My name is Graham Jenkins and I was born in Salford, West Manchester. After attending Church of England and Methodist Sunday schools in my childhood I was persuaded to be confirmed at the age of 14. My parents had never been active Christians and they never taught me to pray, although of course I regularly attended a daily religious service at school. There I absorbed the Word of God by osmosis. A reading from each of the Old Testament, an Epistle and a Gospel plus numerous hymns on a daily basis imparted a reasonable knowledge over a dozen years. However, in my teens I had doubts which were never properly assuaged and despite my confirmation (sic) I had ceased to attend church, even for Easter Communion, before I went to University.
At University I did a lot of serious thinking and talking. I became what I called an agnostic humanist and found that it was dangerously easy to talk other people out of a sincere faith. At that time there were a lot of unquestioning Christians who had never been exposed to contrary arguments. This worried me as I came to recognise that I was robbing them of a great bounty without being able to put anything in its place. I came to avoid religious discussion for that reason.
My first contact with the Bahá’í Faith was in 1962 when I had left university and was active in a local 18+ social group. A friend had been to Gita Chaplin’s fireside in Eccles and had been impressed by the principles and fellowship. He took two or three of us there but I am afraid we were transient visitors. At twenty-two we were too busy dancing, drinking and with the general mayhem of young men I felt we were eating Gita’s cakes and accepting her hospitality under false pretenses. I do not think any of that crowd became Bahá’ís at Gita’s although she made many friends for the Faith.
It was to be ten years before my next contact. During that time I had married Patsy, had two children and moved to Epsom. In the early 70’s Epsom had a thriving Bahá’í community which included Ray and Mahin Humphrey, Patrick and Christine Beer and Ann and Phillip Hinton. Pat and Christine had regular Wednesday firesides which were well attended by youth from the Epsom Art School. Patsy met Ann and Phillip as part of our baby sitting circle and was very impressed. She was a lapsed Catholic who had been searching, with me behind her, for two or three years. She is a much more volatile personality and very quickly ‘declared’ but I had a lot of reading, thinking and talking to do. Patrick Beer, among others, lent me books and answered most of my questions.
I could never rationalise myself into belief in God but soon came to the conclusion that: ‘If there is a God then Bahá’u’lláh is His Prophet for today.’ After about three or four months of learning about the Faith I declared. The key factor, I now think, was the love and fellowship that the Bahá’ís showed each other and to me.
We were enveloped into a warm, deep, mature Bahá’í community and we will always be grateful for this. Our feet hardly touched the ground! We were taken to meetings at Rutland Gate, and at the Commonwealth Institute in London where we heard Hands of the Cause speak. These included, amongst others, Rúhíyyih Khánum. We went too to National Conventions where we listened to talks given by William Sears and General Alai. Our community was very near London and our Bahá’ís were of long standing; they knew many eminent Bahá’ís. In this community I met Mr Faizi, Collis Featherstone and Bill Sears. I also met House of Justice member lan Semple, the singers Seals and Croft, and jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
I was soon elected to serve on the Local Spiritual Assembly. Epsom & Ewell is a busy Assembly; we had a Youth Committee, a Teaching Committee, a Deepening Committee, Children’s Committee and a Social Committee!
In 1980 we moved to Huddersfield, due to my employment. We moved in the children’s Easter holidays and we made up the nine Bahá’ís that formed the first Spiritual Assembly of Kirklees that Ridván. We were a very mixed bunch but we gelled very well. The community was a more ‘heart led’ community than the mature Epsom community. In Huddersfield the Bahá’ís were, on the whole, more artistic and musical.
We had had a hard time in early 1980 following the failure of my business in Epsom. We were homeless and heavily in debt but managed to rent a house in Meltham. We were due to go on Pilgrimage in November 1980 but were not sure if we could find the money or someone to look after our two children. We were encouraged to go and because my employment in Meltham was paying well we could afford it. However, we could not have gone without the assistance of David and Lois Lambert who helped us immeasurably, not least by caring for our children whilst we were in the Holy Land. Lois said afterwards that caring for the children was a pleasure; it was the parrot that proved to be the sacrifice!
Pilgrimage itself was a wonderful, never to be forgotten experience. The Seat of the Universal House had been erected but was unfinished internally and we still treasure a small piece of the marble rejected by the builders which we carried home in a suitcase.
Very soon we found ourselves forming a Bahá’í band to play in Meltham Carnival under the guidance of Lois Lambert. We had one tune we could play and we played it with gusto! Marching up the steep hill to the recreation ground we were the only band that managed to keep playing and we got great applause! Lois and David ran a Punch & Judy show and we have magical photographs of the children’s faces watching it.
Following our interest in summer schools, and as the children became more independent (we stayed at residential schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in two or three years) Patsy and I were appointed to the National Schools Committee in the mid 1980’s and we worked to help local communities run their own schools.
For three years we also ran a National Summer School for adults only at Ackworth Quaker School in West Yorkshire. It was popular with Bahá’ís and the surroundings were perfect as was the food. Unfortunately, as the school became more attuned to summer lettings, they were enabled to increase prices beyond our abilities. During this time I was an Assistant for Protection for East Lancashire to Auxiliary Board member Madeline Hellaby. Later, while working in York, I was an Assistant for Protection for North Yorkshire to Auxiliary Board member Farshid Taleb. I have served as delegate to National Convention on several occasions.
Like Patsy, I feel very lucky to have been in these two communities. 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 the Yorkshire community we were very diverse characters and would probably not have made acquaintance with each other if we had not been Bahá’ís, but we learnt to grow together and got to know and trust each other very well. We had very mature Assembly members and bringing very personal problems to the Assembly proved each time to work out very well.
I retired in 1995. Privately we had rectified our finances, moved house in Meltham, and converted a barn on a tiny smallholding. This enabled us to create a granny flat for Patsy’s aged parents.
In 1999 and 2000 I was appointed a member of the ‘Bahá’í Boundaries Commission’ with two members of the National Spiritual Assembly, and tasked to review the administrative boundaries (potential LSA areas) in the United Kingdom. We reviewed a set of principles with the Universal House of Justice and started to apply them. In this I was ably assisted by Linda Hill at the Records Office and a set of local coordinators in most of the regions to produce proposals. Metropolitan areas, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were approved.
Unfortunately the proposals for English more rural areas meant that many established LSA areas had to be broken up into smaller units, causing a certain amount of disunity. The National Spiritual Assembly therefore simplified the process and followed a different set of principles. It was a test for me and the local coordinators (who had put many hours’ work into the project) but we hopefully accepted it with ‘radiant acquiescence’.
Eventually, as my health began to deteriorate, we were no longer able to manage the Meltham property, and so moved (in September 2003) with ‘aged parents’ to a house in Keynsham, Bristol, close to our daughter.
When we reached Keynsham we found that our Bahá’í situation was completely different. In Yorkshire we had known every Bahá’í within 50 miles. In Keynsham we were isolated believers who knew nobody. The Bath community was very welcoming and within a few months we had met many Bahá’í members of our Somerset unit. From my Boundary Commission days I had access to the Bahá’í records and so had a database showing all the Bahá’ís in the area. I was also able to assist with the development of simple web pages for Keynsham, North Somerset and Bath Communities.
In 2004 the Cluster concept was becoming established and I was able to help the incipient cluster of Gloucestershire and Somerset become an ‘A’ cluster by ensuring that every Bahá’í was contacted and invited to attend meetings. On 25th September 2005 we had a preliminary Reflection Meeting to launch a Cluster Plan. I was invited to serve as Area Teaching Committee secretary. The ATC was convened and we held our first full Reflection Meeting at Portishead on Sunday, 15th January 2006. Initially all went well but later (2006 and 2007) proved a testing time for me and I was asked to resign as ATC secretary. I continued to assist the Cluster in several ways, continued with our monthly devotional evenings and participated in Bath feasts and Holy Days but I lost heart for a while. This, together with the physical difficulty of getting to Cluster Reflection Meetings at the Bristol Bahá’í Centre meant that we missed attending a number of them.
I have now found my ‘heart’ again but at almost 73 I find my health failing and so both hosting and visiting are tiring and more difficult. I now put my trust in God and the capable younger Bahá’ís in the cluster.
Keynsham, 9 December 2012