Pixie MacCallum

Pixie MacCallum

In my family my father, a doctor, was a Methodist and my mother a member of the Christian Science church. They do not believe in regular doctors but use “healing practitioners” – the first dichotomy in my family. I went to a Church of England boarding school and my brothers went to a Quaker boarding school!  At a young age I stopped going to Sunday school finding things I could not agree with at my mother’s church.  At school we were obliged to go to church on Sundays but I felt unable to utter the words “Christ descended into hell” and could not figure out how these people around me could say that if they thought He was the Son of God.  So by the time I attended the local community college in Oxford to complete my ‘A’ levels in 1961 I felt confused and decided I could not believe in Christ or God and did not want anything more to do with religion.

Then on a Wednesday afternoon in the autumn after a co-ed hockey game, as I stood and chatted to a Polish student, a Persian student approached us and invited us to come to a coffee evening the following day.  I thought “why not” as it would be a chance to meet some more young people.  We agreed to meet at a bus stop the next day and go together.  It became clear that each of my companions thought I was a friend of the other!  Anyway we arrived at the building of the Red Cross Society where we were warmly welcomed into the bed-sit of a middle-aged lady.  There were a few other young people there and an African student approached me and asked what I knew about the Bahá’í Faith.  I was taken aback when he mentioned religion but being fairly shy I decided to just sit quietly in a corner until whatever was going to happen was over then I would leave and not come back.  But I guess God had a different plan!  The youth had invited a speaker for the evening, Mr. David Hofman, and he gave a very logical presentation on progressive revelation in which all my unasked questions and confusions were addressed.  I sat spellbound and as a result continued to go every Thursday to these youth ‘firesides’.

I was given three books to read during the next few months – Renewal of Civilization, Paris Talks and Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.  The latter I found really difficult to read at first because of its airy fairy language.

On the morning of May 2nd 1962 my mother, before leaving for a few days, asked if I planned to become a Bahá’í.  I said I did not know, maybe before the following year when there was to be a big international Bahá’í congress in London.  However, later that day when I was sitting in an empty classroom in college reading Thief in the Night my heart was confirmed and I felt sure the Bahá’í Faith was the truth.  I knew there was some sort of Bahá’í gathering happening that night so I went to a lady’s house and knocked on the door and told her I wanted to be a Bahá’í.  She was very welcoming but said that I needed to write a letter to the Local Spiritual Assembly before I could join the other friends and took me to an empty room and provided me with a pen and paper. You cannot imagine how traumatic that was as I had no idea what to write, and have no idea what I did manage to write, but I’m sure it was very brief.  I was then welcomed to the celebration of the Twelfth Day of Ridván.

The Hofman family took me under their wing and made sure I was invited to events such as weekend schools.  I did attend the first World Congress in the Royal Albert Hall but was quite overwhelmed by the crowds, particularly all the Persian friends who, in many cases, were reuniting after some time because so many of them had pioneered to different countries around the world.  At times I felt quite lonely and awkward!  At one point I bumped into David Hofman, newly elected member of the first Universal House of Justice, and he took me to sit in the box allocated for members of the House of Justice!  I remember a few incidents from those days in London.  One was when the wife of an imprisoned Bahá’í in Morocco chanted a prayer and her young son sat on the podium and also said a prayer;  another was when Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga introduced the members of the first Universal House of Justice and David Hofman read out their first statement dated April 30th;  it was very poignant when Hand of the Cause ‘Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khánum talked about her beloved Shoghi Effendi and broke down at one point when mentioning how he had visited all his favourite places before his passing, and the African Bahá’ís present started singing “Alláh-Abhá”; then there was the time I looked down over the balcony and saw this little Persian man speaking, with Marzieh Gail translating into English.  I had no idea who he was so left the Albert Hall only to learn sometime later that it was Hand of the Cause Mr. Tarázulláh Samandari!  Happily I had a chance sometime later to hear him sharing his experience of being in the presence of Bahá’u’lláh at a meeting in London although we did not think that would actually happen.  He arrived late and seemingly extremely tired.  However, he asked for a glass of water, took some sips, jumped up on the stage and proceeded to talk in a vibrant voice.  I also attended the public meeting during the World Congress.  I had invited my cousin to come with me and we listened to Hand of the Cause Mr. Sears and Philip Hainsworth giving very animated presentations.  My cousin moved to South Africa shortly after that and we lost touch until I visited her in Cape Town in 1996, thirty three years later, and she, remembering I was a Bahá’í, got in touch with the local Bahá’ís before I arrived!

In 1963-1964 I spent a year studying in France and participating in Bahá’í activities in Lyons.  I attended the French winter school in the Vosges mountains near Strasbourg – very primitive accommodation but a great spirit.  We were joined each day by Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhlschlegel who, happily, was staying in a better hotel in a neighbouring village!

In 1964 I was blessed to be present for the inauguration of the House of Worship in Germany and had the bounty of gazing on the face of Bahá’u’lláh for the first time. Hand of the Cause ‘Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhíyyih Khánum anointed each of us with attar of rose from the Holy Land.  A few months later my friend and I abandoned a summer school near Ostend in Belgium, because she didn’t speak French, and hitchhiked to Frankfurt to see the Temple!  When we arrived at the Bahá’í National Centre we were disappointed to be told that we could not visit the Temple because there was no one up there.  So instead we helped out by stuffing envelopes in the office.  Then to our delight the lady gave us the key to the Temple which we promised to return, and so we set off by train and then by foot up the hillside to the Temple.  It was a glorious day and the spirit was amazing as we recited prayers in that peaceful place.  When we emerged we encountered three people outside – two nuns and a gentleman.  They were all German but one nun spoke French so I was able to tell her everything I knew about the Faith.  Prior to that I had difficulty talking about the Faith in French but must have been totally inspired by Bahá’u’lláh on this occasion.

In the summer of 1965 I attended a weekend event in Birmingham and left there having committed myself to a one week travel teaching  trip to the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides not having a clue where that was. I arranged to meet Fary Jabberi there. It became a popular comment:  “Pixie and Fary are going to the Isle of Skye!”  By the time we met up I had already visited the Outer Hebrides with another Bahá’í.  I found a job in Skye and ended up pioneering there. It was a goal of the Universal House of Justice during the Nine Year Plan to open the Inner Hebrides to the Faith.  10 December 1965 the Universal House of Justice sent a cable to all the National Spiritual Assemblies announcing that 93 of the 460 pioneers needed had settled in their posts including 15 Virgin Territories which they named and this list included the Inner Hebrides.  In the winter of 1965 I had to spend a few months working in Inverness as no jobs were available on Skye.  During my stay on the island I worked in hotels and hospitals.  In the middle of December1966 I left to go on pilgrimage not knowing whether I would return to my hospital job or not.  It was not to be.

On pilgrimage there were 20 of us, 10 from Iran and 10 from the West and I slept in the little house next to the Pilgrim House.  Even though I have been on pilgrimage four times since then, and on two three day visits, this is the visit which remains deeply embedded in my heart and soul.  We were guests of the Universal House of Justice so all our meals were provided for us.  I spent many hours in the Shrines either late at night or very early in the morning.  Hand of the Cause Paul Haney took 10 of us for our two night’s stay in the Mansion of Bahji.  He decided I should stay in the “chamber of horrors” – the room at the top of the stairs, off the corridor, which was filled with pictures of the Shahs, Popes, Czars etc.  I was the only young person on pilgrimage at the time so was thoroughly spoilt. During the nine days the weather was mostly stormy with thunder, lightning and much rain, so we were grateful for our hot water bottles in the Mansion.  During one of the two short nights each one of us spent time in the room of Bahá’u’lláh but we never saw each other and we all slept soundly!  We (10 of us) had the bounty of an extra visit with Ruhiyyih Khánum where she shared her slides of her recent trip to India.  I guess as I had been very quiet she asked me to stay behind and take the second car so that she could talk to me and ask about my time in the Isle of Skye.  Before I left Haifa I resolved to go pioneering to the New Hebrides in the Pacific.

However that was not to be!  On my return to England I attended the York Winter School for youth.  Over the years I have participated in many winter, summer, weekend schools and conferences throughout England, Canada, Alaska and other parts of the United States many of them attended by different Hands of the Cause.  One memorable weekend school in November 1964 was the first one held on the Cardells’ farm at St. Neots in Huntingdon-shire.  I served on the Youth Committee in Watford and we organized this event.  It was to be a trial run, i.e., if it went well then Ted and Alicia Cardell would happily hold other activities there in the future, and so many of us will remember their famous picnics.  Anyway the weekend school was a tremendous success.  The following day I had to attend an interview at Leicester Training College.  Normally I would have been very nervous and totally tongue-tied but because I was walking on air after the weekend I found the interview to be great fun and was not nervous at all.  In fact they offered me a provisional place at the college!

In the Spring of 1967 I was married.  We had the first Bahá’í wedding in Reading and we both served on the local Spiritual Assembly. That summer we travelled by train and bus to Írán.  I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit so many of the Bahá’í holy places there – The House of the Báb twice, the Mosque where the Báb spoke on His return from Mecca, the cemetery where Ahmad, the Báb’s son was buried, the Muslim shrine where the Báb’s wife’s remains were interred, the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Tihrán, Abádih, the home of the King of the Martyrs and Beloved of the Martyrs in Isfahán which contained many unique photographs of the early believers, visited the resting places of Mrs Keith Ransom-Kehler and the Beloved of the Martyrs and King of the Martyrs. En route to Írán our bus went through Máh-kú, and we spent one night in Tabríz.  On our return we were stuck in Edirne (Adrianople) for several hours just a few days before the Hands of the Cause were gathering there to commemorate the centenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s proclamation to the kings and rulers of the world.

On our return we went to Frankfurt for one of the six intercontinental conferences and again had the bounty of seeing the portrait of Bahá’u’lláh.  On the way home we decided to pioneer to Bedford which was one of the goals that year for the formation of a local Spiritual Assembly.  In the Autumn of 1968 we relocated to Birmingham.  While we were there we were able to be of service and support the Bahá’í community and assist in the re-election of its Assembly.  The community had been contaminated by the Covenant-breakers for a while. In the latter part of 1969 we moved to Bristol.  During our stay there we had the bounty of receiving Hand of the Cause Ugo Giachery and his wife, Angeline, who wished to visit the house where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had stayed.  I remember they gave us a beautiful red box of chocolates which was a huge treat for our family.

In the Spring of 1971 we committed ourselves to pioneer to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles).  The islands were referred  to by Shoghi Effendi as “the inhospitable islands fringing its northern and western coasts”.

Along with my mother-in-law and other pioneers we would be able to form the first local Spiritual Assembly at Ridván which was a priority of the UK National Spiritual Assembly at that time. We had just purchased our first house, so we moved in there on a Saturday in the middle of April, picked up my mother-in-law from the airport, coming from Iran, on the Sunday then travelled by car with the children to Glasgow the next day.  We left them with friends then travelled by train, bus and ferry to Stornoway for the formation of the Assembly on April 21st.  We had one Assembly meeting then returned to Bristol via Glasgow, collecting the girls on the way.  In Bristol we immediately put a “For Sale” sign in the window of our house which we sold quite easily.  My mother-in-law, the girls and I arrived back in Stornoway in June where we rented an old caravan for five weeks but would have to leave the day my son was due to be born!  My husband came separately driving a van with our meagre belongings.  There was no hot water or showers; two public toilets, cold running water and beds for four.  The caravan was exposed to the winds and the rain.  We then moved into the only house available which was located in the industrial area of town next to a cattle market and a builders yard; around one corner of the road was a fish meal factory and the other the abattoir!  The windows of the house were rotten, the front door had a big hole in it, the stairs were riddled with woodworm, water came up through the concrete floors and the walls and bedclothes were damp in the mornings! Thus began our very interesting and challenging life in Stornoway where two of my children were born.  During our time there whenever the Spiritual Assembly and the community were especially active then there would be opposition to the Faith from the pulpits in the churches and in the newspapers.  Many youth became Bahá’ís during that time.  I served on the local Spiritual Assembly during our years there sometime as its secretary.  We were very blessed to receive an overnight visit from Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir.  We asked him to stay longer but he said he had another meeting the following night.  However, God heard our plea; we had a very rare snowfall causing his flight to be cancelled!   After seven years we finally finished the renovations on our house just before re-locating once more this time to the heart of London where my husband was elected to serve as the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly.  This meant that we had to live in the National Hazíratu’l-Quds in Knightsbridge – what a contrast from the island.

During our time there I served on the Westminster Spiritual Assembly either as its chairman or secretary.  As time passed I became more and more involved in the work of the National Centre as well as taking care of our four children.  During our stay in London I had the opportunity to visit with a number of the Hands of the Cause but two incidents I remember particularly.  Dr. Muhajir’s family lived in Westminster at that time and at one Feast Dr. Muhajir suggested that all the Spiritual Assemblies in London consult together and have a publicity campaign by placing posters about the Faith on the London buses.  Our Assembly responded positively to this suggestion and with the financial assistance of other local Assemblies we were able to have beautiful Bahá’í posters on two bus routes across London (one being the No. 9) for at least a year.  The second significant event was a unique gathering with Hand of the Cause Mr. Hasan Balyúzí.  Mr. Balyúzí had been in retirement for many years spending his time writing significant Bahá’í literature.  However in 1979 after a heart attack and with encouragement from his cousin, who had been the custodian of the house of the Báb in Shíráz, he indicated that he would love to meet the friends at the meeting to be held for the Day of the Covenant Holy Day.  Our Assembly decided not to tell everyone in case the response was overwhelming but very much encouraged members of our community to attend this Holy Day celebration reiterating the fact that Shoghi Effendi had said this day “must be observed by the friends coming together”.  However, at that meeting there were only about two dozen of the friends present.  Counsellor Betty Reed, an old friend of Mr. Balyúzí’s, happened to be in London at that time and she was delighted to chair the meeting and introduce Mr. Balyúzí.  In his presentation he referred to the table in front of him being the one he had sat around many years before when he served on the National Spiritual Assembly.  He then went on to relate stories demonstrating firmness in the Covenant.  It was such a moving talk that at the end no one clapped.  You could have heard a pin drop it was so quiet and the atmosphere so spiritually charged.  He said that he hoped to come out and see the friends again.  So it was planned that he would come to the Nineteen Day Feast in January to which we also invited a neighbouring community.  The room was full, everyone anticipating his arrival.  However, Mr. Balyúzí was unwell and unable to attend and passed away a few weeks later.  How blessed I felt to have been part of that gathering on the Day of the Covenant.

In 1982, six months after the birth of our fifth child, we moved to Canada and after a short stay in Ontario pioneered to the Yukon Territory. There I stayed for twelve years serving on the local Spiritual Assembly, for many years as its secretary.  In the summer of 1984, with one other Bahá’í, we chaperoned twelve youth, two of them my own, on a bus trip to London Ontario to participate in an international youth conference attended by 1950 youth from 52 countries.  I volunteered at the Fund table.  While living in the Yukon we were blessed by visits from a number of  Hands of the Cause – Mr. John Robarts assisted at the sod turning for the Yukon Bahá’í Institute; Ruhiyyih Khánum was present at one summer school and Mr. and Mrs. Sears participated in another.  Mr. Sears also came to the Yukon in 1987 as part of his 11 day trip commemorating ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Canada.  When I heard there would be a second World Congress I knew I would somehow have to attend this one too and take my children.  We came to New York via many different routes so that we could participate in this amazing event.

In 1994 I moved again with my two youngest daughters, this time to Vancouver Island, where I served on the Spiritual Assembly of North Cowichan as its secretary.  In 1995  I attended the International Women’s Conference outside Beijing, China where I had the chance to volunteer at the ‘quiet tent’ organised by the Bahá’ís.  Then in January 1996 I set off on a seven month travelling teaching trip around the world to 16 countries in the five continents.  I was able to serve in a myriad of ways.

In 1996 I moved to Toronto where I served on the Spiritual Assembly of Vaughan, mostly as the secretary.  From 1998 to 2005 I had the bounty of serving at the Canadian Bahá’í National Centre as a secretary aide to the National Secretary.  In 2001 I was overjoyed to attend the jubilee celebrations in Uganda.  During the latter part of my service in Toronto I was able to spend one month in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, where we completed their first study circle in Ruhi Book 7 and I had the bounty of tutoring a number of other books with the local Bahá’ís.

I then retired and moved to Vancouver Island where I am currently serving on the Langford Spiritual Assembly and was secretary until I returned to the Bahá’í National Centre for a year at the request of the National Assembly.  Currently I’m serving as the treasurer of the Spiritual Assembly.  During these past six years I have also served as the cluster institute coordinator (and am currently doing so) and secretary of the Cluster Growth Committee (Area Teaching Committee).  I was also able to fulfil one of my dreams on retirement and that was to spend a three-month stay in the Marshall Islands tutoring more Ruhi books, and two stays of approximately four months each in Kampala, Uganda, where I was able to serve in their National Office and tutor Ruhi books.

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Pixie MacCallum

Pixie in 1963

Pixie in 1963

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