My name is Patsy Jenkins. It is 1967 and I have given up searching. I believe in God, it is a deep, certain feeling inside somewhere, and I feel sure this God must communicate with these creatures on this earth that He created. I have looked at many religions and all I can find are man-made divisions and hypocrisy.
I was brought up a Catholic in Brentwood, Essex, of a Catholic mother and a ‘nothing in particular’ father who used to say that he was doing more good feeding the birds than we were going to church, and in a strange way, even then before I was ten years old, I thought he was probably right.
My convent primary school was run by nuns who, I thought, were at best bad tempered and at worst cruel. They had favourites, pretty little girls and good-looking boys, who were praised and given all the best tasks to do regardless of how diligent or good-natured they were. The cane was used frequently. One afternoon I can remember hearing screams from the headmistress’s office and one of the children from the local children’s home was being hit round the legs with a cane. No doubt they believed in the adage ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ and were determined not to let certain of their children be spoiled.
From there I went to the Ursuline Convent High School for Girls. Here the nuns were wonderful and I still think of these school years with great affection. At both schools we were led to believe that as Catholics we had the truth and no one else did. We had the Mass and transubstantiation and confession, we had rituals of first holy communion and confirmation, not to mention original sin, mortal sin and purgatory! When a friend was married I was not able to attend the church wedding because it was in the Protestant church and in those days, we Catholics were forbidden to set foot in such a den of iniquity!!
It was this that started me thinking and investigating. What was so dangerous about another church? My friend was a Protestant and she seemed a lot nicer than some of the Catholics I knew. I discovered that Protestants held a service every Sunday very similar to our mass, they had communion and confirmation. So why were we separated?
I had married Graham Jenkins on 4th June 1966 at our Catholic cathedral in Brentwood, Essex. Graham was a Protestant who had to undergo instruction and promise to bring our children up as Catholics.
So it is now 1967 . . . my husband, who calls himself agnostic, has generously accompanied me to various churches of different denominations in my search for the truth, but I have been disappointed! I am expecting our first child, and I have started borrowing books from the library to see if I can find any truth in the written word. My son is born on 1st December 1967, and our daughter on 12th November (a memorable date I will soon discover!) two years later. I decide to have them both christened in the Catholic church just to “hedge my bets”. I borrow a book on Buddhism – now this is more like it! Living the life – personal salvation, but unfortunately not trying to influence the world we live in. Can we be so insular? I have two big questions. Why does each separate religion feel it is only they who have “the truth” and those who have not been ’lucky’ enough to have heard it and believed will be dammed? Surely they are all worshipping the same God? They are just using different names. If the world has been created by God, why are “men of God” not running the world?
In many countries it is felt that religion and politics should never mix. Why? More books but not the right answers!
I make a decision. I cannot search any longer – I don’t know where else to look. I will just have to live my life in the way I think fit and hope that this God of mine will be satisfied with me.
It is now October 1971 and Graham and I are living in Epsom, Surrey, with our two children, Simon and Beth. We have dabbled with the young-marrieds’ branch of the Conservative Association, certainly not because of our political leaning but because they had an interesting programme of events. We eventually give up this interest as it seemed so superficial and slightly pretentious. We also belong to the local baby-sitting group and, believe it or not, it is this that changes my life! I am off to sit for Ann and Phillip Hinton; I don’t know them very well, but I believe Phillip is an actor and his wife Ann came across as a very ‘genuine’ person at a meeting of the group. I arrive at the house and the whole place seems to be full of people, happy, friendly, smiling people of various races who greet me when they come into the room.
“Who are all these people?” I ask Phillip.
“They are Bahá’ís, darling.” he tells me.
“What is Ba….er?”
“Haven’t time to tell you now, darling, we’re late, I’ll tell you when we get back.”
It is nearly midnight when they arrive home alone and Ann and Phillip come into the lounge. I tell them all has been well, the children went to bed on time and there has been no sound since. “Now” says Phillip “You want to know what Bahá’í is?”
I sit enthralled for the next two hours, everything I am told is what I want to hear, I have been saying many of these things for years, and the extras seem like good ideas too! I go home at 2 am on cloud nine, I have found it at last!!!
I wake Graham up to tell him too! For some reason he doesn’t share my enthusiasm. I lie awake playing what Phillip has told me over and over again in my mind; eventually I fall into a happy sleep.
It is morning, I’m awake and feel happy, not sure why? Then I remember, yes, last night! Is it still true? I think so. I want to do something about it but I’m not sure what.
A few days later something is put through my letter box. I pick it up, it is an invitation to a Bahá’í event on 12th November – a film and a presentation, “The Seven Candles of Unity”, to be held at Lintons Lane Primary School. Graham agrees to come with me.
It is a damp November night and we drive into the school slightly apprehensive, who will be here? What will they be like? The hall is packed (like no Bahá’í meeting I have ever been to since!). We are greeted by Ann who shows us to some seats and sits with us, which surprises me, as she seems to have so many friends in the audience. Some people are having to stand in the aisles at the sides. There are a lot of young people that my father would describe as ‘arty’ – long hair and bright clothes – but all smiling and happy.
The film starts, it is called It’s Just the Beginning filmed at a youth conference in the U.S.A. It conveys a feeling of happiness and peace and one phrase sticks in my mind. A blonde youth who is being interviewed says, “You don’t get peace by waging war on warriors, you get peace by being peaceful.” It strikes an immediate chord. The rest of the presentation does not have such a great impact on me although I agree with the words being spoken. I am watching the audience, trying to find someone who is like me, a fairly middle-of-the-road mother and nurse. At the end we are invited to go back to either of two houses for a discussion (fireside) if we wish. I go to the book table and find that someone ‘like me’ is selling the books, and I buy a book called Living the Life’. We then go back to the Hintons’ house for discussion. The house is packed, a sea of faces, many of them greet us warmly. A middle-aged lady is sitting on the floor wearing a large brimmed hat and carrying it off beautifully! She is obviously well known to most of those present as they are vying for her attention. She turns and asks us our names and continues talking to us for the rest of the evening. How kind of her to show such interest in us when we are the ‘outsiders’. We later come to know her well as Mary Hardy!
I go home on a high, clutching my book. I read it in no time and I want more. After Christmas, January 1972, we begin going to the ‘firesides’ on Wednesday evenings at Pat and Christine Beer’s house. The discussions are stimulating and several ‘non-Bahá’ís’ are attending. I am given a declaration card to keep and sign if and when I feel ready. The second week we attend, a lady hands over a signed card. The room erupts and there is much hugging and kissing. I would like to hand my card over but I couldn’t bear all that fuss and attention!! I take my card home. Next week I go again and halfway through the evening Patrick Beer leaves the room to put the kettle on. I follow him out of the room and say I want to give him my card but not in front of the others. I hand it to him but then he opens the lounge door and holds it up! I might as well have given it to him in there!!
I had no hope of Graham ever becoming a Baha’i as I knew he did not believe in a God, but as the weeks went on and he met and spoke to more Baha’is he seemed to be warming to the Faith and began to read books that were lent to him. Maybe……..?
I am enveloped into a warm, deep, mature Bahá’í community and I will always be grateful for this. My feet hardly touch the ground! I am taken to meetings at Rutland Gate, meetings at the Commonwealth Institute where Hands of the Cause are speaking, including Ruhiyyih Khanum, to National Conventions where I hear William Sears and General Alai. Our community is very near London and our Bahá’ís are of long standing, they know many eminent Bahá’ís. In this community I meet the Hands of the Cause Mr. Faizi, Collis Featherstone and Bill Sears, and I meet Ian Semple, most of our national assembly, one or two counsellors, Jim Seals and Dash Crofts.
In February, a month after my declaration, I am elected to fill a vacancy on the Epsom and Ewell Assembly. Now my education really begins! I tend to be a practical person and not too hot on the spiritual. One evening we hit a difficult patch in our assembly meeting, unable to make a decision on a particular subject. I am tired, it is past my bedtime and I want it to be finished. Ann Hinton then suggests that we should stop and have a round of prayers before more discussion. My first thought is, “Oh no! How long is that going to take? I can’t bear it.”
We say our round of prayers. Almost immediately a suggestion is made that nobody had thought of! We unanimously agree, all is settled, we close with a prayer and go home. I have learnt a BIG lesson.
It’s Ridván and I am going to National Convention, Graham comes too but is unable to attend the sessions as he is not yet a Bahá’í. I sometimes feel the Bahá’ís are a ‘bit holy’. They are always smiling, everything is always wonderful and they all ‘love’ each other. Do they ever speak their mind? Let their real feelings show? I go into the session, it is chaired by a thickset Yorkshire man with horn-rimmed spectacles. A younger man is having a lot to say and obviously feels very strongly about the topic. Suddenly the chairman says to the younger man, “Sit down, shut up and let someone else get a word in edgeways!!” At last! Someone human! I love dear Philip Hainsworth from that moment on and admire Derek Cockshut for his passion and ability to enthuse others.
One night in June of my first Baha’i year, Graham and I were both awake in the early hours and were talking about the Faith. Graham seemed to be agreeing with the Baha’i principles, but I wondered if he now believed in a God? I remarked that one day maybe he might join me as a Baha’i, and he said that if I had a declaration card now he would sign it! I was out of bed in a flash and returned with the card which he duly signed. There I was, so excited, wanting to phone the whole Epsom community and tell them the news but it was the middle of the night!!! Some of them were woken up very early the next morning!!! So now we begin our Baha’i journey together!
Two Alaskan Bahá’ís (Grant and David) have been invited to our community to facilitate an Alaskan Teaching Institute, which I attend. Members of our community spend three days together at our house with no interruptions, other members of the community bring the meals at set times and look after our children for us (and, more sacrificially, our basset hound! Thank you Christine!) so we can concentrate fully on the selected writings. At the end of the Institute we are all on a spiritual high! Unfortunately for him, the Catholic priest picks the next day to visit me in order to tempt me back to the church; he barely gets away with his life! I teach the Faith to two of my neighbours and they become Bahá’ís. I feel as if we can change the world within months!! When I tell everyone about this they will be entering the faith in droves! Unfortunately my feelings are not reliable!
It is several years later and I have served on the Assembly all that time. Epsom and Ewell is a busy Assembly: we have a Youth Committee, a Teaching Committee, a Deepening Committee, Children’s Committee and a Social Committee!! One day I express the wish to learn to play squash (I am still young and fit! and play tennis and badminton and swim regularly). Phillip Hinton belongs to the squash club and offers to teach me. I jump at the suggestion! He picks me up in his car and we tear off to the club at breakneck-speed (Phillip’s normal mode!)
We get on the court and Phillip says he will warm up the ball! He hits the ball like he drives and I can’t SEE it, let alone hit it! He is also over 6ft tall and I am 5ft 2 ins. Three quarters of an hour later I crawl off the court and we have a lemonade in the bar! I am then driven home, again at breakneck-speed; he misses my turning on the way and lurches into a perfect U-turn on the main road! He delivers me to my front door and when Graham opens it I still cannot speak! I collapse into a chair until I get my breath back and gather enough energy to crawl upstairs and take a bath! Two hours later the phone rings, it is Phillip for me. Dizzy Gillespie is at his house, he wants to play tennis and they need me to make up the four!! Guess what I do? I TURN HIM DOWN!!! I will never forgive myself for this! I should have gone even if I had to go on all fours!
It is now 1980 and we are preparing to move to Huddersfield!! This was NOT one of my long-term objectives, but became necessary due to my husband’s employment. We move during the children’s Easter holidays to a small village at the foot of the Peak District National Park called Meltham. I love the stone cottages and the barrenness of the moors, and the people are so friendly. I feel at home here. We discover we have moved into the very village where another Bahá’í family live, Lois and David Lambert and their three children, Zoe, Conrad and Ricky, who all attend the school that our two children will be attending. Wonderful!
We are due to go on pilgrimage later in the same year that we move to Meltham. We felt we would have to postpone it as, having moved so far away from my parents, we could no longer leave the children. When Lois found out, she was adamant that she would take on my two children AND the parrot in order for us to be able to go. Does she really mean this??? We took a lot of persuading but everyone else, including the children, seemed happy with the idea. When we returned spiritually revived, all was well. Lois assured me the children had been wonderful but next time perhaps someone else could mind the parrot that woke very early in the morning and squawked continuously with the joy of being alive!
That Ridván we made up the nine Bahá’ís that form the first Spiritual Assembly of Kirklees. We are a very mixed bunch but we gel very well. This community is a more ‘heart led’ community than the mature Epsom community. There are more artistic and musical Bahá’ís here in Huddersfield.
Very soon we find ourselves forming a band to play in Meltham Carnival under the guidance of Lois Lambert. We have one tune we can play and we play it with gusto!! Marching up the steep hill to the recreation ground we are the only band that manages to keep playing and we get great applause!! Lois and David Lambert run a Punch & Judy show and we have magical photographs of the children’s faces.
I represent our community on the local Interfaith Fellowship committee and Viv Crook and I sit on the Kirklees Community Relations Council. The Interfaith Fellowship holds a series of ‘Sharing Faiths’ talks and we have a packed room for our Bahá’í presentation.
As a member of the Kirklees Interfaith Committee, my husband Graham and I are invited to attend the enthronement of the Bishop of Wakefield at Wakefield Cathedral. When replying to the invitation we let them know if we will be joining the enrobing procession or going straight to the cathedral. As we do not normally wear any robes as Baha’is we thought it best to say we would go straight to the cathedral. So in my posh frock, high heels and hat accompanied by Graham in his best suit we set off allowing plenty of time to get to Wakefield, roughly a forty minute journey. When we arrive it is very busy and difficult to find parking. Eventually we park and set off on foot for the cathedral a little later than we would have wanted.
On arrival we go to the main doors, a gentleman asks for our invitation which I hand to him, he swings the heavy oak door open and leads us in. The cathedral is packed with expectant people waiting for the arrival of the Bishop and the robed procession! They all turn eagerly, obviously thinking the Bishop has arrived, but it is only us! We are led up the centre isle with my high heels clattering on the stone floor and seeming to echo round the hushed cathedral, right to the very front and I can feel the gaze of the congregation following us. There are two chairs in the middle of the front row at the left of the enthroning area. The chairs have high backs and are very prominent; we are shown to these seats and I keep thinking they must be making a mistake, thinking we are someone else!!
The Bishop arrives and the whole enthronement takes place right in front of us. When the ceremony is finished the Bishop walks straight to us and greets us and then moves along to the others sat around us. We are then motioned to follow him as he processes down the aisle to leave the cathedral. Outside he turns and greets us again telling us how he has been very involved in the Interfaith movement in Wells, Somerset where he has worked previously and knows the Baha’is there. He talks so long to us that we are holding up the whole exit from the cathedral! I can imagine everyone saying “It’s those two again!”
We enjoy the reception held nearby and then leave for home, not quite believing what has happened! Why have we received such ‘special’ treatment’?
The Delhi Temple has been completed, and we decide to show the video of the building of the temple. We book a hall at the library in Meltham and advertise the video widely, including at the School of Architecture at Huddersfield University. We arrive to open up the hall and prepare for the meeting. There are people waiting outside, there must be a meeting in one of the other halls. No! They are queuing for OUR meeting, this is definitely a first for me! By the time we begin the hall is full! Lois and David have made a cane and paper model of the Temple and it is displayed in the entrance hall downstairs, it is lit from underneath by a candle. Halfway through the meeting my son Simon signals furiously from the door, I go out and David comes with me. The model is on fire! It is right next to the old oak panelling walls and large pieces of burning tissue are dropping on to the deep pile red carpet! David displaying great courage (or foolhardiness!) grabs up the burning model and runs out of the door with it, dropping burning tissue on the way which I stamp out with my feet. Thankfully there does not appear to be a mark on the carpet and the oak panelling is intact! We are very lucky that the fire alarm did not go off and empty the hall! We return to the meeting trying to look as composed as possible; everyone appears oblivious to the panic that has just taken place.
We regularly take part in the One World Week Festival, we perform plays, hold musical presentations, give talks, stage exhibitions – several times in Huddersfield library and once in Halifax library. Why isn’t the population of Kirklees knocking on our doors??
Graham and I are appointed to the National Schools Committee in the mid 1980’s and we work to help local communities run their own schools. For three years we also run a National Summer School for adults only at Ackworth Quaker School in West Yorkshire. It is popular with older Bahá’ís and the surroundings are perfect, as is the food. The problem is to get at least eighty people to attend! We have to hold it one week before the school summer holidays begin because this is the only week the school is free for us. We number only about forty and unfortunately over the three years we are unable to increase the numbers enough to make it viable for the school. To the regret of all the regular attendees we are unable to continue holding the school. The school writes to us on several occasions over the following years to try and persuade us back (we were very popular with all the staff! Is that a first?) but it is not feasible. We have to agree to a certain number and if we are unable to reach it we will be charged anyway. Graham and I cannot bear the cost if this happens and we are told the National Assembly cannot take the responsibility for it!
I am asked to serve as an Assistant to the Auxiliary Board member. I find this quite difficult. I don’t make a good standard-bearer, I am a better work-horse. While carrying out this work I become aware of some long-standing communities that seem to just go through the motions, and if any new, young Bahá’í joins the community their enthusiasm quickly gets squashed, or they feel marginalized. Maybe we need some ‘Building a Community’ deepening sessions.
I regret that my daughter chooses not to be a Bahá’í. She has attended children’s classes, summer schools and been enveloped in a close Bahá’í community. At first I feel that it is because she does not want to be ‘different’ from her friends; when I ask her she says it is because she hasn’t yet made her mind up about religion but that if she was going to be anything it would be a Bahá’í. A few years later she tells me that she always felt inferior and an outsider with the other Bahá’í youth of her era. They were all very intelligent, intellectual and studious and she didn’t relate to them. She felt they led very protected, cushioned lives and didn’t know much about the ‘real’ world. Is she right? I don’t know. I think there is a much wider range of Bahá’í youth now than there was then. Although they can still be quite ‘scary’! They have tremendous ability at quite a young age.
We hold a deepening weekend at our house and Philip Hainsworth comes to spend the weekend with us and speak on various issues. At breakfast on Sunday morning a couple walk past the window and give a wave.
“Who are they?” asks Philip.
I told him they were a couple just staying for the weekend at the cottage next door but I didn’t know them personally and had never met them to talk to. Philip was out of the door like a shot! A few minutes later he came through the side gate with the couple and introduced them to us! He told us that the girl had heard about the Bahá’í Faith before. He spent the next half hour discussing issues of faith with them and putting the Bahá’í point of view while they drank a cup of coffee. They left smiling saying it was good to have met us!
Another lesson learned! Take every opportunity. Would I have the courage to do this?
I feel very lucky to have been in the two communities I have been in. In the first community I suppose we were, in the main, quite similar in social group and ability and we all became very good friends. In this community, Kirklees (Huddersfield), we are very diverse characters and would probably not have made acquaintance with each other if we had not been Bahá’ís, but we have grown together and got to know and trust each other very well. We have assembly members being very mature and bringing very personal problems to the assembly and it has worked out well every time. I think it needs people to sacrifice themselves in this way, do what we are told we should do, and in this way our communities will mature and we will build up the trust between assembly members.
After twenty three very happy years and quite a few memorable moments we are on the move again. My parents had moved to Meltham in 1986 to be closer to us and now they are both approaching ninety years old and need more looking after. I have retired from my job as the nurse at the local surgery and I am in need of a hip replacement. Graham has had several operations on his spine and is no longer able to look after the four acres of land we have. My daughter persuades us to move nearer to her in Bristol so she can give some support.
In the autumn of 2003 we move to Keynsham, a town situated between Bristol and Bath.
For the first time since becoming Bahá’ís in 1972 we are not serving on a local assembly. In fact we are ‘isolated believers’. This is a very different ‘ball game’. Everything depends on our initiative. We gradually get to know the neighbours. We start devotional meetings but the response is poor. We now have one or two people that come along regularly but we are never able to tip them over the edge into becoming Bahá’ís!
We attend Bahá’í feasts in the Bath community and we often hold Holy Day celebrations at our house which the Bath community attends. We have also gone through the Ruhi process with a group of Bahá’ís here in Keynsham. If we mention the faith to our neighbours or friends here they never ask what it is or anything about it. In fact they are more likely to change the subject. We feel we just have to keep the prayers going and that eventually they will have an effect.
My parents have now both died and are buried in the Bahá’í section of the lovely Haycombe cemetery high on the hill to the west of Bath. The vicar who attended their funeral was very taken with The Hidden Words and kept a copy for herself.
This very morning, near the end of the fast, we are joining the Bath community for their annual prayers and laying of flowers at the gravesides of the Bahá’ís buried at the cemetery. It is a lovely spring day and the birds will be very vocal I am sure.
Keynsham, Bristol, March 2012