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

Sue Hebenton

Sue Hebenton

Sue Hebenton

I am now in my mid sixties and became a Bahá’í when I was 52. I was born and brought up in Hawkinge, near Folkestone, a small village on the south-east coast of England. We were a loving and happy family, with all my other relatives living in the same street. From my father’s side, the Christian Faith was central to their lives so this became a part of my life also. I attended the local Anglican Church on a regular basis, going to Sunday school classes, and as I got older I sang in the choir. At school, both at Primary and Secondary I became familiar with readings from the Bible. Within the family, values of behaviour based on the Christian principles of honesty, truthfulness, integrity, kindness, self-discipline, helpfulness, consideration were essential in relationships and life. These values and others became a part of who I am and have been tested on many occasions during my life.

On reaching adolescence I began to question my religious beliefs and at about the age of 16 I decided to reject them and did not want any more involvement.

Life then carried on. Eventually I married and had a family of my own. I am now going to fast forward to my late 30s. I am doing a job I love and I am happily married with two healthy children but it became apparent to me that something was missing from my life. This longing came to a head in December 1988 when I told myself, ‘There must be more to life than this,’ and I started a spiritual search trying to find the missing part and looking for some answers.

I started reading and researching different beliefs and philosophies. In 1991 we decided to move to Scotland and we settled in Aberdeenshire. To integrate into the local community, I decided to buy the local paper. Inside I came across quotes from ‘The Bahá’í Faith’. On reading them I felt my soul was being touched. I had never heard of the faith. I used to buy the paper just to read the quotes, then they stopped appearing but I never forgot the deep effect they had on me, and the faith they were taken from. The years moved on but I never stopped searching for that missing part of me and some answers. I was still reading many books of interest regarding philosophies, theories and belief systems.

In September 2002 I was watching a BBC programme called ‘The Heaven and Earth Show’ one Sunday morning. I used to watch it on a regular basis but on this morning as the programme was closing it was announced that the following week they would have the actor/comedian Omid Djalili talking about the Bahá’í Faith. This immediately caught my attention… ‘The Bahá’í Faith-quotes-my soul’ I thought – I must tune in, which I eagerly did. When Omid started explaining about the principles of the faith, I was amazed that what he was saying was inside my head. I remember thinking, yes, I agree with that, and yes, I also agree with that. The principle that stood out for me was ‘Individuals should independently investigate truth’. After the programme finished I remember thinking I couldn’t leave the matter there – I had to pursue it further.

The following day I searched ‘Bahá’í’ on the internet and telephoned the UK National Assembly. I explained where I lived and was given a contact number. I was shocked to find that the STD code was that for my local area. I immediately rang the number, and spoke to Lorrie Fozdar in Aberdeenshire. She said there was to be a feast in a few days and I was invited to attend. I went along but was very apprehensive, not knowing what a feast was and thinking I have no idea who these people were. I remember saying to my husband when I left, if I don’t come home, come looking for me!

Well I could not have been made more welcome and yes, I did return home. I then attended further meetings feeling quite comfortable and a part of something special. I was asked if I wanted to study the faith, as Ruhi book 1 was about to begin. This I did and found the whole experience spiritually uplifting. My husband and other family members just accepted my choice but made it clear that it was my decision, which I respected although I often talk about the faith to them, and feel free to do so, even with my grandchildren.

During the process, I came into contact with other Bahá’ís. They were Lorrie and Ian Fozdar, Lorrie’s mother Joanne Ransome, Mona Helmy, and Chehreh and Andrew Goodwin who had been responsible for placing the quotes in the paper. It was on sharing my experience on how I had come to hear about the faith that I was recounting the time when I read the quotes some 11 years earlier, and there were these same friends now sitting in the same room! Since then I have met many other Bahá’ís during various Bahá’í celebrations; they come from all the corners of the world.

After completing Ruhi book 1 the group started book 2. While studying book 2 I knew I had found what was missing in my life and some of the answers I had been asking myself. I declared on that February evening in 2003. My journey was complete.

Some 18 months later while reading the book ‘Tahirih the Pure’ by Martha Root, I read these words of Queen Marie of Romania, which describe how I felt when I became a Bahá’í after a 14-year search. “The Bahá’í teaching brings peace to the soul and hope to the heart. To those in search of assurance the words of the Father are as a fountain in the desert after long wandering.”

Since becoming a Bahá’í I have added to my spiritual values I learnt from my Christian upbringing. Such attributes as humility and forgiveness which have had a profound effect on my own well-being, and holding one’s self to account at the end of the day, have made me be more accountable to myself. I had a difficult year in 2015 when both my husband and my mum passed away. I received much-needed support from the local Bahá’í community during this time and it is something I will always be so grateful for.

This year, 2016, in October I was given the opportunity by some very dear Bahá’í friends to visit the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa for a 3-day pilgrimage. Words cannot explain what I experienced there. I am now just hoping that I have an opportunity to go again, this time on a 9-day pilgrimage.

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Sue Hebenton

Aberdeenshire, December 2016