Peter (L) with his son Andrew on pilgrimage 2011

The Valley of Search

I was born in the Everton district of Liverpool in January 1948 into a close-knit Catholic family from Irish descent.  My grandmother and grandfather were both Irish-born on my mother’s side and on my father’s side also there were Irish connections.  Liverpool was sometimes jokingly called the capital of Ireland because of the number of Irish who came to live in Liverpool from around the 1840s onwards.

Until I was 11 years old  I lived with my grandmother, grandfather and Uncle Jimmy.  Two other aunties with large families lived in the same street so we had lots of cousins to play with.  We used to go to church together as a family and church was a big part of my life.  However, as children we were told to keep away from the Protestant children as Catholics had the true religion which the priest reinforced in our religious education.  Sometimes it was difficult not to play with the opposition Protestant children for in my street the top half of the street was Protestant and the bottom half was Catholic!  This was how the city of Liverpool was divided into religion and race. Fortunately for me two of my best friends were Protestants and as they were no different than me, we were great friends for many years.  We were encouraged by the devoted Catholic women members of the families to have a spiritual and moral upbringing.

At 15 years old I started work in a factory.  This did not appeal to me so I joined the Merchant Navy, working on deck.  Then for 10 years I travelled the world, visiting many countries and meeting wonderful exciting people from various races, which was an education in itself.  Also, being a young man in the 1960s many things were happening, such as the Anti-Vietnam war protest, the Civil Rights movement in America, and other social issues which were being protested about.  It was a period of exciting times as people were demanding change in society, and as my father was a socialist I learned many things from him.

In 1974 I got married and moved to Holyhead, Anglesey, in North Wales.  I had given up the Merchant Navy to work ashore in order to raise a family.  We had four sons.  Lee, my second son, died of meningitis when he was two years old.

From about 1974 for a period of about 10 years I started to study various religious books.  I loved the teachings of Buddha and Krishna as they were exactly like the teachings of Christ, speaking the same eternal truths.  I was also reading other books and literature concerning the spiritual nature of man.  As I understand it today, it was my period of entering the Valley of Search.

In 1984 my marriage started to unravel and fall apart and this was a great test for me, having three young boys at the time.

In 1984 I came across a book about the Bahá’í Faith in the library at Holyhead entitled  The Earth is But One Country by John Huddleston.  I learned later that this book was ordered for the local library by an Irish Bahá’í Mike Maunsel who had stayed in Holyhead for a short time.  I was to meet this Bahá’í later on in Bangor.  It answered many questions for me as I held dear many of the principles which were spoken of in the book such as the equality of men and women, an end to the extremes of wealth and poverty, the need to establish world peace, the unity of religion, the abolition of prejudices and many other things close to my heart.  I returned the book to the library but what I had read kept going through my thoughts and mind so I went back to the library and got  the same book out to read again.   I wanted to contact the Bahá’ís but an address in the book referred to the National Spiritual Assembly in London so I checked the local telephone directory and found there were some Bahá’ís living in Menai Bridge, Anglesey and in the Bangor area of North Wales.  I contacted them and was invited to a meeting with Mrs Helen Lincoln of Menai Bridge.

I learned more about the Bahá’í Faith and  then began to go to firesides.  I met other Bahá’ís such as Gordon and Margaret Grant, Joy Behi and her family and many of the Bahá’ís in the North Wales area.  In Bangor at that time the Bahá’ís  had a Bahá’í Centre and at one particular meeting or fireside I was given a short passage to read from the book Gleanings of Bahá’u’lláh.   I started to read and  four pages later I had to stop myself!  I was so excited I could have carried on reading non-stop!

Before becoming a Bahá’í in 1985 I participated in the Bahá’í fast for a period of 19 days and I was also saying the obligatory prayer and reading the Bahá’í   Writings daily.  It seemed as if I was connected to a very powerful force. Everything seemed to be vibrating about me and I was even dreaming Bahá’í    prayers but the most vivid dream was about  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  It was as clear as day. He was in my bed-sit and He opened a door and showed me another room full of people having a party and drinking alcohol, the usual type of celebration which was the norm for many people.  He said, “You can stay in the room you’re in now, it’s up to you.“  So that day I signed my declaration card which was given to me by the Bahá’ís of Bangor.  I had always wondered when the Return of Christ would be and it just blew my mind that it was Bahá’u’lláh in this new age.

Also within a very short time, through circumstances which seemed to happen without too much control from me, I was allowed to jump the waiting period and given the privilege  of going on Bahá’í Pilgrimage by accompanying one of the Bahá’í friends from North Wales, David Stone ”Dave”, who was blind.  This was all arranged by the Local Spiritual Assembly of Anglesey and my father, who had just been recently made redundant with a golden handshake and given each of his sons a certain amount of money.  This allowed me to visit the Bahá’í World Centre in Israel in December 1985.  For me the experience was of being as near to the next world as one could be –  just like heaven on earth!

The following year (1986) I decided to pioneer to the Banff and Buchan community in Aberdeenshire Scotland.  This was after consulting Chas and Bridie Edwards, who had been on pilgrimage the same time as me, and the Local Spiritual Assembly of Banff and Buchan.  I stayed in Aberdeenshire for 26 years.  In Aberdeen we used to host the Baha`i land Gathering Summer School and I served on the committee of this summer school a number of times.  This event used to attract Bahá’í friends from most parts of Scotland and from the UK and we also had many visitors from overseas.  Bahá’í summer school was an event which was looked forward to by the Scottish Bahá’í community with great excitement.

In 1992, with some of the Scottish Bahá’ís and Nick and Maureen Sier, we travelled to the Bahá’í World Congress in New York and had the bounty of participating on that great occasion of celebration with Bahá’ís from many parts of the world.

In February-March 2011 again I had the privilege of going on Pilgrimage to the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, with my son Andrew who is not a Bahá’í. What a wonderful and amazing experience it was for me and also for Andrew. He was so moved by being on the Baha`i pilgrimage, he said to me “This is what the world should be like” (the way the Bahá’ís are) and he just loved being in the Shrines of Bahá’u’lláh, The Báb and  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Not long afterwards, in March 2012,  I pioneered back to Holyhead as a home-front pioneer in the  Five Year Plan to fulfil a goal.  This also fulfilled a wish I had had when I was on pilgrimage in both 1986 and 2012 which was to pioneer.

Living in Bahá’í communities of such diverse background, I have encountered over the years so many wonderful people.  Also in the last 10 years where I have worked on a ship in the oil industry including seven years off the West coast of Africa; also in Spain, Tunisia and Libya, and the last three years in Brazil.  I have met Bahá’ís in a number of countries I have visited and it has been a great pleasure to have worked on ship with Africans, Filipinos and Brazilians, and also people from Eastern Europe and from New Zealand too.

Indeed it is true that “The Earth is but One Country and Mankind its Citizens”.

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Peter Burns

April 2012

Peter in 1984

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