Martin with his wife Jane

I was born in 1950 and grew up in Oxford. In 1955 I started primary school. In the same class as me was one of the Jenkerson boys. Their parents, Margaret and Cyril Jenkerson, had become Bahá’ís in Bradford many years before and had pioneered to Oxford soon after the war. They lived in the next street to us. David and I went through three schools together.

When I was about 15 I was confirmed into the Anglican church and began to question established beliefs. I then became involved in fringe politics. However I soon realised that politics was not a long-term solution and that some of the people I was associating with were more interested in tearing down existing political structures rather than coming up with anything better.

I began looking at religions outside the Anglican church and went to what I suppose would now be called youth firesides in North Oxford. I met a number of Bahá’ís and went to the Youth Winter School at the end of 1967. I went more out of curiosity and because not much else was going on at that time of year but I was impressed by how a large mixture of young people from different parts of the world managed to get on with each other. In 1968 I went to a number of Bahá’í events and, at the end of that year, returned to the winter school at York. By this time I was having problems at home as my father knew very little about the Bahá’í faith, had a number of inaccurate ideas and was not prepared to have a discussion about it which led to arguments. So I began to read a number of Bahá’í books and went to firesides etc. without telling the family what I was up to.

At some point I remember meeting the Hand of the Cause Mr Sears. He came to Oxford to give a talk and to meet with the friends. I was invited to join the Bahá’ís and have lunch with him at Worcester College, where Khazeh Fananapazir was a medical student. That afternoon Mr Sears and the youth who were free ended up in Khazeh’s room being entertained by the Hand of the Cause. Unfortunately I had to leave early on to referee a school rugby match. I had also met the Hand of the Cause Mr Jalal Khazeh during the summer of 1968.  I was visiting the Orkney Islands with some Bahá’í friends and we took the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. Mr. Khazeh was on the same boat and we had a rough passage and the Hand of the Cause became sea-sick, which he said was very unusual. However we had some very fascinating sessions with him during his brief stay on the Orkneys.

It soon became clear to me that there were two questions which I needed to answer: firstly did I believe in God, i.e. that the world around us had been created and was not a chance coming together of matter, and, secondly, if God did exist, then was Bahá’u’lláh God’s latest messenger who had brought us the blueprint for a future society?  Eventually I came to the conclusion that the answer to both questions was “Yes” and consequently decided to become a Bahá’í just before Ridván in 1969.

It was obvious to me that moving away from home would be necessary as soon as I had finished my ‘A’ levels that summer. I was unsuccessful with a bid to get into University so I looked at other possibilities and also had the list of goals – towns which the NSA wanted to bring up to LSA status and therefore required Bahá’ís to move into them. The Technical College in Chelmsford had places in its law department – at that time many such establishments taught the external London Bachelor of Laws course – so I applied to become a law student. I was interviewed early in September, was offered a place, and moved into Chelmsford on my 19th birthday, Sept. 19th!  The following day I went to visit the other Bahá’ís in Chelmsford, Peter and May Moore, and we formed a group and elected officers. At that time I was the only Bahá’í between the ages of 15 and 21 living in Essex. I left Chelmsford three years later, after the town had achieved Local Spiritual Assembly status.

Over the years I had some interesting and unusual experiences teaching the Faith. Whilst in Chelmsford I wrote a letter to the local newspaper about a problem in the town. Some weeks later one of the local Bahá’ís showed me a copy of the newspaper containing a letter from someone in response to my letter of the previous week. The writer lived quite close to my lodgings and attended the Grammar School opposite my lodgings. We agreed to meet and she was fascinating by the Bahá’í teachings and borrowed Some Answered Questions. We stayed in contact for a while before drifting apart. I moved to Derbyshire for work and discovered that she had subsequently become a Bahá’í. I had an entertaining career as a solicitor mostly in law enforcement.  I was the first Bahá’í to move into Chesterfield although I left in 1980, before the LSA was established, and moved to Coventry.

I joined a social club (where ten years later I met Jane whom I subsequently married in 1996) and played badminton with some of the other members, one of whom was Paula Case, a post-graduate living in Kenilworth. I dropped her home after our sessions and felt that she might benefit from learning about the Faith and so I took her out for a meal. The bill came to £18.44 so I took that as a good omen. Before I broached the subject she asked me to tell her about my religion as she had picked up a few details from some of the other players.  We had some interesting discussions before she moved away from the area to take up her first post. I gave her details of some Bahá’ís I knew some distance away from where she was to live and suggested to them that they ask her over as she was obviously interested. She went to visit them, got snowed in and stayed the week-end and decided that she wanted to become a Bahá’í. A few years ago Jane and I moved back to the Kenilworth area and Jane became a member of the Kenilworth branch of Soroptomist International.  She mentioned to me that one of the older members had been to her niece’s Bahá’í wedding – sure enough it was my friend’s. Auntie has since been to our house to a couple of devotional meetings.

Another curious event was when I was talking to the trainee of one of the Birmingham solicitors. Again I thought she might be interested in the Bahá’í teachings and, at one point, we got to discuss her time at University and I realised that she knew some of the post graduate Bahá’í students from that University. So I asked her whether she had been told anything of the Bahá’í Faith and she said that she had become a Bahá’í at University and was thinking that she should be making contact with the Bahá’í community nearer home.

I had the great privilege of meeting and talking with a number of Hands of the Cause. In the 1960s and 1970s many were travelling and meeting with the friends. Before I became a Bahá’í Mr Samandari visited Oxford and I was invited to a talk which he gave. He was quite small and elderly and I was amazed by the energy he seemed to possess. He came into the presence of Baha’u’llah in his teens and seemed to have been travelling ever since.  Because Chelmsford was the nearest goal town to London we were blessed with visits by Hands of the Cause whose presence attracted a large number of Bahá’ís from London and East Anglia. I remember both Mr. Olinga and Mr. Giachery coming. Mr. Olinga laughed a lot and told us about his experiences in Africa. Mr. Giachery was tall and distinguished and told us about the construction of the superstructure of the Shrine of the Báb  and of his times with Shoghi Effendi. Mr. Faizi also visited Chelmsford  – at one time both of his children, May and Naysan, lived in the town. The local Bahá’ís were privileged to be invited to firesides at which he spoke. In, I think, 1971 Hand of the Cause John Robarts visited Britain and he gave a lot of talks in various parts of the country. I remember travelling to Birmingham for a week-end and he encouraged us to say the “Remover of Difficulties” prayer 100 times for the success of our teaching efforts.

The late 60s and the 70s were great times. Society in Britain was changing from an obsequious and class bound one. It seemed as though we were breaking out of the shackles of the past, and Carnaby Street and flower power ruled supreme. A number of us in our late teens and our twenties were investigating the Faith and many of us became Bahá’ís. A large proportion of the Bahá’í community was under 30 years of age. I remember in 1980, moving to Coventry. There were ten adults in the community. At the age of 29 I was the third eldest and nobody was over 40 years old. We had the benefit of youthful enthusiasm and mobility. I remember travel teaching trips to the Scottish islands and to the Republic of Ireland, communities which were small and making efforts to grow. In 1971 Stephen Jenkerson and I went to Ireland, which at that time was just managing to support four Local Spiritual Assemblies. We travelled around the country in a clockwise direction whilst, at the same time, David and Marion Hofman (in an old Morris Minor) travelled anti-clockwise. We met in Limerick where three people from Sheffield had recently pioneered. One of them worked in Bunratty Castle and many of the other younger people working there had become interested in the Faith. We had a fireside at someone’s house and so many people attended that we were sitting on the stairs and standing in the hall. Within a short space of time many had declared and pioneered to towns around the Republic. This was the start of a successful and home-grown Irish community.

In the late 1960s a large proportion of the British community attended the Summer School at Harlech. People had less holiday than at present and most people did not go abroad and so the Summer School became the annual holiday for many of the friends. Consequently afternoons tended to be reserved for leisure activities (or catching up with sleep for those who went to bed late).

Also in the early 1970s Mary Hardy and her five children moved into Henley-on-Thames. Mary bought a large house (called Fort Marion) with a lot of garden. All of her children attended the local schools and soon made many friends. Mary arranged youth firesides on a Friday evening and I often went over from Oxford when I was home during college holidays. It was thanks to the efforts of the Hardy family and those from further afield (whom Mary regularly encouraged to come over) that the Faith became well known in the Henley area and a number of people (mostly teenagers from the local grammar school) declared. Part of the success I feel was due to deepening and consolidation of those who declared, as well as a regular collection of events in the town and at Fort Marion.

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Martin Beckett

Kenilworth, August 2011

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