My religious upbringing maybe is not unique. Apparently my parents must have been seeking something for their background was C. of E. and then both turned to the Catholic Faith. My brother, sister and myself were christened in the Catholic Faith but this we were unaware of until I was about ten. We had always believed we were Church of England. Mother wanted us to attend Sunday school but Dad was of the opinion that we should choose the religion we wanted to when we were old enough. My father, having looked into the two main Christian religions and found both ‘wanting’, turned to his books, especially poetry. His philosophy was inspiring; he taught by action, as indeed did mother.
Scripture at school turned me off religion, or rather off Jesus. I did believe in God but not in Jesus as there seemed to be too much fairytale nonsense. In 1950, married, with three children, my life changed. In April of that year my father died. This event set three pairs of feet on the pathway of search. Mother (Hagar Wall), my sister (Lou Turner) and myself began our search in the Spiritualist Church. We sat in a home developing circle for eight years, not for psychic but for spiritual development. It is interesting to note that out of the nine members who sat in that circle, seven eventually ‘declared’ themselves in the Bahá’í Faith.
Many years slipped by with the three of us serving in the Spiritualist Church, but eventually we felt there was something more, something yet to discover. Spiritualists believe Jesus was a great healer – they do not believe He is a Prophet. We felt uneasy about this, so each in our own way commenced searching yet again. We attended the Theosophical meetings, unaware that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had actually visited and spoken at this very Centre in Hope Street, Liverpool. I lived next door to the Bahá’í Centre in Langdale Road, but there was no invitation to enquire and no sign of welcome to the public. I thought it was a foreign sect as one night I had seen three Africans going in there.
Dr Ernest Miller (who was a Bahá’í and had his surgery in his home where the Bahá’ís rented a room) was the family doctor. As I sat in the waiting room I would read Bahá’í quotations that hung on the walls. But I had heard a whisper he was a Quaker. On one occasion Dr Miller came to attend one of my children and he asked about the hymns they sang while playing in the yard. I told him we were Spiritualists and showed him the Lyceum Manual and the Seven Principles. He said: “There is nothing in this which we would disagree with.” He must have longed for me to ask him about his faith but I was shy and did not wish to appear nosey!
It was 1961 and every Tuesday evening a speaker from a different denomination came to the Church. We were more bewildered than ever. Each one so sincere and each one had truth – but which was the RIGHT one? One night I could not attend, but after the meeting my sister Lou came to my home. As I opened the door, she said: “Pat, I’ve found it, it’s the Bahá’í Faith.” She started off about progressive revelation and I knew instantly this was the answer. Still, while Lou and mother were on a high, I perversely turned away. I wanted to go my own way. I started looking into the Rosicrucian movement.
Mother was the first of the three of us to actually ‘declare’ herself in the Bahá’í Faith. She attended the Wednesday meetings at the Centre and Lou attended firesides at Billie and Madeline Hellaby’s home in Prescot. I think Lou ‘declared’ in July 1962. Anxious for me, Lou gave me books to read. I would glance through them with little interest. Until I read Portals to Freedom I had been inclined towards reincarnation but was not adamant. After reading this book about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America, I thought that, if I only had one life, I had better pull my socks up! I was invited to a Bahá’í home on the fringe of Liverpool where slides were shown of the Pilgrimage of Margaret Lord and Audrie Reynolds. Perhaps because my husband was ill at the time and I was thinking that I should be at home with him, I remained unimpressed. Afterwards everyone went for a walk. I recall Dick Backwell asking me: “Are you a Bahá’í?” I said: “No, are you?” “Yes” he answered – end of conversation. I wondered at the time what would I possibly have in common with this intellectual individual even if I was a Bahá’í. Little did I know then that a few years later, at the Icelandic Conference, Dick and I would share many happy hours, filled with laughter.
On another occasion I shared many happy relaxed hours in the home of Ruth Lansing in Southport. Travelling home afterwards I was on cloud nine. Still, I determined not to ‘declare’ on a wave of emotion. Early in 1963 at Lyme Park weekend school I made a pact with myself. By September 19th I would know whether or not I was to ‘declare’. Why that date I’ll never know! August 8th – at the home of the Hellabys – I attended their fireside. Nothing unusual happened; it was pleasant and I enjoyed the devotional. Next morning, 9th August 1963, I was ‘reborn’ or, better still, I came to life. I opened my eyes and threw back the bedclothes, saying: “Today I’m going to declare.” As I walked to the bathroom – well I did not walk, I floated – my feet never touched the ground! Oh, was I happy!
That morning I will never forget and, as the years roll by, my astonishment is increased by the wonder, the spectacular glory of the Faith and, indeed, I am humbled to be so blessed.
Birkenhead, September 1991