My given name is Carolyn Lucy Mitchell. I was born in 1952 in North Staffordshire Hospital to a coal mining family. I am the eldest of four children. I was the first person in my family to go to college; my mother was a great believer in education for girls. My father thought it such a waste, as girls just get married and have children!
I was sent to Sunday School from the age of three. I attended the Methodist Sunday School until I was eighteen, and by then I was a Sunday School teacher.
My surname was shortened to Mitch and when it was obvious to my friends that I was not going to grow very tall I was given the name Midge and this has stayed my nickname ever since.
I remember as a youngster in my RE class being very struck by the fact that the learned men in the time of Jesus, i.e. the Pharisees and Sadducees, rejected Him, and I remember praying that I would not do that when Jesus returned.
In 1971 I went to West Midlands College of Education to train to be a teacher. My subjects were Drama and Religious Education. It was a very difficult time as I was very homesick in the first term. I foolishly went home every weekend, which meant that I didn’t make any new friends.
Returning to college after the Christmas holiday, I resolved to try to make some new friends, as I could not continue going home every week. I invited one of the girls in my residential block into my room for a coffee. She had just arrived too, and willingly accepted my invitation. Jean Mercer (the future Mrs Powis) was living just a few doors from me but we had hardly spoken to each other before this. The conversation was general, chatting about the courses we were doing etc. Then she told me she was a Bahá’í. Suddenly I was totally focused on what she was saying. Everything she told me I already believed. I asked her about Bahá’u’lláh and who He was. I can’t remember what else was said but months later Jean said referring to that day that my eyes were wide with wonder as she told me about the Faith.
That night I could hardly sleep. The main question going around my head was: if I became a Bahá’í would I be breaking promises that I had made when I became a member of the Methodist church? On the other hand if this is the long awaited return of Jesus, do I want to be like those who rejected Him when He first came?
Over the following days Jean and I became friends and I asked her many questions about the Faith. I did not read a word. She discovered that I enjoyed singing and asked if I would like to join a group of singers called The Dawnbreakers. I said I would give it a go.
Through singing with the group I got to know a few more Bahá’ís. Jean invited me and a few others from college to a Bahá’í public meeting in Birmingham. I can’t remember much about the speaker but I remember Jean was asked to sing. Unaccompanied she sang ‘Bahá’u’lláh has come, can’t you see the new day’ and I did! At the end of the meeting I told Jean that I would like to become a Bahá’í and she said ‘no’! (Jean has told me since “the reason I said ‘no’ was because another friend had hastily declared and not stayed in the faith for more than a few months; otherwise it sounds like I didn’t want you to become a Bahá’í at all, and that was most definitely not the case.”)
Jean felt that I didn’t really know enough about it; that I needed to do some serious study and to understand my obligations as a Bahá’í. The Dawnbreakers had fluid membership: people would just turn up for a concert. We had the odd rehearsal and one of these was held at the home of Sima and Derek Cockshut in Oakham. Derek was the group’s manager. After we had been practising, Derek asked me if I had declared yet. This was about three months after the public meeting and during this time I had already tried to live the Bahá’í life i.e. not drinking alcohol, praying, and teaching the Faith. I said no as Jean didn’t think I was ready, at which point he retrieved a declaration card from somewhere and I signed it!
The next day we were due to sing at the farm of Ted and Alicia Cardell. They had an annual picnic to which many Bahá’ís were invited with their friends. The Dawnbreakers met up and practised a new song. I remember it was a most beautiful sunny day and Ted was giving rides on a trailer being pulled by a tractor. I went on the ride and sat in the hay looking up at the sky in wonderment at the beauty of the world. It was a sort of confirmation to me that what I had done was pleasing to God. I felt so happy and blessed I have never forgotten that moment.
I had only been a Bahá’í for a few weeks when I was asked to explain the Bahá’í Faith to the RE class at college. I readily agreed, though when I look back I hardly knew a thing about the Faith. Even so I just blithely went ahead. You can tell how little I knew, because when someone asked me the significance of the number 19, I hadn’t a clue!
The numbers turning up for Dawnbreaker rehearsals were dwindling until there was a core group of six; three females and three males. One of these was Geoff Ault who arranged much of the music into the different parts. Within a year Jean married Dave Powis, I married Geoff, and the other two members (Chris Payne and Christopher Goharriz) left.
In the mid to late 1970s we sang at many teaching events and sometimes joined forces with other performers. For the “Daystar” tour the Dawnbreakers also made three extended teaching trips to Scotland, the first two to the Isle of Mull (along with very talented musician Adrian Burns) and the third to Glasgow in 1978, by which time I had two children (Pippa and Matthew) and Jean had one with another on the way. My third child, Sorrel, arrived in 1981, but the Dawnbreakers still continued to perform, though less frequently than before.
Our wedding was the first Bahá’í wedding in Stoke on Trent so we made history. It was in the papers as “Girl gets married twice in one day!” and in the Walsall papers as “Bride Midge won’t say, ‘I will!’”
During the first year of our marriage, nearly every weekend was spent rehearsing or singing with The Dawnbreakers at some teaching event. Geoff had pioneered to Hereford a few months before we were married. This is another story but when he was buying the house in Hereford I went with him. It was before we were an ‘item’ and were just friends. We visited Dave Black and his family. We were eating beans on toast when Dave suddenly said, “When are you two getting married then?” Geoff nearly choked on his toast! A year later Dave was representing the NSA at our wedding as there was no LSA near by.
Dave Black was one of our dearest friends and was also the LSA of Hereford representative at the wedding of our youngest daughter Sorrel. We were both devastated when he died and will never forget him.
While in Hereford, Geoff and I both served on the LSA. It was such an honour. I started my first children’s class in 1974 with Dave’s three sons, Tom Eyton’s two sisters and their cousin. I ran it every Wednesday for nearly six years. This was the start of many years of teaching children’s classes. When my own children came along (we have three: Pippa, Matt and Sorrel) I continued to volunteer at Spring Schools in Wales and Summer Schools in England right up to the present. I have also run classes at Convention and other national events. It is my main service to the Faith and I love it. It is exactly as it says in the Writings “like waiting upon the Blessed Beauty” and I can’t understand why people are not lining up to do it!
We also started a book agency. The LSA of Hereford asked if we would run it and we agreed. We used to keep the boxes of books under Pippa’s cot as we lived in a very tiny house. We have been book agents ever since and through it have been in contact with Bahá’ís all over the country. Our stock is now in the pantry and is worth thousands of pounds.
Geoff and I moved to Leominster, which was an unopened district, we thought, but we discovered a couple were living there that were inactive at the time. We have been here ever since and love being part of this community.
The highlight of my Bahá’í life was going on pilgrimage, which I did in April 1986. I had never owned a passport or been out of the UK, never flown or left the children with Geoff for more than a day! It was a huge undertaking for me. At the time I was working as a playgroup assistant and earned very little money. Even so I was determined to pay for it myself. I baked and sold cakes and saved any money given to me as gifts until I had enough. I was very concerned about travelling alone to a far away country but accepted the invitation to go. I knew I was being looked after when I discovered that my dear friends Zarin and Peter Hulme were on the same pilgrimage and that I was able to get the same flight out. What a great relief it was to me.
I have many vivid memories of the time there. I met Mr Furutan and Ruhiyyih Khanum who were wonderful. The other pilgrims were from all over the world and yet we were all such friends. Marian Hofman, who attended our wedding, was there as David was still serving on the Universal House of Justice. Marion showed me around and we had lunch at the house of Abdu’l-Bahá. I was so blessed. Much of the time I was completely overwhelmed and could not speak. It was almost too much for me and I remember after about 6 days I just wanted to leave, as I felt too full. Of what, I don’t know. However I recovered and completed the pilgrimage. When it was time to leave I tried to say goodbye to Mr Furutan and was so full of tears I couldn’t speak, and he just put his arm around me and said “I know, I know”
Geoff says I have never been the same since I returned from pilgrimage.
Another highlight of my Bahá’í life was going to the Irish Summer School as a guest children’s class teacher. It was such an honour as I was the guest of the NSA of Ireland. I had a wonderful time; they really do put the children’s needs first which led to a fantastic school for everyone. It was here that I was introduced to Adib Taherzadeh. What a man! Gillian Phillips, with whom I have had the honour of working in many a children’s class, introduced us. I was totally amazed that when I was in the dinner queue a few days later he remembered my name!
Power of Prayer
Now I have two stories of how the power of prayer has helped me in time of great need.
The first was after the traumatic birth of our son Matthew. I had a caesarean under general anaesthetic and unfortunately they didn’t give me enough and I was able to feel the whole delivery but not able to let them know. At home after this experience I was very distressed, and with two little ones to care for (Pippa was only 22 months old) I was very weary. I continued to pray in this exhausted state and was rewarded with a wonderful dream. In the dream I was in my bed and “someone” was at my bedside. Through the night I put my hand in His. When my arm was cold I returned it under the covers until it was warm again, then I took it out from under the covers to hold the hand again. This went on all through the night until I awoke in the morning. I know in my heart that it was Bahá’u’lláh holding my hand. Even though our bed was against a wall!
I started to feel much better after this dream.
The second story relates to the time after my Mum had died and it was her funeral. It was a very distressing time for everyone, but my sister Ali and I wanted to make Mum’s funeral a wonderful celebration of her life. It was to take place in the church where I had attended Sunday School all those years ago. The building was old and leaked when it rained. The choir from the school where I work were coming up to Staffordshire to sing at the service, the music was to be played on an electric organ. It was only a short while before the service when it began to rain, there was a power cut and the choir had not turned up. I was in a state of panic as the roof began to leak, water pouring into buckets around the church. My sister turned to me and said “Well, Midge, there is only one thing you can do now.” I looked at her in puzzlement. “Sit down and pray.” Which I did right away with all my heart. A few seconds after I had finished praying, the lights came on, the rain stopped and the choir rolled up outside the church. The rain held off through the service but afterwards it poured.
I have never had a prayer answered so quickly. My sister took it all in her stride as that was what she expected!
Just to bring you up to date: in 2012 Geoff and I are still living in Leominster. Our eldest daughter Pippa lives in Reading, where she is a teacher and serves on the LSA. Sorrel is married and has presented us with our first grandchild, Gethin. She lives in Wales, is an ecologist for Gwent Nature Trust and is part of the Welsh Bahá’í community. Matthew lives at home and is part of the Leominster group. I have been teaching children with learning difficulties for the past 25 years and made many contacts in schools around the county by serving on the Herefordshire SACRE. I have become a tutor and am facilitating a study circle in Ludlow. At the same time I am participating in an animators’ course in Shrewsbury. I am also training to be a workshop leader for the Bahá’í Faith in primary schools. God willing I will be able to run workshops in schools when I retire in a few years time.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my ramblings. I have enjoyed recalling these memories – thank you.
Leominster, March 2012