A Spiritual Journey
I was born Jacqueline May Tadman in Newport, South Wales in April 1944. My parents Edith and Thomas Albert moved to South Yorkshire when I was a few months old. My sister Pat was born five years later. Neither of my parents actually attended church regularly, but my mother considered herself an Anglican. My father believed in God but found organised religion difficult to accept. He had a profound effect on my early childhood in several ways. He loved to read and had many books and encyclopaedias which he would read and digest for hours. However, it was a set of National Geographical Journals about all the different people and cultures of the world which I loved. It was full of wonderful pictures and information on the different countries of the world. My father had a great empathy and interest in all the different peoples and cultures of the world and was free from any prejudice. He instilled in me a great respect for others and a gratefulness that we had been born into such a rich and free society. He was one of the most honest people I have ever met and a most humble one. He gave me an insight into the inequalities of the world and I developed a hope that maybe one day I might travel to Africa and help the people there, although I had no idea how I might do this!
The Journey Begins
My first spiritual encounter was aged four when I was taken to a local Christian chapel for Sunday School. I can remember vividly the stories about God, Jesus and the Bible. It made a lasting impression on me and I never doubted God’s existence even though I could not understand it! My imagination, which has always been very good, was fuelled with these wonderful stories. I imagined God to be a man with a head of white hair and a long white beard with a white flowing cloak seated on a throne. Someone who could see me at all times! I soon developed a strong conscience. It still didn’t stop me from being naughty at times though!
During the next several years I went to the Methodist chapel and later joined the Congregationalist Church but after a short time there soon realised this wasn’t what I was looking for either. I decided that my future lay with the Anglican Christ Church Brampton Bierlow, South Yorkshire. I started there when I was eleven years old and was confirmed by the Bishop of Sheffield on 17 November, 1957.
All seemed to go well. I enjoyed the ritual of celebrating the Holy Communion and the hymn singing and being asked to read on special occasions. I came away feeling really happy; after all this was the Anglican Church! However, when I was 14 I really started to seriously question the fact that Christianity was 2000 years old and how applicable was it in today’s world? This became an increasing problem for me and also the fact that I couldn’t get any closer to Christ. I always read a passage from the Bible every night before I went to sleep and one of the readings that kept coming to mind was ‘seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you’. I had no idea what this would mean until several years later.
During my last year at school I decided I wanted to be a nurse and applied for the pre nursing course at Rotherham Hospital. I was accepted and went to Rotherham Technical College until I was 18 and started my student nurse training. At 19 my mother was ill and had to retire and the family moved to Blackpool. I was asked to help by running the business until it was sold and then I moved to Blackpool too. I never questioned why I should leave my training at Rotherham but later I was very pleased that I did!
After about 18 months I realised that nursing was what I really wanted to do and so applied to restart my training at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. I was accepted and in April 1965 I began a rather wonderful spiritual journey.
A New Beginning
During my first night duty at the hospital in the following September I had my first encounter with a Bahá’í. One night the nurse I was working with mentioned that the charge nurse on duty was Mr Shaw and he had a peculiar practice of leaving a book, usually on the night station, where it could be easily found and pretend he had mislaid it, hoping that someone would pick it up and read it! She said he belonged to a very strange religion nobody had ever heard of or understood so not to worry, just give it back when he comes to look for it! Of course I couldn’t give it back before I had a peek! It was full of strange looking words so not surprising that it was difficult to understand! He eventually did come back to look for it and I mentioned it looked rather different from the usual prayer book. He said it was a new religion from Iran called the Bahá’í Faith and tried to explain a little more to me but I could not understand it very much! I saw him the following week and this time he asked if my colleague and I would like to go for supper and learn a little more. His wife Mary was a Bahá’í and worked as a staff nurse in out-patients theatre. We said yes, and arranged to go the following week to Bispham where they lived. At 5.30 that evening my friend rang to say she had changed her mind and did not want to go. I felt a little uneasy myself wondering what on earth I was getting into! However, I knew I had to honour the invitation as, after all, we were expected for a meal. I caught the bus into town and waited for the Bispham bus to arrive. After half an hour I found someone to check the bus times for me. He said I had missed one and another was due in an hour or so. This would have made me very late and I was beginning to worry. I saw a taxi across the road and asked him to take me to the address I had. We must have gone all around for what seemed ages before he admitted he had no idea where the address was. He called in to his office and they told him it was a brand new estate and then where to find it. Eventually I arrived somewhat late, very wary and wondering what on earth was I doing there!
As soon as Stan introduced his wife Mary and young daughter Alison who was about 10 years old then, I began to relax and enjoy my supper of pork chops! Afterwards, I began the first of what was then to become intensely stimulating evenings investigating the Bahá’í faith, asking questions and bringing books home to read. I looked forward to every weekly visit. I think I became a Bahá’i after reading my first few books, God Loves Laughter, Release the Sun and Thief in the Night by William Sears and Portals to Freedom by Howard Colby Ives. Soon I began to feel such elation at such a Revelation that was slowly opening up before me that I wanted to shout it out to everybody on the bus going home! Of course they would have thought me deranged! However, one question I had to find the answer to was where does Jesus Christ fit into all this? When Mary explained about progressive revelation it was wonderful. The principles of the faith I already believed in, the wonderful majestic figure of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, His perfect life and example to mankind and the early heroic history of the faith made compelling and humbling reading and all this before I had read a word from the Holy Books! The answer to all my prayers and questions had been answered and more. Christ, I felt, had been guiding me all along to find the truth and I am so glad that I didn’t dismiss Mr Shaw’s book as just another funny religion!
Getting Started on the Right Path
It takes a long time to adjust to such a life-changing experience and it did take me a while to really begin to understand what the Faith meant. I had found it very easy to accept Bahá’u’lláh and the principles and spiritual values with the loving care and help from the Blackpool Local Spiritual Assembly. There was a wonderful group of people. As well as Stan and Mary there were Alice and Tom Curwen (known to us as Auntie Alice and Uncle Tom), their daughter and son-in-law Pru and Stan Low, Alice’s brother Richard and his wife Connie Lancaster. Jean and Andrew Gash moved into Blackpool and we had a good LSA. Whilst I was secretary and Andrew was chairman, we were asked to host the first National Teaching Conference in 1968 to be held outside Manchester. It was a daunting task. However, Andrew was excellent in helping me with the secretarial work involved and all the Assembly members helped in every way to make it a success. We had lots of visiting speakers and my mother and sister started to attend meetings too. My parents were very happy to let the Bahá’is use our home for Local Assembly meetings and enjoyed their company. I had a lovely friend who was a student nurse at the hospital; her name was Sandra and she too became a Bahá’í and married another Bahá’í, Abdul Noah.
When I heard that Hand of the Cause William Sears was coming to Manchester Bahá’i Centre to give a talk, I had to go! After reading all his books I wanted very much to hear him speak. I don’t remember much about that evening but afterwards I asked him if he would sign a book for me to give to a friend of mine who I thought might be interested. A few days later I heard that he was going to Kendal for the weekend and being hosted by Madeline and Bill Hellaby. Soon Sandra and I were making arrangements for time off so we could go for the weekend. It was wonderful and we heard a really inspiring talk on the importance of the Local Spiritual Assembly and working together in unity, using a set of nine light bulbs! What a lovely weekend it was, and highly charged emotionally. It took us several days to come back to earth afterwards!
We had lots of meetings and firesides during that time. Lou and John Turner would come over regularly from Southport with their son John. After I had left Blackpool my mother and sister Pat continued with the meetings as the Bahá’ís were good friends. It was at a fireside at the home of Pru and Stan Low, when Lou Turner was giving a talk and showing slides of the Holy Shrines, that my sister said it all became rather emotional for her. She recalls “afterwards we were having refreshments and I was talking to Lou when I suddenly felt myself declaring as a Bahá’í and at that precise moment my mother who was talking to Auntie Alice at the other end of the room suddenly declared as well! Both of us simultaneously and without any idea what the other was thinking! What a wonderfully exciting night that was.”
My family emigrated to Australia in 1970. Then Pru and Stan also emigrated along with her parents, and Andrew and Jean Gash followed afterwards. They all continued to render great service to the faith. My father also declared himself a Bahá’í before he died.
After graduating as a State Registered Nurse in 1968 I started to think about Africa and doing a year of service or pioneering. I applied for a post as nursing sister for the Zambian Government. I went to London for my interview through the Crown Agents. They offered me the post that day and I flew out on 26 February 1969 on an initial one year’s contract.
I was posted to Kitwe Central Hospital on the Copperbelt. This was a really good place to be as the first pioneer to Zambia in the fifties was Eric Manton and he lived with his family in Luansha just outside Kitwe. His wife Jessie had been working as a missionary before meeting Eric and becoming a Bahá’í. They were lovely and helped me to settle in. They had an adopted daughter, Mary, who had learning difficulties. There were very few Bahá’ís there at that time; mostly pioneers coming and going and a few very good local Bahá’ís. However, in the remoter parts of the country there were many. The most difficult part of teaching was the communication factor. There were several different tribes, all with their own language, and finding interpreters was difficult. Holding the Annual Convention was always a task but we always managed to succeed!
I spent a short time serving on the National Spiritual Assembly. This was a humbling experience and also a great surprise regarding the amount of work that was involved. There was a very dedicated and lovely Bahá’í called Ethna Daka. Ethna, I think, came from America but married a local Zambian Bahá’í and she was secretary of the NSA. [Ethna was in fact from Australia – see comments. Ed.]
I met my husband Christopher in Kitwe. He was an engineer on contract to Anglo American Mine Corporation. He was a practising Anglican but was sympathetic and understanding about the Faith. He read God Loves Laughter and thought it OK! He has continued to be supportive for over 40 years! We married in Kitwe in 1971. I had extended my contract to the full three years and then stayed longer on a local contract until we left Zambia.
During my time in Kitwe pioneers came from Iran and the UK. I was so lucky to have met Val Jones, now Val Rhind, who came to teach at one of the primary schools. Val was a dedicated and experienced Bahá’í and I learned a lot from her. We did various teaching projects together.
One day we received a 16mm cine film on the opening of the Panama Temple. We couldn’t view it as we had only 8mm film projectors. Someone suggested we call the local TV station and ask if we could view it on their monitor so I rang and they said yes, come along Sunday afternoon. Val and I went along and as we were viewing the film Ignatius Chileshe came in. He was a popular TV presenter with his own show called “Round the Copperbelt” which was shown every week. He wanted to know all about the film, then asked us if he could use it on his programme the following week?! We couldn’t believe it! He asked if he could interview one of us before and after the film so it would almost fill his show! Val said I should do it and she came along for moral support. Just as well as when we arrived Ignatious hadn’t prepared anything for the programme which was due to go out live within an hour. We quickly scribbled a few questions for him to ask before and after the programme. Fortunately prayer and faith got us through and it went very well!
One of the most momentous times was when Rúhíyyih Khánum with her constant companion Violette Nakhjaváni came to Kitwe on her great African tour. They were staying at the Edinburgh Hotel in Town. I went to see Violette and we had coffee together and she said Rúhíyyih Khánum was resting as she was not too well and she liked to fast at times. Violette was rather worried that she might need some extra vitamins to help her get well so could I please give her an injection of multivitamins the following day! Naturally I was very relieved to hear that she had begun eating and was feeling better the following morning! She consented to see Christopher and me that afternoon in her room. It was quite surreal as she rested on her bed and we sat in the window chatting about Africa and the question of apartheid. Christopher started talking about the British Empire in connection with something or other and Rúhíyyih Khánum suddenly said “ Christopher you’re a typical British snob!!” I remember some of the small things she said like people always seem to want to put the photograph of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the foot of their bed so they could see it, when in fact out of reverence they should have it at the head of the bed. She also said that if people can only hear the name Bahá’u’lláh it can have an effect and cause a connection without the person even knowing. I missed her public address but Val went and said she was brilliant, particularly in answering some of the questions that were asked. She had the ability of making everything simple to understand.
Looking back now, such a lot has happened since we returned to the UK at the end of 1973. Soon after we left, Christine and Billy Lee moved to Ndola, the next large town on the Copperbelt. I had last met them at a weekend deepening at Chris’ sister’s home – Marion and her then husband Mike Cleasby in Bolton. The next time we met was over 40 years later on pilgrimage!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Africa. I enjoyed my work there and did manage to make a difference, I think. I was in charge of Women’s Surgical which covered general surgery, gynaecology and orthopaedics. It had been very challenging and was extremely busy but it was very worthwhile and gave me some very valuable experiences. When I went on local contract after my marriage the senior medical superintendent in charge of the hospital asked me to be his personal assistant. We are still friends to this day.
Family and all that
After we returned to England, Christopher was offered a post back at his old company Adamson Alliance Engineering, which he took and we settled in his home village in Telford, Shropshire. This was at the end of 1973. There had been three Bahá’í youth in the area and all were at university. Sometime later I met Kerry Day, a lovely young mum of two children who was a dedicated Bahá’í. I recall that my moving into the Wrekin area had fulfilled a goal for the Local Spiritual Assembly of Shrewsbury! Dr Ta’eed and his family were very encouraging and supportive, as were the Shrewsbury Bahá’ís. The West Midlands Teaching Committee sent lots of great speakers. Paddy and Steve Vickers, Rocky Grove and John Dunthorne (then living in Stourbridge, now in Louth) came and gave a series of talks. Betty and Ken Goode from Stafford arrived one weekend to help leaflet drop for public talks. Our house was blessed by so many friends wanting to help.
At the same time I had two children; my daughter was born in 1974 and my son in 1979. I was also working as a District Nursing sister part time as well as studying with the Open University. Home life was pretty busy and as Christopher was Vicar’s Warden, when the vicar died he had to take charge of the church until a new vicar was found some two years later! So we had Bahá’í meetings one month and church meetings the next! I received a phone call from the Rural Dean one day saying he had had a meeting with all the local clergy and suggested to them that during the coming season of Lent they should think about asking speakers from other faiths to come and give them a talk! He had given my name and said he felt sure I’d be pleased to tell them about my faith. Three dioceses responded, so off I went into the lion’s den! The first talk was from the local church in the next town and the vicar had brought along three students of theology! I was a little nervous but soon relaxed and managed even to answer some of their very deep questions. This is where reading daily just a few words from the holy texts can come in very handy! There were some who seemed very angry at what I was saying and one young lady in particular became quite rude, but I stayed very composed. At the end of the evening the vicar apologised for his flock and I said that everyone was entitled to their own opinion and had to find the truth for themselves. I was reminded of what Shoghi Effendi said about knocking on the doors of coffins!
After some time we were ready to form an Assembly. It had been an intense time but we were almost there! However, within a couple of months it all fell apart through various problems and people moving away for work. I was feeling particularly low one morning and wondering why it had all gone wrong after the hard work we had done. Suddenly the phone rang and it was Madeline Hellaby. She said, I know what’s happened and I want you to know I think you’re a brick! These are tests for us and you are holding on there! How strange she should ring just at that precise moment when I was at my lowest! Afterwards I remembered the words from a song … just pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again! However, I never did stay long enough to see an LSA formed as we left Telford in 1985 because Christopher was transferred to an Engineering Company near Derby. There were some new enthusiastic Bahá’ís like Carole Steel who had been one of my patients. She and her children were quite wonderful. They all continued the work and eventually completed the goal of forming a Local Spiritual Assembly.
Moving to Amber Valley fulfilled Derby LSA’s goal for the 5 Year Plan. God works in mysterious ways! I have lived here now for over 25 years. I have been mainly involved with Derbyshire SACRE and have taken the Faith to primary school assemblies, and to secondary and public schools. I have seen the concept of the Faith change over the years and the opening up of wider discussion and tolerance.
I am in awe of my faith and never felt it as much as when Christopher and I went on Pilgrimage in 2009. Even though still not a Bahá’í he was very impressed with what he encountered and the fact that he was treated exactly the same way as everyone else was something he appreciated very much. What a privilege it was and the sense of wonderment, humility and sense of great pride as I walked every day down the Terraces early morning. What a journey from reading my Bible each evening and wondering about God today and how it all fitted together. It feels almost like a dream sometimes because it is so wonderful a Revelation and I still wonder how on earth I was chosen to be a part of it. Perhaps it is as simple as it says in Mathew 7:7 – “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”
Jackie Carter, August 2012