I was about nine or ten years old when I first heard about the Bahá’í Faith, in about 1953. My favourite lesson at school (Featherstone Road Junior, Southall, West London) was Social Studies. All we had to do was sit and listen to stories, told or read to us by a kind, friendly, elderly gentleman. The stories were typical “Boys Own” adventure stories, usually from Rudyard Kipling or Robert Louis Stevenson, and were about the notorious Gurkha soldiers who possessed very sharp knives which, according to tradition, once drawn in battle, must not be returned to their sheaths unless blood had been drawn. Failure to draw blood in battle meant that that individual soldier was obliged to cut his own little finger in order to not betray his own military tradition.
Our teacher also told us the story about a young Siyyid or turbaned youth who was dragged and pulled in chains as a prisoner through the streets of an ancient city somewhere in Persia. His crime was to have claimed to be a Messenger from God. The religious leaders at that time were cruel and punished him severely. I thought of Christ and His persecution at the hands of the clergy and leaders at the time of His mission. Also our teacher spoke about another prisoner in a prison city called Akká and that He wrote letters to the kings and rulers of the world, admonishing them and warning them of the dire consequences of their ungodly behaviour. This was for me all very exciting. There was the letter to Queen Victoria, and her response “If this is from God it will endure, if not it can do no harm”. I particularly remember that part of the story and I had a picture of it in my mind. Did this really happen? Where is the letter now? What happened to the prisoners? I thought about this story long after the end of the lesson. I was convinced that if Christ did return, He would indeed be persecuted or ignored by the religious leaders of our present time. They would fail to recognise Him once again. I kept my thoughts to myself; it was all like a dream that happened in the cosiness of the classroom.
However, about twenty years later, while on a pub crawl in Henley-on-Thames, I stumbled into a Penny Concert in the town hall where I met a group of young people calling themselves the Bahá’ís of Henley, and the same story was repeated! I was invited back to Mary Hardy’s house for more discussion at which I was told that all religions are one. Jesus, Mohammed and Bahá’u’lláh are part of a continuous process of revelation. The political conflicts and religious crusades were all a mistake as a result of a misunderstanding or religious prejudice. I accepted this explanation immediately. Of course it was the obvious truth. I borrowed a book The Promised Day is Come by Shoghi Effendi and read it. After reading the ‘Tablet to the Pope’ I became a Bahá’í, declaring my belief in Bahá’u’lláh to Bob Watkins in Reading on December 17th, 1973. I told all my friends and family and was disappointed in their negative reactions.
As I was the ninth adult Bahá’í in Wokingham Rural District community, I became a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly. They were very happy days for me. Everything was new and exciting. There seemed to be lots going on. Public meetings were the order of the day. In those days posters were drawn with a felt tip pen and along with letters and leaflets were photocopied at the local library. We put adverts in newspapers and stuck up posters in shop windows. I went to summer schools at Leicester and Tiverton that summer where I met Hands of the Cause, Dr. Muhajir, Mr Furutan and Mr Faizi. I went on pilgrimage in 1976 and saw Fujita, ‘Abdul-Bahá’s gardener and helper. He was very small, sitting on a table in the Pilgrim House, swinging his legs. He must have been very old.
Professor Soheil Bushrui also made a huge impression on me. I first heard him speaking at 27 Rutland Gate. He opened my heart and mind to the spiritual power in literature and poetry. I had never heard of Rumi, Hafiz or Saadi before meeting him.
When living in Purley-on-Thames, near Reading, we were actually living in Newbury Rural District and became members of the first Local Spiritual Assembly there, and had our photos taken together with other Bahá’í friends for archives purposes. We, together with the Reading Bahai’s, were involved with public meetings near Greenham Common, and the distribution of leaflets and invitations in Newbury town itself. Newbury and Greenham Common were sensitive areas at that time because of the nuclear missile base there. Some of the brave Greenham Common women protesters came to our meetings, not to listen but to warm themselves and use the washroom facilities!
In 1985 the Universal House of Justice published the Peace Message, and all over the country it was formally presented to local dignitaries, mayors, councillors, schools and newspaper editors. The editor of the Newbury Advertiser briefly befriended the Bahá’ís and became very interested in the teachings. He arranged for us to give a public talk / proclamation in the town hall, with some success.
At that time the Bahá’ís in Oxford, Abingdon and the Reading area became more involved and interested in the United Nations Organisation, and Malcolm Harper became a friend of the Bahá’ís. The Bahá’ís attempted to arrange for local UN members to give talks to schools. We posted letters to 50 schools in the Newbury district, offering to arrange a UN speaker to give talks about the work of the UN, world unity and peace. We did not receive any replies.
My family and I eventually moved to Henley-on-Thames close to the house where Mary Hardy had lived. The rest of my Bahá’í life and other details are recorded in my wife, Catherine’s story.