Simon Ward

Simon Ward

I was born into a Catholic family in Nottingham, England in 1962.  I don’t recall us being very religious although my father’s parents had been so, and his brother and sister had both entered religious orders as adults.  My parents made regular attempts to take my sisters and me to church but we made quite a fuss. Although I recall praying as a child, by adulthood I thought that religion was a bit of a joke, classing myself as a firm atheist and against any form of religion.  I attended a Jesuit school but this did little to instil a religious frame of mind in me as far as I recall.

I had, however, always been a fairly “deep” person with what I would refer to as a spiritual side, and in my 30’s I began to reflect on such matters and became very interested in yoga, meditation and similar subjects.  In June 1994 I met my future wife Zhila (Jilla) Sabeti-Adiabadi.  She was a Bahá’í, and she and her family had come to England in the late 70’s following the Iranian revolution.  Her father’s first name is Azizollah, her mother’s first name is Ruhangiz. I had never heard of the faith, but was impressed by the warmth and kindness that all the family seemed to have.  I wasn’t too sure whether this was a cultural thing common to all Iranians or more to do with their religion.  I was also amazed at their forgiving and stoic nature considering they had lost nearly all their wealth and business built up over so many years, but still seemed happy and unattached to such things.

We got married after a short engagement.  We were married in a register office, although we had a Bahá’í marriage as well at my wife’s request. I still didn’t have any religious belief but the short reading seemed harmless enough and made my wife and her parents happy, so why not?  My family were very happy with my choice of bride and liked her family a lot.

After we were married I began slowly to learn more about the Bahá’í faith and, as a result, more about other faiths such as Islam.  I thought the Bahá’í faith contained nice ideas but was make-believe like all other religions.  My wife and I would talk about spiritual and religious matters, but she never tried to force her faith on me and always told me that I was a Bahá’í deep down anyway.  Then we started to raise our children and this brought deeper questions to mind about the purpose of life and what happened after we die.  After a few years had elapsed, through these and other experiences, I concluded that there must be a God and that therefore I was a Christian.  However, all the time deep down I knew that I was only being a Christian because of where and when I was born.  The other thing that I couldn’t reconcile was that if, as research suggested, there were around 30,000 different Christian sects, were they all telling the truth?  Was only one of them true?  Were they all true in some way that was beyond normal understanding?  I read widely and realised that there were some very fundamental differences between many Christian sects and in the end I wasn’t sure what it all meant.  I tried to believe some of the Catholic doctrines but I couldn’t accept many of them.  I went to a variety of church services and tried to immerse myself in prayer but it didn’t feel like I was on the right path deep down.  We had our first three sons baptised in the local church; my wife probably wasn’t too keen but she nevertheless supported me. My attitude was, okay, it’s possible that Christianity is wrong but if there’s even the slightest chance that one of our sons will miss out on eternal life for the sake of having some water sprinkled on his head then why not ?

Sadly, around this time we had a still-born child and obviously this was a very sad time for us.  I recall being impressed by the loving and kind way in which we had been dealt with by members of the Bahá’í faith who had assisted with details that my wife had wanted regarding the burial and with offering prayers for our child’s soul.

After this time I began to research the Bahá’í faith in more detail and read William Sears’ book Thief in the Night.  I was particularly interested in how the nineteenth century had been a time of expectation of the return of Christ and the fact that this could be independently verified by, for example, the existence of Seventh Day Adventists and similar sects.  When I read in one of their books that they had expected Christ to return in 1844, I think that is probably the moment when I became convinced that the Bahá’í faith was the truth.  I declared my faith in April 2001, just in time for the formation of the Local Spiritual Assembly.  At the time there were only eight adult members so it was quite good timing!  I had only briefly met a few of the local Bahá’ís up until this moment, and it was nice to get to know them better and find out more about the faith from them.

My family respected my change in religion.  The biggest difference to them probably was that I gave up drinking alcohol, and also began the annual fast. They may have been doubtful as to why these things were necessary but they never questioned them.

I was part of the Redhill Bahá’í community for just over four years; as I recall we had a Local Spiritual Assembly for most, if not all, of that time.  I took part in devotional meetings and we participated in feasts regularly.  In 2006 we moved to Crawley where there were believed to be no Bahá’ís, although we discovered that two adults were registered there.  We made contact with each other and since then the four of us have studied Ruhi books, conducted devotionals, and run children’s and junior youth classes together.  We sometimes hold our own feasts and sometimes attend feasts of neighbouring communities.

I have not been on pilgrimage yet and have not attended summer schools or any conventions, but hope to do so as soon as possible.

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Simon Ward

West Sussex, January 2012

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