any Bahá’ís. As my motorbike had broken down, I walked miles from one house to another, finding no-one at home. Eventually I found everybody gathered for a 19-Day Feast. When I walked in, Anne said “I know why you have come”. I replied “I want to be a Bahá’í”. Anne turned to me and smiled. “I thought so, I brought this for you from the National Centre” and she handed me a small lapel badge. I felt so happy. She refused to let me sign a declaration card that night. “Think on it”, she said, “and if you still want to, come to my house on Wednesday evening”. So I thought it over and went to Anne and Fred’s house where I found everyone gathered for a celebration of the Ninth of Ridván Holy Day. I signed my card that night. Anne and Fred helped me compose a letter to my parents explaining my decision and saying that it was because they (my parents) had brought me up to love God and follow Christ’s teachings, and I was so grateful to them for all the love and kindness they had shown me. I must admit I was a bit nervous when I posted the letter, but I was confident everything would be right.
I did not have much free time to stop and worry. I was asked to chair a public meeting that weekend, and attend the Local Assembly (as there were just nine in the community including me), as well as continue with my studies and arrange for a vacation job that would give me work experience. A few days after writing to my parents, I received a letter from them saying they had rejected me and not to bother going home again. I was shocked. I met with the Bahá’ís and we spent the whole evening saying the “Remover of Difficulties” prayer. It was my first experience of the power of that prayer. A week afterwards I received a small packet from my parents. It was a white handkerchief, and a letter saying “Please forgive us. Of course you can come home”. Looking back now, over 40 years later, I can understand Anne’s advice. Not knowing any Bahá’ís in Nottingham, my parents had received lots of wrong information from church members who felt I would drop out of university and turn to drugs and drink. That year between my first mention to them, and my letter telling them I had declared, had given my parents time to see my actions … that I had continued with my studies, not taken to drink, was still as caring of them as before, and had shown my parents more of the Bahá’í way of life than I could have conveyed in any letter.
It was a whirlwind of activities, those few months after I declared – Youth Rally in Manchester in May, vacation work in Italy and meeting the Bahá’ís in Genoa, visiting the European House of Worship in Langenhain and the grave of Shoghi Effendi in London, attending another meeting in Manchester in October where I was moved on hearing Hand of the Cause John Robarts talk of the power of prayer, and then meeting Adib Taherzadeh at the first European Winter School in Salzburg in December 1970.
A couple of years later, April 1972, at a National Convention in London, I was able to meet Hand of the Cause William Sears and mentioned how his book had been such a help to me. My parents never did embrace the Bahá’í Faith. I eventually managed to get my father to agree to attend a fireside at the home of Ernest and Joan Gregory. My father was very strict on punctuality. When the Bahá’ís turned up late, my father felt it was not important enough for him to consider and never attended another meeting.
I went to the International Conference in Paris in 1976 where I responded to the call for pioneers and was, with all the others, anointed with rose water by Hand of the Cause Ugo Giachery. My father was seriously ill with cancer and I said goodbye to him before I went to Ghana, but had to leave after a few weeks because of mistakes over my visa. I returned home, so I was at his bedside when two months later he passed away. My mother agreed that I could hold meetings in our house. She never joined in, but she always prepared fresh baked cakes and pies for the refreshments. By that time she said that she was too old to change.
Between 1972 and 1982 I spent most summer holidays travel teaching, often abroad. I would just offer to go, and leave the details to the Travel Teaching committee of the country I was going to. In British Columbia, Canada (1977) my travel plans were finalised after I had arrived and I remember sitting watching TV in Prince George and seeing an advert for a Bahá’í meeting announcing a guest speaker that evening – me! I recall going to the Bahamas in the rainy season (September 1980), giving after-dinner talks to meetings of the Lions and Rotary clubs. In 1981 I took on the job of registrar of the UK Summer School held in Llandrindod Wells.
My trip to America in 1982 saw me arrive in San Francisco as a tourist, work for a week as a ‘houseparent’ for youth at the Bosch Bahá’í School in Santa Cruz, stay as a guest of a Bahá’í family in Beverly Hills and then travel across to Montreal in Canada in five days on Greyhound buses, then giving fireside talks each evening. I arrived in Montreal in time for the Bahá’í International Conference after which I travelled back by way of Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit to Chicago where I served as a guide at the House of Worship in Wilmette. I then carried on with my travels to Louisville, Kentucky, where I arrived with just 5 minutes to spare before the fireside where I was due to speak, because I had forgotten that we would cross into a different time zone. My last stop before returning to the UK was at Washington DC. In 1983 and 1984 I visited Denmark, travelling around in a little three-wheeled van.
But it was at none of those places that I met the young lady, Gillian, who later became my wife. She had been taught in Nottingham about the Bahá’í Faith by her brother, Brian Hallam, but knew nobody in the Nottingham Bahá’í community. At that time I had been serving for some years as the secretary of the Nottingham Spiritual Assembly. It came as a surprise one evening to be contacted by her asking for directions to the meetings. I readily offered to take her to the meetings around the town and our friendship developed until I proposed to her in November 1984. We were married in the summer of 1985 in two ceremonies. In the morning we had the civil ceremony at the Registry Office, then we took off our rings and drove in opposite directions in our separate cars. Onlookers were very surprised but we had still jobs to do before what we considered our ‘real’ wedding that afternoon in a ceremony led by Dallas Simpson, our friend from the Gedling Bahá’í community. Both our fathers had passed away years before, but our mothers were very happy for us and over the years became good friends with each other.
We have lived in Gedling ever since. We have not often travelled abroad from that time on, doing most of our Bahá’í work in the locality where we live, serving on the Assembly, running children’s classes and firesides, organising the Bahá’í stall at the local village gala each summer and working with the Nottingham Inter Faith Council. We did travel teach in Switzerland in 1986, Denmark in 1988 and visit Green Acre Bahá’í School, Maine, USA in 2000 to attend the first “Spirit of Children” conference, after one of Gillian’s stories was published as a children’s book. We also served as teachers at summer schools in England and Wales for some years. Sadly because of health problems we have not been so active outside our local area in recent years.
My first Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was as a single young man in 1974 and I remember visiting Haparsim Street where we met Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum and the members of the Universal House of Justice. We were shown the site on the hillside where the Seat of the House of Justice was to be built. Years later, together with our daughter Sally we went on Pilgrimage and were shown the buildings on the Arc – they look magnificent. I also met a lady from Norway with her family who had been on pilgrimage as a young girl in the very same group that I had been in on my first pilgrimage.
I do think that we have finally won the approval of our parents. When Sally was born in 1991, my wife had a vision of the two grandfathers watching over our new baby, and in 2011 I had a vision of my mother at one of our Feast gatherings.
I was born in 1957 and lived in Nottingham with my two brothers. Our father passed away when I was still at primary school. I later attended Balls Park College in Hertfordshire and qualified as a primary school teacher and found a job back in Nottingham, returning to live with my mother.
The first time I heard the word Bahá’í was in the 1970s when my brother Brian Hallam, who was at that time living in Shrewsbury, came home one weekend very excited and told our mum and myself that he had become a Bahá’í. He then went on for practically the whole weekend talking about the Bahá’í Faith. The result was that when he went back to Shrewsbury our mum told him never to mention that name again, and I too didn’t want to know anything about it. Brian kept his word but when we went to visit him he always took us somewhere because he had to visit a friend or there were always friends around his house. All they said at any time was that they were Bahá’ís. I never asked any questions. As I got to know Brian’s friends, he started to mention now and then different teachings of the Faith but only in very small doses. He would also explain that sometimes his friends were there for something called a “fireside”. I enjoyed these because they consisted of just playing games, general talk and nice cakes. Sometimes Brian would mention something happening in the world. He would say how it could be solved and I would argue my view.
I eventually started asking where his ideas came from because some were very good and well thought out. Then Brian would mention the Bahá’í writings. I liked the Bahá’ís of Shrewsbury – they made me feel welcome and comfortable. I felt no pressure and my curiosity grew, so I started asking more questions. Eventually, and I am talking of several years, I knew a lot more about the Bahá’í Faith and Brian was able to be more open with our mum because she was introduced to a lady who was near her age, as down to earth as mum was and able to reassure her that Bahá’ís were OK and normal.
In the end I decided to find out about the Bahá’í Faith separate from what just Brian was saying, so I asked if there was a book I could read. I was given “The Earth is but One Country”. I read it and agreed with everything. I had a sensation, a feeling I cannot describe and I realised I wanted to be a Bahá’í. I was at home and I phoned Brian in Shrewsbury. I told him I wanted to be a Bahá’í. He said “Good, but do you believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for this age?” I said I was not sure so he told me to ring back when I had decided. I thought about it and within a couple of hours I rang back to say yes I did believe, at which point there was a burst of noise from the other end of the phone. I found out later that most of the Shrewsbury Bahá’ís were with Brian, waiting for me to ring back!
The following weekend Brian came to Nottingham with a declaration card and a prayer book. He had arranged for me to meet the Bahá’ís of Nottingham who did not know of me. The meeting Brian took me to was very strange. Brian tried to explain it was a prayer meeting. Although growing up a Christian, I had very little to do with prayer, so to sit in a room full of strangers who were reading out of books in a language that was odd, I nearly refused to go again. However Brian talked me through everything, explained everything and reassured me that not every meeting was like that. I did go to a different meeting and found the Nottingham community was really quite nice and made me feel welcome, but did not realise how little I knew so I was often ringing Brian to ask questions. For example, I had a phone call saying “congratulations you are on the Assembly”. I said thank you and put the phone down then rang Brian saying “what is an Assembly?” He again explained it all and gave me advice on how to cope with being a new member of an Assembly.
I got to know Godfrey as he was the secretary and I had to keep asking him directions to the homes of the Bahá’ís. He also gave me a lift to my first area convention and patiently explained what was going on. Our friendship developed and, as explained by Godfrey in his story above, we were married in 1984 and have lived in Gedling ever since.
Godfrey and Gillian Nix
Nottingham (updated December 2017)