As a child I regularly attended Sunday School and Church and took part in Brownie, Girl Guide, Rangers and other activities connected with the parish. I really enjoyed all of that and didn’t question the Christian scriptures until I was in my mid teens. My mother died when I was sixteen and I was the eldest of four children. Where, I then thought, was the evidence for the existence of a benevolent God? Or any scientific reason for such belief? I became agnostic.
Meantime at school when I was about fourteen years old, I was present at a history lesson conducted by a very good teacher. I can see her now sitting on the edge of a table at the front of the class telling us a fascinating story about Muhammad. I have no idea whether she believed in his prophethood but her tale was so enthralling that the germ of belief in Him entered my mind. I became distrustful of Christian teachings because they excluded Muhammad and felt that in this respect Christians were bigoted and narrow-minded. I took no action then but it always remained in my mind.
I met my husband when I was eighteen and we reinforced each other’s agnostic viewpoint. We deliberately fell short of calling ourselves atheists, believing there was a very outside chance that a Superior Being did exist.
I remained in this frame of mind until I was about twenty-seven. At that time my brother started going out with a girl called Prudence Curwen who, along with her parents (Alice and Tom), was a Bahá’í. They were the only Bahá’ís in Blackpool and the religion had been brought to them by Prudence George, sister of Alice Curwen, who had become a Bahá’í in Canada. Prudence George was subsequently a devoted pioneer for many years in different places until her death in the nineteen-seventies.
The community of the British Isles, as it was then called (1948), was much smaller than it is today, and all Bahá’ís knew all other Bahá’ís in the country. The Curwens held fireside meetings from time to time and the speakers travelled miles to take the meetings. I was invited to attend of course and was very impressed indeed with the speakers and what they had to say. The people I heard were: Dick Backwell, Adib Taherzadeh (newly arrived in this country), Alfred Sugar and others. When my brother (who was not yet a Bahá’í) had a Bahá’í wedding following a Church ceremony, in 1948, Philip Hainsworth came to conduct the proceedings. He spoke to me at length about the Faith, which by this time was commanding my considerable respect.
Alice used to say: “It’s just like Christ returned, love”, but this approach was not effective for me. Early in 1950 Isobel Locke (later Isobel Sabri) came to Blackpool as part of a mission from the States to assist the British Isles in the last stages of the Guardian’s Six-Year Plan. She lived in a room near the park and took meetings at the Curwens’ house. She asked me and my husband to her room one evening to talk about the Faith. My husband chose not to go and, although he retained a certain regard for the Faith, never changed his agnostic views. The principle of Progressive Revelation which Isobel taught me that evening was, to me, most intriguing and at last I saw that it was possible to believe in Muhammad and in Christ – and in the Founders of all the strong religions. This came as a great relief because I was never convinced that being born into one religion meant that the others were not valid. To be able to accept them all was very liberating.
The other Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh then fell into place and my eyes were opened to the spiritual nature of man and to the inevitability of God’s existence.
Undoubtedly Isobel had reached my heart and is the one whom I have always regarded as my “spiritual mother”. However, I did not become a Bahá’í quite then; I don’t actually remember being asked to do so. But a very short time afterwards John Robarts (later Hand of the Cause) came to town!!
On the evening of 28th March 1950 at the Curwens’ house there were five non-Bahá’ís, plus John Robarts, Isobel Locke, Stella Farnsworth (from Liverpool), a young Bahá’í called Dennis McArthur (who had also come from out of town) – he later went to Australia), and the Curwens. John spoke forcefully and with great enthusiasm, and later offered us declaration cards to sign. Fresh and strong in my mind was the evening I had recently spent with Isobel and so I did not hesitate to accept and sign John’s card. Four of us did so that night! An excited telephone call was made to Philip Hainsworth (who was, I think, Secretary of the National Committee responsible for goals), and it seemed possible that a Local Spiritual Assembly could be formed right away in Blackpool. Stella Farnsworth pioneered from Liverpool to Blackpool, and a Bahá’í from Preston was able to be included – so the first Assembly of Blackpool came into being. Bill and Florence Boden were fellow-declarers that night, as was a Mrs Jacobs, a lovely elderly lady, who died a few weeks later. I stayed in Blackpool until 1955 when we left because of my husband’s work. Our Assembly had remained in being and I had consistently been its secretary during those years.
In 1950 I was a medical secretary at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and the morning following my `declaration’ I remember very clearly feeling greatly elated, walking on air down the corridors, and unable fully to believe that I had found something so wonderful, a real purpose to my life. My new-found Faith was to support, guide and inspire me through good times and bad down all the subsequent years, and I have tried to give to it such service as was possible, howsoever inadequate.
I came to realise as time went by how privileged I was to have been taught the Faith by such knowledgeable and devoted Bahá’ís, all of whom later reached distinguished heights in serving the Faith.
Dorset, 24 July 1991