How I became a Bahá’í

Brian was born near Maidstone, Kent and in 1935 at the age of 14, he started his naval training at Rochester.  He began his service in the Merchant Navy in 1940.  In 1956 he and Joan were the first pioneers to Canterbury.  This was part of the Ten Year Crusade and specifically aimed at opening the important cathedral cities to the Faith.  By 1961 the first Local Spiritual Assembly was formed and Brian remained either Chairman or Vice-chairman from then on.

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My wife Joan, as I remember, went to a Bahá’í meeting in Bradford on a wet Sunday afternoon at the suggestion of Philip Hainsworth.  Alfred Sugar was talking … and she did not understand what he was really talking about, but they were nice people … so it was as simple as that, or was it?

. . . . . . . . .

As regards myself, well I married Joan and in due course, a very long due course to my shame and sorrow, I joined up.  But of course there are always milestones along the road of life.

When I first met Joan she used to send me letters with stickers on the back giving Bahá’í principles.  My thoughts at that time were somewhat suspicious of the “lot” she was involved with.  After we married, with typical and, with hindsight, quite disgraceful male chauvinism, her involvement with the Faith was discouraged.  But she quietly prevailed upon me and eventually I went with her to the Bahá’í Centre in Bradford.  I liked the people we met and their ideas on the international world were similar to my own thoughts.  Soon, with the war ending, and my desire to leave the sea-going profession, I agreed to go to Cardiff where the Faith was to be opened up in Wales.  [Carl Card has taken up the story from here in his book on the opening of the Faith to Wales].

Cardiff was subject to a string of very able public speakers.  Still not a Bahá’í, how I enjoyed the long discussions I had with them all.  They always answered my questions and slowly amended my erring thoughts.  Still I withheld myself from the bounties of the Faith.  Towards the end of my resistance Philip Hainsworth came to Cardiff and, in his usual blunt manner, asked why I was not a Bahá’í.  Too much studying was my answer.  But as a Bahá’í, studying would be so much easier, said Philip.  This at the time was viewed amusingly as Philip trying to swell numbers.  But the Cardiff Local Spiritual Assembly was going to lapse and, realising all the hard work and sacrifice that had gone into its forming, I had finally to be honest with myself.  Philip was so right, studying WAS easier, there was now a purpose to life, and failure could not be contemplated.  Nine (I often wonder at the significance of that number) of us sat for that examination and only one passed – myself.

Shortly after becoming a Bahá’í in 1947, I returned to sea where my first port of call was West Chester on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.  Joan wrote ahead to that community and they were waiting on the quay when I arrived, and they took me under their wing.  The Lear family were wonderful to me and have never been forgotten.  In those days we were only allowed 10 U.S. dollars each week to spend.  Mrs Lear had left the book The Bahá’í World Faith beside my bed. I wanted to buy that book, but how?  It was more than my allowance.  I said absolutely nothing but, on my departure, I was presented with another copy suitably inscribed …  I have cherished that book.

My next port of call was Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.  I flew there armed with a letter addressed to our much loved Faizi.  I was instructed to be very discreet.  A few enquiries in the bazaar made it obvious that he was well known and respected.  He was soon tracked down and, armed with the letter from the National Spiritual Assembly, I climbed the steps to his apartment.  Never will I forget that greeting.  He read the letter and jumped up and down for sheer joy.  He ran back to his wife Gloria, talking excitedly.  She came running and flung her arms around my neck.  I felt like a returning long lost son rather than a complete stranger…  How I remember those few days I spent with them and my subsequent visits.  Nine years they had been on that island and, apart from a visit from one American from Saudi Arabia, they had no visitors.

Soon pioneers came in from Iran.  How well I remember Faizi worrying how they were ever going to find wives for, as Bahá’ís, they could not marry local girls.  God works in mysterious ways …  Soon a veritable bevy of beautiful girls descended on that island from Iran and the boys were soon married and settled.  Faizi left his imprint on that community and I cherish memories of them.  I have films of them taken around 1957.

In my travels around the world there have been many Bahá’í experiences and some tend to stick out.  The following could be a coincidence … or was it?

In travelling to places like Iran one always has to be very careful in mentioning the Faith.  On my first visit to Abadan I tried very very tactfully to locate the Bahá’ís.  I was feeling very sad that I was about to sail away without making contact, when my door opened and a young man entered with the Bills of Lading for me to sign.  Somehow, when I looked at that young man, he seemed to be a Bahá’í, for there was that `something’ about him.  I asked him what religion he was and he hesitated for quite some time, then quietly said Bahá’í.  He was utterly astonished when I returned the Bahá’í greeting to him.  But the ship was sailing in 15 minutes … did I say something about God working in certain ways… ?  Almost immediately the oil refinery chemist rushed into my room advising that my cargo was off specification and would have to be replaced – a thirty six hour operation.  Then, as if to make certain, the strong winds rose to near gale force causing a sandstorm that would have prevented us from sailing, at least, for that tide.  I met the Bahá’ís in Abadan!!

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Brian Giddings

Kent, 12 June 1991

The first LSA of Canterbury, formed in 1961. Back row from left: Henry Backwell, Brian Giddings, Walter Wilkins, Arthur Weinberg. Seated from left: Gladia Barron, Parvin Furutan, Joan Giddings, Gladys Backwell, Zoha Adl.

The first LSA of Canterbury, formed in 1961.
Back row from left: Henry Backwell, Brian Giddings, Walter Wilkins, Arthur Weinberg.
Seated from left: Gladia Barron, Parvin Furutan, Joan Giddings, Gladys Backwell, Zoha Adl.

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