John made his declaration in October 1962, just two weeks after his fifteenth birthday. His mother, Lou Turner, had become a Bahá’í earlier in the year, and John had been to many firesides at the home of Madeline and Bill Hellaby, and to regular meetings at the Bahá’í Centre in Liverpool.
In those days it was necessary to write a letter to the Local Spiritual Assembly stating one’s belief in Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb as Manifestations of God, and that the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been read.
Gladys Pritchard was the Secretary of the Liverpool Assembly at that time, and in her reply to John’s letter, she wrote that he was the first Liverpool youth to become a Bahá’í, and that he was making history!
The year following his declaration (1963) the Bahá’í World Congress was held in London, and John and his parents and Lou’s mother (Hagar Wall) were present in that marvellous assemblage in the Royal Albert Hall. They witnessed the unforgettable moment when the members of the newly elected Universal House of Justice stood on the stage, amidst joyful applause and the flowing of tears from the hearts of so many dear Bahá’ís from all over the world!
John was, at that time, Head Boy at the Collegiate Grammar School, Liverpool, and from there he spent three years at Downing College Cambridge. During the year before starting University, he spent five months in Iceland, with a Bahá’í family who were pioneers from Canada.
Hand of the Cause John Ferraby, and his wife, Dorothy, were members of the Cambridge Bahá’í Community during those years, and that whole period was a wonderfully happy time. Each year he went to the Summer School in Coleg Harlech; it was always a joyful and inspiring experience.
At the age of 18 John went with his parents to the Holy Land on Pilgrimage. They were there during Ridvan 1966, and on 21 April all the Pilgrims and staff working at the World Centre gathered in the beautiful gardens, facing the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. The members of the House of Justice spoke to the friends, and a very moving devotional was held. John was given the honour of taking part in the programme of prayers and readings, and was later congratulated by three House members: Mr. Ian Semple, Mr. ‘Alí Nakhjavání and Mr. David Hofman.
Just twelve days before their Pilgrimage the Turners had pioneered from Liverpool to Southport, where some wonderfully inspiring Firesides took place.
When John graduated, in 197O, he pioneered to Cork in the Republic of Ireland, along with his parents, John and Lou, to help in the formation of the first Spiritual Assembly of that City. They eventually moved into a house in St. Joseph’s Lawn in Bishopstown, and John was given the wonderful work of settling the travelling people in permanent homes.
In 1972 the first National Spiritual Assembly came into being, with only four Local Assemblies in the whole of the Republic of Ireland. Hand of the Cause of God William Sears addressed that exciting Convention. It was a great, historical moment. John was afforded the great blessing of being elected to that National Assembly which he loved and served with all his heart. He was always tremendously happy to be attending the N.S.A. meetings, usually held in Dublin or Dunlaoghaire. On one or two occasions the Turner family were given the privilege of having the National Assembly meetings in their home in Cork.
Another great honour was having dear Adib Taherzadeh staying with them, during the time that he was writing one of his volumes of The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. Adib and his wife, Lesley, were members of the National Spiritual Assembly, with Zebbie Whitehead, Margaret Magill, Joe Watson, Eleanor O’Callaghan, Philip O’Brien and Paddy Dawson. These souls carried out their dedicated service to Bahá’u’lláh in the work of nurturing that precious Bahá’í Community of the Republic of Ireland.
It was a time of great excitement; as large numbers of young people declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh, bringing enormous love for the Cause, and expressing their love and faith in beautiful, inspiring songs.
Hand of the Cause of God John Robarts visited Ireland and spoke passionately to the friends about the importance and power of prayer. Dr. Muhajir also came to inspire the hearts with love for teaching, and Mr. William Sears spent one night in the home of the Turner family, and to John’s delight, Mr. Sears slept in his bed!
At Ridván 1973 John took part in that deeply moving and important task of the election of the Universal House of Justice. It was John’s second visit to the Holy Land – to Haifa and the beautiful gardens on Mount Carmel. That whole experience was one of the most wonderful highlights of John’s life. He was immensely impressed and affected by his meeting with Amatú’l-Bahá, Rúhíyyih Khánum.
In July of that same year John and dear Zoe Backwell were married. The Registry Office ceremony took place in Larne, in Northern Ireland in the home of the Registrar, and the couple, with their families, then drove down to the home of Adib and Lesley Taherzadeh in Dun Laoghaire for their Baha’i wedding, stopping for a picnic lunch on the border. Many loving friends were there, in a spirit of great happiness, except for their sadness that John would be leaving the Ireland he loved so deeply and which had inspired him to write a number of poems and to create a series of pen and ink drawings illustrating the Seven Valleys of Bahá’u’lláh, and other Bahá’í subjects.
John and Zoe went to live in Hamilton, in Scotland, where Zoe was finishing her teacher-training course. While working as a trainee social worker John completed his social work qualification at the University of Glasgow and both he and Zoe served on the Spiritual Assembly of Hamilton, as Secretary and Treasurer respectively.
At Ridvan 1974 John was asked to represent the National Assembly at the re-formation of the Spiritual Assembly of the Shetlands, so he and Zoe flew up to Lerwick for that occasion. In fulfilling this role John reminded the friends that we were a part of the process of building the foundations of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, and that those foundations are composed of rough stones but that on that firm basis the shining pillars of the new structure will rise.
In 1975 John received his MA from Cambridge and undertook a new project for the Bahá’í Committee for the Blind – that of recording Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh onto 8 tapes.
In July 1976 John helped his parents and grandmother in moving from Oakham to Anglesey. Three months later he and Zoe drove from Hamilton to Llangefni to spend a few days with his family in their new home. The morning after their arrival John’s father suffered a massive heart attack from which he died almost immediately.
This sad event was followed, just three months later, by the passing of John’s grandmother (Hagar Wall) to the Abhá Kingdom. He and Zoe immediately made plans to leave Scotland and move to Anglesey, to live with John’s mother.
Before leaving Hamilton John served as Chairman at a gathering of the friends held in Glasgow to meet with Hand of the Cause Mr Faizi, and also spoke at a public meeting in the local community.
He and Zoe then served on the Spiritual Assembly of Ynys Mon. Initially, for a short period, John worked on a local farm and was then employed for a year at Shire Hall, Llangefni, and, later, at the University of North Wales in Bangor.
In December 1977 John and Zoe had become the proud parents of a beautiful baby daughter, whom they called Anisa. John also started his new job at the university where he worked in the department of Social Theory and Institutions, with Dr Gordon Grant, a friend and fellow member of the Anglesey community.
The project he was working on concerned the delivery of social services in rural areas and the required research took him to many parts of North Wales. He was ideally suited for this work, with his gentle, caring disposition. He felt keenly for the elderly people who lived alone and who received no visits from their relatives.
It was on one of his visits to Mold that a tragic accident took place. Driving on an icy road out of Old Colwyn his car collided with a lorry, and he was taken by ambulance to Rhyl Memorial Hospital. John suffered severe head injuries from which he died, less than 48 hours later. It was the first day of February 1979 when his lovely spirit left this world, and from Unit Conventions (all over the UK) messages of grief and sorrow were sent to his family. The National Spiritual Assembly had sent some beautiful flowers to the hospital, immediately after the accident. When he had left this world, a wonderful, loving cable arrived from the Universal House of Justice. Friends from all over the country, as well as some of the friends from the Republic of Ireland, attended John’s funeral in Colwyn Bay. His was so short a life, yet it was filled with an extraordinary radiance and joy, and his love for Bahá’u’lláh was truly an inspiration to all who knew him!
Shrewsbury, November 2000