I was born in April 1949 in Burnley and brought up in Barnoldswick, Lancs. in a working-class, C of E background.
In 1966, a friend of mine was killed in a motor bike accident. We were both, at the time, 16 years old. At the funeral, I began to question the Christian Faith. It didn’t answer the question why only people who were Christians could be saved, and other people in the world – because they were not Christians – were not saved. This brought me into contact with Christine Whiteley, who was also a friend of the person who had died, and whom I had met at school. It was Christine who introduced me to the Bahá’í Faith, which answered my question with the idea of progressive revelation. I was also attracted by the principle of racial equality, and the Bahá’í social activities in Burnley were an added bonus.
I became a Bahá’í in 1968, after two years’ investigation. My parents were very tolerant towards my Bahá’í beliefs as my sister had only recently become a Jehovah’s Witness. My parents’ response was more favourable towards the Bahá’í Faith. My school friends thought I had joined a religious sect and tried to get me out of it. Otherwise I had no particular difficulties associated with becoming a Bahá’í, or obstacles to overcome.
In 1973 I married Adrian Burns, an African American Bahá’í from the USA in a Bahá’í ceremony at Derek and Sima Cockshut’s house in Oakham. (Unfortunately we were divorced in 1993).
Between 1967 and 1975 I met the following Hands of the Cause: Enoch Olinga, who was a close friend and father figure to Adrian. We met him in Europe when Adrian was playing with his band ‘Talisman’; Mr Faizi, when my daughter Heather was six months old, at Loughborough Bahá’í School (Heather punched him in the nose, accidentally of course!); Dr. Mühlschlegel whom we met at National Convention in UK, and he blessed Heather with rose water; John Robarts (who gave many talks in the 1950’s on the Long Obligatory Prayer); John Ferraby and his wife Dorothy. Some years later when I was on pilgrimage I met Mr Furutan and Rúhíyyih Khánum.
When I was first pregnant with my daughter Heather in 1974, Adrian and I were travel-teaching in the Scottish Islands and met Alma Gregory who was a pioneer in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. Alma knew I was pregnant before I got the results! Many years later, when Heather was 21, she met Alma while visiting the islands, who said to her, ‘I know you, but I can’t remember where I met you.’
There was a great spirit in the 1970’s when there was an explosion of youth in Oakham and Peterborough. Great excitement was generated during the ‘Dawn-Breaker’ musical tours. In Oakham, between 1971 and 1973, the ‘Dawn-Breakers’ performed at concerts, both locally and around the country. This began ‘entry by troops’ in Oakham and Peterborough. Up to one hundred local people became Bahá’ís. During this time the music group Seals and Crofts also gave local concerts, mainly in Peterborough.
It was a shame we did not then have the expertise to capitalise on this spirit. Many of the friends who became Bahá’ís during this time moved away, pioneered, or withdrew from the Faith, due to lack of manpower to deepen them.
In 1972 I pioneered to Rutland with Derek and Sima Cockshut, to form a group with John and Vera Long. That year we formed the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Oakham. This later became the Local Spiritual Assembly of Rutland. In 1983 I pioneered to the goal area of Melton Mowbray and formed a group there with Charles and Yvonne Macdonald.
Once my children had finished their education I became restless and wanted to travel and use my skills in Education in the field of service. In 1999 I took a sabbatical from work and volunteered with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) as a Primary Teacher Trainer and Literacy advisor in the Solomon Islands. Working with such an organisation allowed me access to areas of the world and to their Bahá’í communities which would not otherwise have been possible for me.
This was a wonderful experience both professionally and spiritually. In the Solomons I was able to become a part of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Island of Malaita and also help with the forthcoming unit convention election process. I attended a unique National Convention in a far off location (in North Malaita) which seemed like the end of the world! The whole village was Bahá’í and representation was almost 100% with some islanders only prevented from coming by the stormy conditions that prevailed. The spiritual experience was something I will always remember, as was the hair-raising drive through bushland and rough terrain to get there! Other memorable events were the candlelit feasts held in remote villages on the island.
Unfortunately civil war broke out in the Solomon Islands in 2000 and all VSO personnel had to return to the UK. We were airlifted out within a week, leaving all our personal belongings behind, to be sent on. Most were left with the Bahá’í community there because of its reputation of respect and integrity.
From the Solomon Islands I briefly joined Gordon and Maureen Kerr, pioneers in Macau, to help with English language training for a few months. I then travelled on to Samoa (2000 – 2001) where I was lucky to work with pioneers Nick and Maureen Sier. There I was able to act as a guide at the Bahá’í Temple and assist at the local Bahá’í-inspired school. My overriding memory of that time was of meeting the Head of State, His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili and first reigning monarch to accept the Bahá’í Faith (in 1968), at his 88th birthday celebrations where some of the Bahá’ís sat as guests at his table. His daughter was also a regular attendee at our local feasts.
In late 2001 I returned to the UK to my local school which had supported the service project and had been able to twin with some of the schools I worked in.
By 2003 I was again on the move with VSO, this time to the Maldives which would be my first experience of working in a Muslim country. Whilst in the Maldives, I had the opportunity of visiting the Bahá’í Temple in New Delhi and also attending a Winter Bahá’í Conference at the New Era School in Panchgani, India. During my two years spent in the Maldives I especially remember the kindness and acceptance of my local colleagues and students towards me. During the time of the fast they would give me coconuts at sunset and share their emergency rations with me during the terrible time after the Tsunami there in 2005.
On my return from overseas I have been able to take a more active role in the institute process in Leicestershire, helping with study circles and children’s classes. With the progress of the years, I have been surprised by the power of prayer, and the power of the Faith to unify diverse peoples. I have reached a deeper understanding of the purpose of life, and I see that there should be more emphasis on service to the community
I still live in Melton Mowbray and work with the Leicester community. I am a member of the Leicestershire SACRE and volunteer in local community events in Melton with a view to developing a wider interfaith understanding in this mainly Christian community.
Leicestershire, February 2013