My background is Welsh. I lived in a small Welsh village with my parents and two brothers and a sister. We had a very happy childhood, though sometimes in modest circumstances, as Wales was badly affected by the Depression in the 1930’s. We all went to the village school and to the village church.
Particularly I remember the early Sunday morning walk with my grandmother, down Tingle Lane, full of violets and primroses at Easter time, along the river path to Ewenny Priory with its old stone church, a building dating from 1129, complete with its sturdy tower and even a leper squint.
I did well at the Grammar School and in 1941 I left Wales to go to University at Exeter, where I studied for an honours degree in French. I regularly went to the Cathedral, and as it was war-time I ‘firewatched’ there a couple of nights a week, and was there when the Baedeker raid took place and the city was heavily bombed and reduced to flames.
[See separate post about Barbara’s wartime experiences at Bletchley Park.]
Having obtained an honours degree in French and English, I went to London to work at the Foreign Office, and later, at the end of the war, on the administrative staff of the University of London.
I enjoyed meeting people of different cultures, and studied their religions. It seemed to me that there were many spiritual truths common to them all, and if there was a God, a just God, then all religions must be true. If one was right, then all must be right.
At this point I met the Bahá’ís, and as I learnt more of their Faith, everything seemed to fit into place like a jigsaw. The more I studied it, the more I came to realize that I could not turn my back on this.
It was in 1953 that I became a Bahá’í, after meeting some Persians and going with them to firesides at the home of an American Bahá’í, Mrs Doris Ballard, who worked at the American Embassy, and whom I regard as my Bahá’í spiritual mother – I owe her a great debt.
Very soon I was part of the London Bahá’í community, and was asked to serve on the Teaching Committee of the London Spiritual Assembly. When I had been a Bahá’í for only two or three months, I was invited to be a member of the European and Asian Teaching Committee. This served to support pioneers who were settling in their island goals in the Ten Year Crusade. This was a major Committee and I felt I had been thrown in at the deep end before I had learnt to swim.
After the Stockholm Conference (21-26 July 1953) some of these Bahá’ís never returned home but went straight on to their pioneer posts. As Secretary of the Committee, I wrote every month to these stalwart souls in the Orkneys, Shetlands, Hebrides, Hong Kong, Cyprus and the Channel Islands. Over the years I came to regard these dedicated Bahá’ís as my friends, all later to be designated Knights of Bahá’u’lláh.
All of this was a challenge, as the Faith and its administration was so new to me. However, on the Teaching Committee and the EATC, I had the bounty of working with wise and experienced Bahá’ís – one later to become a member of the Universal House of Justice, and another a Hand of the Cause of God. It was a great privilege at the start of my Bahá’í life, and on these two Committees I learnt a tremendous lot. I felt very blessed and very humble.
After about five years I left London to return to my home in Wales. My father had died very suddenly and I felt I should be nearer my mother. During my years in London I had also worked in a Government Ministry and spent six months taking a secretarial course, so I was suitably qualified to obtain the job of Secretary to the Registrar of the University of Wales, at University College, Cardiff.
In the first few days in Wales I was warmly welcomed by the Chairman and Secretary of the Cardiff Spiritual Assembly, who immediately informed me that as there was a vacancy on the Assembly I would now be a member of that Body, and there was a meeting on the following day!
Later I was to marry the Secretary, David Lewis, and so began many years of serving the Faith together, with the bounty of sharing our spiritual life, and bringing up two children (Erica and Robert) in the warmth and security of a Bahá’í home.
Over the years I served on the Regional Teaching Committee of the South West of England, and later on the National Teaching Committee. We travelled regularly to different parts of Wales and the South West of England, meeting the friends, speaking at Schools and Conferences, attending numerous firesides. Cardiff was a pivotal centre and had a special responsibility for extension teaching in South Wales, particularly in Pontypridd and Caerphilly, which later attained the status of Local Spiritual Assemblies.
At one stage I left the family to pioneer to Exeter, to maintain the Local Spiritual Assembly for a short time before being replaced by a more permanent pioneer.
In 1963 all our family had the great bounty of attending the first Bahá’í World Congress in the Royal Albert Hall, London, with 7,000 people from all over the world. It was a great and inspiring event. In 1964 we all went to the Dedication of the House of Worship in Frankfurt, and in 1965 David and I went on our first Pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines and the World Centre in Haifa. We were to have the bounty of going again in 1975 and in 1991.
While we were still living in Cardiff we were all shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. We travelled from Wales to pay our respects and to express our love at his funeral in North London in November 1957.
Eventually we left Cardiff and pioneered as a family to Winchester. With two other Welsh Bahá’ís (the Newman sisters) also pioneering, from Pontypridd, we made up the Assembly in this cathedral city – the ancient capital of England. For many years we served on the Local Spiritual Assembly and I was involved in teaching and travelling in the South of England.
In 1972 I was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly, and there followed an extremely busy and active period, involved, this time, with the life of the whole British Bahá’í community. With the continuing service locally, and membership of such national Committees as the N.T.C., the Assembly Service Committee, and the Personal Consultative Committee, as well as various sub-Committees of the N.S.A., life was very full. At one time I was the Vice Chairman of the N.S.A. This went on for nearly six years, and I had the privilege of participating in the International Conventions in Haifa on two occasions – in 1973 and in 1978.
As a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, I attended joint Conferences in Frankfurt, of other European National Spiritual Assemblies and European Auxiliary Board members called by the Counsellors in Europe. At the end of my service on the N.S.A. only two weeks elapsed before I was asked by the Continental Board of Counsellors in Europe to become an Auxiliary Board member for Propagation in the South and South West of the United Kingdom. A new phase of my Bahá’í life had begun, after a fortnight’s respite.
Now started a great deal more travelling as I tried to keep in touch with the communities in my area – consulting, advising, teaching, deepening, holding conferences and generally trying to bring out the dedication and service of the friends. It was a hard task, but a very rewarding one. I often felt that as the friends needed the institution of the Auxiliary Boards, so the members of that Board needed the friends, and their love and support. This affection was showered on the Board members as they were welcomed everywhere. As well as regular visits I made regular ‘phone calls to maintain contact with the individual Bahá’ís, Groups and Assemblies.
Sometimes I would invite representatives of several Local Spiritual Assemblies in a county to participate in a joint consultation when we would consider various aspects of Bahá’í life, and deepen in them – for example, the importance and significance of the Assembly and details of how it worked; the spiritual life of the individual; community life; family life; our responsibility in teaching, etc. etc. We would always study together Messages from the World Centre and from the other Institutions. David, Auxiliary Board member for Protection, would sometimes be involved in such gatherings, and then such things as the Covenant, the protection of the Cause and possible difficulties in a community would be added to the subjects studied. The friends would often participate by working in pairs or groups to answer quizzes or questionnaires after a short talk on a subject. The final plenary sessions of such workshops were very valuable and always generated lively discussion and more information, and then particularly helpful would be the contributions of the Persians, who possibly had access to translations and Tablets not available to us.
The weekends of the Unit Conventions were very busy, when I would try to attend at least one or two other Conventions apart from my own. There I would try to inaugurate teaching campaigns, and help to organise them in the weeks running up to Naw-Ruz and Ridván.
Another important aspect of the work of the Auxiliary Board member, I found, was the role of the Assistants. I endeavoured to have one in each County, and regularly held conferences for them all, to study their work, their relationship to the believers and to the Institution and to deepen the understanding of the believers as well as themselves in the developing role of the Assistants in this Branch of the Institution. Board members, in their turn, were helped in this by the guidance of the Hands and Counsellors at the annual meetings convened for Auxiliary Board members and sometimes Assistants.
Throughout my Bahá’í life there was never a time when I did not serve on the Local Spiritual Assembly, with the permission of the Counsellors during my time as Auxiliary Board member, and at all other times usually as Secretary except for three months in 1991, when David and I did a short-term pioneering project to Malta, for three months.
Since being released from service on Institutions, which meant I was constantly away from home at weekends, I now have the chance to be involved locally in non-Bahá’í, as well as Bahá’í activities, and have given talks to women’s organisations and church groups, and am membership secretary on the Committee of the local Branch of the British Federation of University Women, on the Committee of the Welsh Society and of the local branch of the British Diabetic Association. I have been on the Bahá’í Women’s Committee, and with David, have been on the Bahá’í Withdrawal Panel.
Professionally I have been a lecturer in the Eastleigh College of Further Education, having taken a Certificate in Education as a Postgraduate, and another Diploma in Secretarial Studies in recent years.
I was able to attend great Bahá’í events, such as Helsinki in 1976, Dublin in 1982, and New York for the second World Congress in 1992. These have been highlights in my life, and I feel very fortunate to have had such opportunities and to have had such a long and busy Bahá’í experience, and particularly to have been to the Holy Land on five memorable visits.
Winchester, Ridvan 1993
On Barbara’s passing in 2004 the National Spiritual Assembly received this message:
The Universal House of Justice was saddened to learn of the passing of faithful maidservant of Bahá’u’lláh Barbara Lewis. It recalls with gratitude her years of consecrated service to the Cause she loved on your Assembly, as a member of the Auxiliary Board and as a pioneer, both on the home front in England and Wales and further afield to Malta. Her family and loved ones are assured of its prayers at the Sacred Threshold for the progress of her soul and for their comfort in their bereavement.