How I met the Faith and how it changed my life
My father was the eldest of my grandfather’s second family, having married again after his first wife died. His first family were all old enough to have left home (many emigrating to the USA in the late 1800’s).
Dad learnt his trade as a country carpenter and wheelwright, working with my Grandad. My mother was the eldest child of a local farming family, so I have always been brought up with a love of the country life. Dad was born in December 1898 and Mum in September 1901. My sister was born in October 1924 and I was born on 10th June 1933 in Great Torrington, North Devon (now Torridge).
I was just six years old when World War II broke out, so most of my schooling and growing up was done in the wartime period and when the world was trying to get back to some form of normality.
Strange as it may seem, I firmly believe that my journey started with my father in World War I when he joined the forces at the second attempt because he was too young the first time and Grandad (having been notified of the first attempt by Dad’s headmaster) put his foot down and refused to give permission.
Before going any further, I must explain that my father was born into a Wesleyan Methodist family and so was brought up in that religious background. When he eventually joined up, it was with the Royal Mounted Artillery as he was used to horses, being a country lad. He went to camp at Aldershot. On the first Sunday, he with all the other lads was marched to Sunday Service with the Padre. The day after – Monday – they were taken to the Barack Square for bayonet practice. To Dad’s amazement the instructor was the Padre. After they had finished and were marching off the square, Dad asked the Padre how he was able to tie up the bayonet practice with what he had been telling them on Sunday. The Padre just glared at him angrily and told him to shut up!! And from that moment, Dad said that he lost interest in religion – or Churchianity.
I was born some 18 years later, was christened C of E after my mother’s family belief, and was brought up going to Sunday School. This was of course at the build up to World War II and thanks to my Dad again I learnt some valuable lessons during the War.
Dad had in 1935 started his building business in Barnstaple, North Devon but with the start of war, he had to close down again because all his men were called up. As he was still young enough to be called up (41) he took a job as a farm labourer to avoid this happening. After about 12 months he got a job with the Ministry of Defence, as a Clerk of the Works. This entailed travelling around North Devon and commandeering sufficient land from various farmers for the erection of searchlight camps.
I remember that he had a large scale map of North Devon with a hessian backing on which he had drawn a grid of 3” Squares, and where the lines crossed he would try to find suitable spots for the camps. He was also given responsibility for the erection of a large camp at Braunton for 30,000 U.S. troops, and the Prisoner of War (P.O.W.) camps on Dartmoor. Dad made a point of getting the permission of the Commandant of the P.O.W. camp to have three of the German boys stay with us over Christmas each year.
This provided another important lesson for me in that, contrary to the propaganda at the time, these boys didn’t want to fight any more than ours did! I remember Dad often said that if all the people refused to fight, there was nothing the politicians could do about it! But of course things don’t work this way – another important lesson.
I was about 10 0r 11 at this time, but these points have had a life-long effect on me! Although I had been going to Sunday School, when I reached 12 years old, Dad said ‘you’re old enough now to make up your own mind if you want to continue to go. If you don’t, I shan’t mind. If you do, I shan’t mind either’. Another important lesson for me!
By this time I had passed the 11+ exam to attend grammar school, which I did from 1943-1946 but I realised that academia was not for me. At the age of 13 I was given the opportunity to take exams to attend the new Technical College that was starting up in Barnstaple and I passed. So I attended Technical College from 1946-1949, and managed to get my City & Guilds Certificate in Bricklaying, and started work in Dad’s firm in July 1949 as an apprentice.
I completed my apprenticeship in 1954, by which time I was courting a young lady who with her family were well respected members of the local Congregational Church, to which I was invited one Sunday. I accepted and went along with her and her family. When we reached the church, the vicar was standing at the entrance welcoming everybody (as I thought). When I was introduced, I expected to have his hand to shake but, no, it was not forthcoming and he looked me up and down as much as to say, Oh dear, what’s the cat brought in this time?! A shock and another valuable lesson! A few months later the young lady and I parted company.
As things in the Building Industry were getting more difficult, my father bought a smallholding in Torquay, with a couple of acres of ground, with the idea of him and me going along quietly and building a few bungalows. So in 1955 I moved down to Torquay and with my Uncle Frank built a few extensions to the cottage; and the family moved down in 1956. However, the idea did not work out because we discovered that the land was already booked for a dual carriageway to be built in due course.
Dad, being a deep thinker and a lover of debating societies, immediately joined one in Torquay and he tried to persuade me to go along, but by this time I had started my own business and did not have much time or interest. After a month or two the landlord of the pub where they were meeting said they would have to leave as he needed the room for other purposes. OK, so where were they going to meet from now on? Then one of the lady members said she might be able to help, but she would have to ask her assembly. It so happened that the lady was Naomi Long, who was secretary of the Torquay Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly. Anyway, permission was given and so Dad met the Bahá’ís.
At this point Dad tried again to get me involved, but I was not ready. He and his very good friend Arthur Perry used to go to the Bahá’í meetings (just to poke fun). But then Dad fell ill with the ‘flu and asked me if I would take Arthur to the meeting, which I agreed to do. I duly collected him and took him to the Bahá’í Centre (which was in Market Street). I asked him how long the meeting might take and he said for about an hour. It seemed pointless going home and coming down again so I decided to attend the meeting myself.
The speaker that day was Dr Alexander Reed, a Bahá’í from Chile, South America. He was over on a Pathological Course in London and had offered to give talks wherever needed on the Bahá’í Faith. Anyway, although I had not done any searching for some time, I still had some questions that I needed answering, such as how do all these different religions compare? Alexander and Naomi were the first Bahá’ís I met. When the meeting was over I realised that my questions had been answered without being asked. I decided to find out more and I went to some Bahá’í firesides at the secretary’s flat in Brunswick Square and became more and more interested. But I was still not sure enough.
I remember trying to make up my mind while at work one day when, out of nowhere I experienced a blinding white flash of light and then I knew that I had to declare my belief in Bahá’u’lláh. This was in February 1962. Naomi explained that I would have to write a letter to the Local Spiritual Assembly to explain my intentions and would then have to face questioning by them.
By this time I had agreed to go on holiday with my sister and her husband and nephews and this coincided with the Ridván election period. When I returned home I found that I had been elected to the Torquay Assembly and also elected as treasurer. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! Then a few months later Naomi decided to move to Cornwall and I found myself acting as Secretary and Treasurer. This situation continued until 1965 when I pioneered to Salisbury, Wiltshire, to make up the Local Spiritual Assembly there, and almost immediately I found myself elected as Secretary.
Having moved, I soon found that that I had left behind the girl I was to marry, Miss Carole Harris. Having got married on 9th July 1966, we answered a call from the National Teaching Committee for pioneers to open up Cornwall. We offered our services, our offer was accepted, and we moved down in the autumn of 1966. After a couple of forays to size up the situation, I got the promise of a job for me with a local builder, plus arranging the purchase of a cottage (3 bedrooms, lounge, dining room, kitchen and bathroom for the now unbelievable price of £2,700).
Bahá’u’lláh was with us all the way and by 1971 we had been able to form the St Austell with Fowey Local Spiritual Assembly. We also had 40 youth declarations as the result of a week’s teaching campaign and the help of a dozen or so Bahá’í university students. That’s another story!
December 1974 saw us return to South Devon and settle in Newton Abbot where we were able to form the Local Spiritual Assembly of Teignbridge, and where our children were brought up. In 1991 Carole and I parted company – although we still contact each other regularly. Then in 1992 I moved to Barnstaple in North Devon to care for my father who had developed dementia. Although he died in 1996 at the age of 98, I stayed on there until 2010 when I moved back to Newton Abbot and where I am still.
Bahá’ís whom I met during the first few years of becoming a Bahá’í were Dr Alexander Reed,
Adib Taherzadeh, Dick Backwell, Zebby Whitehead (from Dublin) and Joe and Elsie Lee (Torquay L.S.A.)
David and Marion Hofman, Hugh McKinley, John Ferraby (all frequent visitors to Torquay)
Muriel Mathews, May White, Muriel Ward (original declarants of the first L.S.A .of Torbay)
Claire Gung (who declared in Torquay and was later named ‘Mother of Africa’ by the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith.
I attended the World Congress in London in 1963. I was there the whole week and was able to meet up again with Dr Alexander Reed and also Claire Gung. Also I was looking after Charles Dunning for the full time as we were staying at the same hotel in Holborn. I was also privileged to be chosen as one of the guides to help keep the friends (especially the dear Iranian Bahá’ís) moving around the Guardian’s Resting Place.
I went on a 3 day pilgrimage in 2012 for the first time in 50 years as a Bahá’í (thanks to Carole and her new husband George) who hired a car in Tel Aviv and drove up to Tiberias and visited many of the Christian Holy places including, of course, the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan. Because we were at the Bahá’í World Centre for the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh, we were invited to visit His Shrine so we were able to visit all three shrines (what a privilege!).
Devon, July 2013
Editor’s note: Update: Bryan passed away on 23 October 2016.