Two friends of my eldest sister, Alice Deakin and Olive Bunn, heard a talk on the Bahá’í Faith at Cross Street Chapel in Manchester. They visited our home and told us about the Faith. My sister went with them to meetings. We also had meetings in our home. Both Alice and Olive went to Australia in 1928. Before going there they gave us a copy of The Hidden Words. I then thought I was a Bahá’í. My sister attended assembly meetings and feasts and I went with her to firesides and public meetings, but it must have been a year later when I said that I wished that I could attend the feasts, and Alice said I must sign a card. After that I was elected onto the Local Spiritual Assembly and attended the Nineteen Day Feasts.
The first National Spiritual Assembly and the Local Spiritual Assemblies were elected in England in 1923. Before that date Mr Hall and Mr Craven had met `Abdu’l-Bahá in Liverpool. All the Manchester Bahá’ís always spoke of `Abdu’l-Bahá as The Master. Shoghi Effendi visited the friends in Manchester before he became Guardian of the Faith. Several of the friends had tablets from The Master, so you can understand the spiritual atmosphere in that community.
When I became a Bahá’í we did not know about the Fast, but we did know that the Local Spiritual Assembly was ordained by Bahá’u’lláh and that it was a great privilege to serve on it. Shoghi Effendi said the Local Spiritual Assemblies must undertake responsibility for the regular meetings of the friends, feasts, anniversaries etc.; that they must meet often and realise that in the future they would be known as the Local Houses of Justice. It devolves upon us to consolidate the foundations of these Assemblies, promoting at the same time a fuller understanding of their purpose and a more harmonious cooperation for their maintenance and success.
We had a Local Spiritual Assembly meeting every Monday evening at 7.30 p.m. A copy of the minutes of every meeting was sent to the National Spiritual Assembly. During the war it was difficult to get a bus and once I arrived at a meeting at 7.40 p.m., so in the minutes Mr Sugar recorded that Ada Williams was ten minutes late. Mr Craven said it was not my fault and should not be recorded in the minutes. Although we never knew whether an air-raid would prevent us getting home, none of us ever missed an Assembly meeting or a Nineteen Day Feast. Manchester was very vulnerable due to the docks and the munitions in TraffordPark. We only had water at our feasts during the war as everything was on rations, from clothes to food – bread, butter, tea, sugar, milk etc. (our ration was only 2 oz. of butter a week) but we had a wonderful spiritual atmosphere, which was a great help during that awful time. I had a fireside at my home where one friend brought bread, and another dripping.
Among the speakers at firesides in our home were Hasan Balyuzi, Helen Bishop, David Hofman, Dorothy Baker, Emeric Sala, Sister Challis, Miss Goldman and others.
We first had registration cards in 1939.
At the first Summer School Lady Blomfield said that in the future there would be so many Bahá’ís at National Convention and Teaching Conference that we would have to wear our names, as we would not all know each other. It seemed impossible then. Mark Tobey and Richard St. Barbe Baker were also at that summer school.
During the war I took a temporary job at Metropolitan Vickers where I inspected the automatic pilot for ‘planes. In April 1948 the National Spiritual Assembly asked me to pioneer to Glasgow but I was unable to leave as my mother and younger sister were both ill. A few months later my mother died and my sister went to live with one of my married sisters, so I asked the firm for a transfer to the factory in Motherwell. I was the first Bahá’í in the West of Scotland. It was difficult finding somewhere to live. The National Assembly advised me not to say I was a Bahá’í, but it was too late. I made friends with a family in Glasgow and one of their sisters offered me accommodation in Busby where I slept on two chairs and had to leave the house at 5.30 a.m. to get a bus to Glasgow and then another to Motherwell. Nellie Winstanley came to see me, and when she returned to Manchester, she told Albert Joseph the trouble I had been having in finding somewhere to live, so he got in touch with his office in Glasgow and his traveller found me a place in Motherwell.
I had been in Motherwell a few months when I went with Dick Backwell to an Esperanto Lecture in Glasgow. It finished at 9 p.m. and Dick asked me to have a coffee, but I said I had better go for the bus. I arrived home at 10.20 p.m. and the lady I was living with said her house had always had a respectable name and no decent girl would be out after 10 p.m. She said she could not wish for anybody nicer in the house, but would I find somewhere else to live. Dr Lotfullah Hakim was in Edinburgh then, and they invited me to their Nineteen Day Feasts, so when I went to meet the Guardian in Haifa, Dr Hakim met us on the boat and my first greeting in Haifa was “Here she is – nice but not respectable”!
David Hofman met a lady in Canada, who gave him her sister’s address in Glasgow. He sent it to me, and when I went to visit Susan McKechnie, she told me it was her stepsister in Canada and they had never met. Susan later became the first person to become a Bahá’í in Glasgow. Afterwards two of her sons and her brother, with his daughter, became Bahá’ís. Her son Tom asked me to say the ‘special prayer’ for him as he was going for a job the next day. I found out later that owing to sickness and hunger as a child, he could not read or write. I said The Tablet of Ahmad for him. The next day two hundred men applied for the job of fireman on a boat and Tom got it.
Dick Backwell found me a place in Glasgow, so I told the lady in Motherwell I would leave on the Friday. I was then asked to postpone my removal until the Monday. I did not know what to do for the weekend. I read The Tablet of Ahmad and received a letter from the National Spiritual Assembly asking me to go to Convention and saying they would pay my expenses. When I was first a delegate to Convention, there were only nine delegates – and afterwards nineteen.
Adib and Zarin Taherzadeh came to make up the nine for the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Glasgow. Zarin gave birth to her baby son in a Glasgow hospital and I had the pleasure of telling Adib he was a father.
After the Local Spiritual Assembly was formed in Glasgow the Guardian asked the National Assembly to set boundaries. The Teaching Conference put Motherwell on the map and asked me to go, and so I remained there until their L.S.A. was formed. I gave talks in Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen.
In 1964 at Teaching Conference there were two assemblies below nine – Inverness and Blackpool. I offered to go to Inverness but Tom Mackenzie asked if I would go to Blackpool because he was able to get a job in Inverness. So I went to Blackpool and obtained a post as companion to a lady whose husband was a director with a firm in South Africa. It was a beautiful bungalow. I had a lovely bedroom and bathroom. A lady did the cleaning and a man looked after the garden. When I had been there a month, I discovered the lady had mental health problems and I gave in my notice. I went to bed and remembered “Bring yourself to account each day.” Would The Master leave a job He did not like for somebody else to do? The next morning I said I would stay. I remained until the lady died and her husband left me some money in his will for my kindness to his wife. I felt the money was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s. I was going to send it all to the National Spiritual Assembly, but used it for travel teaching, after sending a fifth of the amount to the N.S.A.
While in Blackpool I wrote to the Minister of the UnitarianChurch and asked if they would like a Bahá’í speaker. The Minister was a friend of Bill Hellaby and he said he would be delighted. I went to our Local Assembly and informed them that now we have the people and the room and no expenses. I was thrilled until the L.S.A. said that as I had arranged it, I could be the speaker! All the Bahá’ís came and after the talk the Minister said that anybody who wished could remain to ask questions. That was at 8 p.m. and everybody remained, and at 10 p.m. the Minister said it was time to close the Church. It was a wonderful evening due to the unity of all the friends. We were asked to speak in Cleveleys and Chorley churches too.
My sister went out of the Cause while I was in Scotland and after her husband died in 1970 I went to live with her in Blackpool. She came back into the Faith and we both pioneered to Deganwy. I used to attend the Feasts in ColwynBay. Now we have our own assembly and because my sister is too ill for me to leave her, the friends are wonderful and all come to my home, so I am still able to attend the Nineteen Day Feasts.
Note: As a service to the Faith, Ada Williams embarked on many travel-teaching trips. She visited numerous places in the British Isles, travelled to several countries in Europe and much further afield to Canada, South Africa, Lesotho, The Gambia, Sri Lanka and the islands of the Caribbean.
Ada visited Haifa three times. She met the Guardian on her first pilgrimage in 1953/54. The next visit was to accompany Joan Gregory’s mother. The third time was a special three day visit to thank Bahá’u’lláh for all the blessings which she had received.