Welcome to the UK Baha’i Histories Project

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The UK Baha’i Histories Project is collecting the stories of individual Baha’is who currently live in the UK, or have lived here in the past.  The project is sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai’s of the UK.

These stories are personal recollections by the individuals concerned. They will inevitably contain omissions and they reflect the views of the individual author in each case. We cannot vouch for the authenticity or completeness of any of the ‘histories’, although all stories are subjected to an editorial review. We urge readers who may have additional information that is pertinent to any story to post a comment, which may be viewed by all visitors to the site.

We would like to encourage EVERYONE to write their Baha’i history.  Your story is important and interesting, whether you became a Baha’i last week or 50 years ago.  We would also like to see stories from people who have moved to the UK, especially if you moved here from Iran, and your experiences when you first arrived.

To give you some inspiration, take a look at the stories below.  We hope you will then decide to write your own story.  Please contact bhp1uk@gmail.com and the team will help you to get started.

Webpage header photo courtesy of Baha’i Media Bank

Jonathan Martin (1954-2019)

Jonathan was born on 10 July 1954 in Liverpool to Katherine and Ernest Martin.  His parents came from very different backgrounds, his mother being Roman Catholic and his father Jewish.  His father was away in the Korean war and was invalided out when he lost a leg, but then established a bakery where he taught Jonathan the art of baking bread.  Although Jonathan saw his father rarely, because his parents soon separated, he was very much influenced by his paternal grandmother who encouraged him to visit for the celebration of the Friday Shabbat meal. He took his Jewish roots seriously and joined in the Shabbat ritual questions and chanting. He had his bar mitzvah at 14, creating more family tensions. These different family attitudes to faith encouraged him to delve deeply into religions. He spent many years researching their historical roots, always fascinated by different cultures and outlooks.

He won a scholarship to Liverpool Grammar School, then went on to the sixth form of King David’s Jewish School.  Later he was offered a partial bursary at Oxford.  Although his paternal grandmother offered to fund him, he felt that she would make herself poor by doing so. He decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and at 18 joined the military instead, serving for 5 years, ending his training period in a parachute regiment.

Jonathan had a thirst for travel, so at the age of 23 he left the military for adventures in India and Israel.  While working on a kibbutz he was drafted into the Israeli army where he developed a distaste for war.  He came back to the UK in the 1970s and for a short while worked in the children’s department of social services at Newcastle, after studying for his general social work diploma.

His career took a different turn when he moved to Bristol and did a year’s diploma in counselling for addictions of every kind. This led to work for a private organisation helping people with drug and alcohol problems.  His generosity would often mean that he worked with addicts without charge when he knew they could not afford the treatment and counselling he offered.

It was during his Bristol period, living in the Bedminster area, that he met Tom Leeming, who taught him about the Bahá’í Faith.  He declared in 1988, but did not register until  November 1989.  Jonathan loved Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings about progressive revelation and the history of religion. Having come from a diverse religious background, he found the Bahá’í teachings on the oneness of religion to be a great blessing and a balm.

Continuing his drug and alcohol addiction counselling, Jonathan moved to a clinic in Friesthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1990, where he met his future wife, Jean, who was also working in the clinic as a nursing administrator and counsellor.

In 1991 they moved together to Oban in Scotland where Jean became housekeeper and Jonathan became ‘factor’ for the Glenruitten Estate, owned by the Mackay family. Being ‘factor’ meant land management, liaison with tenant farmers and working with the Forestry Commission as well as the organising of seasonal shooting parties. (‘Factor’ is a legal term in Scottish law for an estate manager. The factor is responsible for the land whenever the owner is away).  Jonathan and Jean married in 1993 and remained key workers at the estate until Miss Elizabeth Mackay’s death in 2004.

They then moved to North Anston in South Yorkshire, where Jean took up a post as a cardiac nurse at Northern General Hospital in Sheffield.  By this time Jonathan’s health had seriously deteriorated.  Operations, which had gone awry in Scotland, and the exacerbation of old spinal injuries from his military years, meant he became partially disabled.  However, he still maintained a lively interest in social, political and world issues.  Being an avid reader, he was like a sponge, soaking up information just for the love of knowledge.

He loved attending the Devotion and Discourse evenings at Shirley Fryer’s home in Sheffield, where Bahá’í Scripture was looked at in detail along with that of other faiths.  He attended for several years until his disabilities prevented him from travelling.

He became a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Rotherham, which was created at Ridvàn 2012.

Jonathan liked all things to be based on scientific fact and would always investigate an issue down to its core.  He did not suffer fools gladly, admitting to having to work on his own tendency to be intolerant.  He loved meditation and music and appreciating art. His calligraphy was beautiful. His love of desert places, where he felt entirely at home, drew him to holidays in hot countries such as Sinai, Jordan, Egypt and Israel, where his interest in archaeology and photography took root. He loved picking up languages, and taught himself to read hieroglyphics.

Friends will remember him in his active days as a person with a wicked sense of humour, who loved to play practical jokes, but most of all he will be fondly remembered as a kind, compassionate and generous man by those whom he brought back from addictions to a life of being clean and sober.

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Jonathan passed to the Abhá Kingdom on 1st April 2019.

Story kindly submitted by Margaret Grant, Lincolnshire

July 2019