I was brought up in a nominally Christian family. My grandfather was rector of Morecambe and a Canon of Lancaster Cathedral and my uncle was a Church of England priest. My parents, however, were not regular church goers themselves. I was a campanologist and as such attended church quite regularly; I can’t remember what made me start bell ringing!
I moved to Solihull when I was aged 15 and, one bell ringing practice, a fellow ringer asked me if I’d give something to her boyfriend Paddy Vickers, who attended the school to which I had now moved – it was Paddy who was to introduce me to the Faith!
Through Paddy I became a member of the local church youth club. There were too many members called Peter so I ended up being called Rocky (Peter the Rock). At the time I strongly believed that there was a god mainly, because I couldn’t believe that I would cease to exist when I died. I did not, however accept the dogma of the church and used to describe myself as a Deist – I couldn’t accept that Muslims, Buddhists etc. were wrong!
My first contact with the Faith made no impression on me whatsoever. Paddy spent a couple of months in France where he was taught the Faith by Rita Green’s boyfriend, Derek (Rita had sent him a copy of Thief in the Night). Paddy wrote to tell me about this but I had no recollection of receiving the letter until I rediscovered it several years later.
My first real memory is on a drive up to Loch Ness in the summer of 1968. Steve Vickers, Paddy and I were driving up to Scotland to search for the Loch Ness monster. In those days it was a VERY long drive as there were few motorways and it was during that journey that Paddy introduced me to the Faith. I was interested in learning about a religion that agreed with me(!) but very reluctant to admit this interest, as Pad then had the reputation of being into unusual things and if you showed an interest, he would launch into extremely long winded explanations!! I therefore said little but just listened. Upon my return home I got some books out from the library – I think Bahá’ú’llah and the New Era was one of them – and investigated for myself, not telling Paddy anything!
My next discussion with him was, believe it or not, on the train to London, that December, for the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau annual dinner (you can see Nessie was quite involved, I still believe there are monsters in the Loch and have given firesides on the Loch Ness Monster and the Bahá’i Faith!). During the journey I quizzed Pad about Bahá’i laws, not letting on how much I had already found out. At that point I was not convinced there should be laws. However the ban on alcohol seemed logical to me but I didn’t tell Paddy my view and spent the whole journey arguing about why drink should be banned, only to inform him, at the end of the journey – after not having acknowledged any of his arguments – that I wasn’t going to drink again – he was quite surprised!
My first fireside followed shortly after. I regret to say that I remember little of the subject but it was at the home of NSA member Patrick Green and his wife Patricia. Pru George, Patricia’s mother was there and the talk was given by Adib Taherazadeh! I am ashamed to admit, however, that I mainly remember Annalease Campbell, who invited me to her home for a further fireside and events from there took their course.
My actual declaration occurred in quite unusual circumstances. Paddy’s fiancée, now his wife, Ann rather resented the time Pad spent away from her at Bahá’i things. On March 20th 1969 Pad was going to a Feast in Harborne. He knew that I was meeting some friends nearby, so asked if I could drop Ann off at the bus stop so that she would arrive in time for the social part of the Feast. This I duly did, but my friends never turned up – to this day I do not know why! At a loose end I decided to go to the Feast. When I arrived nothing had started as some friends coming from London had been delayed, so I joined in the devotion, helped in the kitchen with Ann during the consultation and partook of the social part. I can’t say anything happened but that night in my bath I knew I was a Bahá’i!
The following evening was the Naw Rúz party at the Greens’ house in Birmingham, a party to which my parents had already agreed to attend. They were a little concerned about what the Faith was so it was perfect that I could formally make my declaration with them being present. Pad was at that time the only believer in Solihull. Just to keep confusing him, as he wasn’t in the room when I actually declared, I wandered up to him and said “do you realise there is a Bahá’i group in Solihull”? He thought a couple had moved in not realising it was my obtuse way of telling him that I had become a Solihull Bahá’i!
The rest, as they say is history. A few more anecdotes. I remember driving back from a Feast with Patrick Green talking about spending time doing Bahá’i things. I said something to the effect that I regarded my commitment to the Faith as being similar to my former church commitment, that is, I would just attend Feasts and the occasional fireside – he just smiled. A few months later Hand of the Cause John Robarts came to Birmingham. I had a meeting in Oxford but as John was giving talks on the Saturday and Sunday I said I’d listen to him on Saturday and go to Oxford on Sunday. I ended up joining John and the local friends on Sunday, saying 500 Remover of Difficulties – prior to that I did not know the prayer off by heart.
Since then I have had the inestimable bounties of making two full pilgrimages with a third due in April 2012. I participated in the Peterborough Youth Conference and witnessed its fruits. I have attended international conferences in Fiesch, Switzerland; Padua, Italy; Plön, Germany; Paris, France; Kampala, Uganda and most recently the Regional Conference in London. I was fortunate enough to have met twelve Hands of the Cause in addition to Mr Robarts. I have been privileged to have visited the Houses of Worship in, in order of visiting: Wilmette, Langenhain, Kampala, New Delhi and Sydney. I have been honoured to have served on the Local Spiritual Assemblies of Lincoln, Warwick and Leamington Spa, various regional and national committees and agencies, including the National Teaching Committee.
I will conclude with two memorable but rather unique memories. My most embarrassing was when I was on a travel teaching trip to Shetland in the summer of 1974 and was asked to collect Hand of the Cause Dr Muhájir from the airport. I just did not know what to do when the car which I had borrowed broke down leaving me and Dr Muhájir stranded, in the days before mobile phones! The other notable memory is of the time when a young, I think 21 year old, Shariah Razavi was appointed to serve on the NTC. He was informed of his appointment on the Tuesday before a full weekend meeting and was able to join us on the Saturday morning. He sat, just listening for about the first 30 minutes, but from then on it was if he had always served on the committee and every contribution from him seemed so full of wisdom despite him being the youngest member!
In the photo, Back row: Barney Leith, Erica Leith holding Alex Leith, Shohreh Youssefian (now Rawhani), Ed Povey, Parvin Afnan (now Morrissey), Gail Hardy, Mary Hardy, ?, ?, Lottie Duncan, Rocky Grove, Hand of the Cause Dr Muhajir (in red sweater), Lisbeth Thomson, Kathy Hardy, Gerald Warren
Front row: Brian Averill, Violette Ghobad (now Owen), Viv Craig (then Viv Povey), Hans Thimm