Michael and Maureen Melville

Michael and Maureen Melville

I had a conventional Church of England upbringing. I was encouraged to go to Sunday school but did not go often. We often rushed to church as a family, and at the age of 12 I sang in the choir for a while. I could not understand some of the service and ritual, and wished that it could be explained. Just once in school a scripture lesson took off because we had a discussion.

Although my father’s father had been a vicar, I cannot recall one religious discussion with my father. A family friend showed me a booklet on the Bahá’í Faith during my teens, and commented that whilst he was not religious, the Bahá’í Faith seemed the best of a poor lot!

In 1955 I joined the RAF and learned to fly. I had an enjoyable time travelling much and drinking too much. My wife, Maureen came from a loving agnostic family, who discussed everything. We took our marriage preparation seriously and visited the RAF padre for several discussions before having a church wedding. Our two sons, Timothy and Jonathan were christened, which seemed to please relations, and was as good a way as any of announcing their arrival. I later found that Maureen was very keen on the christening as she suffered greatly at a convent school because she had not been christened.

I remember reading an article one day about another RAF pilot who confessed to having been extremely full of pride and his self-importance – and then he discovered Christianity. By then I was a captain flying Vulcans in the nuclear deterrent V force, so my pride and arrogance matched his and I began initially to read Christian books, and to reflect on what life was all about. I left the RAF and moved to Dublin, Ireland, in 1967, where I was a pilot with Aer Lingus. The terrible sectarian quarrels in the North of Ireland, and the Catholic Church’s teachings on family planning only reinforced my suspicion of organised religion. Maureen and I joined the Humanists and became very actively involved in a movement for family planning rights, which was both exciting and challenging in Catholic Ireland.

At a Humanist conference on the borders of Northern Ireland, Maureen met a lovely lady (Jane Villiers-Stuart) who said we must join her for lunch at the next Bahá’í summer school in Dublin. We were very well impressed with the atmosphere at summer school, where all seemed concerned for our two small sons, Timothy and Jonathan. At lunch I was seated between Charles Macdonald, an ex-pilot, and Keith Munro. I accepted the social teachings straightaway. I then thought it was a retrograde step having to go back to accepting God and believing in Jesus. After a long investigation of Christianity, I found that I accepted Christianity but not ‘Churchianity’, a position that many of my Christian friends seem to hold today.

I was a frequent visitor to New York, where I went to Humanist meetings, synagogues, Catholic folk masses and Quaker meetings. Up until then the friendly, gentle upright Quakers had impressed me very much, and they still do. After the boys had gone to bed, my wife and I had long discussions about the meaning of life. Our Bahá’í friends patiently invited us along to Holy Days, which the boys enjoyed, and evening meetings, which I enjoyed. I was very impressed because whereas in Ireland where most things started late, the Bahá’ís started on time. Maureen had the wisdom to suggest that as we were both interested in the Faith, we should feel free to declare our belief as individuals, neither waiting for the other. I must have been a very contrary inquirer, and insisted on going along to a Feast at Zebbie Whitehead’s Dublin flat, accepting that I had to go out during the consultation period. The Irish community was wonderful, with Adib Taherzadeh an inspiring example, and we were thrilled to attend his and Lesley’s wedding.

Every time I raised an objection or question, my Bahá’í friends answered it or looked up an answer. I came to realise that there would always be some parts of the Faith I did not fully understand. Two books clinched it – Some Answered Questions which I was reading one day when I decided I could believe in God; and then, strangely, The Age of Reason by Jean Paul Sartre who, I believe, was an atheist. His theme seemed to be that we cannot spend our life uncommitted, sitting on the sidelines; so late in 1971 I committed myself to the Bahá’í Faith.

A few months after I declared, we had to decide whether to stay in Dublin or return to England. Although Maureen did not declare her belief in Bahá’u’lláh until two years later, she suggested that we consult with the Local Spiritual Assembly of Dublin about our proposed move. They recommended that we return to England. It was indeed the right decision. I joined Britannia Airways flying out of Manchester. I enjoyed night stops at places like Luton and Newcastle where I was able to meet local Bahá’ís. We were nearer to our families, I was promoted, and we soon formed the first Spiritual Assembly of Macclesfield.

As an airline pilot, I was often able to visit Bahá’í communities around the world. Often I worked at weekends and evenings but this meant that I was free to make many visits to secondary schools within Cheshire. I found that the children were genuinely interested in learning about all religions. I believe that young people in Britain are taken up with the material world as I was at their age but if we can sow the seeds now, they will be prepared to investigate the Bahá’í Faith when they need it. As older people get set in their materialistic selfish ways, I see the need to teach younger people who have more open minds

Some of the happiest times I have had in the Faith have been helping with the children’s classes in Macclesfield. I am not sure how much the children have learnt from me, but they have most certainly enjoyed the cake and refreshments provided by our Persian hostess Parvin Adab after the classes.

Around March or April 1980 we had a family pilgrimage with Timothy then 14 and Jonathan 12. I was so impressed by the number of different countries Bahá’ís came from. We loved Hand of the Cause Mr Furutan, “as loveable as a teddy bear” Maureen called him!

Some years ago we pioneered, moving a mere 20 miles to open Vale Royal in the middle of Cheshire where, having been a group of five, we are now isolated believers again, but we are lucky to be near the vibrant Chester community.

One of our happiest trips was to the New Era School, Panchgani, India. The love and kindness shown to us throughout the whole visit were really quite overwhelming. Pupils came from dozens of different countries, and we were impressed by how the Bahá’í staff made themselves available for consultation with the students over problems. We were able to get out on trips with the Panchgani Bahá’ís, to villages where they were establishing libraries, and having ‘medical days’.

In 1992 as our project for the Holy Year, Maureen and I wrote a play, The Ancient Beauty, about the life of Bahá’u’lláh. We were proud to be part of a team performing it in Moscow in November 1992 at the Satellite World Conference. Philip and Lois Hainsworth were in the cast. It was also performed in Singapore, and at St George’s Hall, Liverpool at the Celebration of the Covenant in April 1993.

From 2001 to 2012 I was secretary of the Liverpool Bahá’í Centre Management Committee. Our brief was to use the centre as much as possible for Bahá’í activities, and make a profit so that the centre was self supporting. We ran a large range of residential Bahá’í courses, and found that Body, Mind and Spirit weekends brought in a wider variety of Bahá’ís, who could demonstrate their skills, and bring their friends along. We had to juggle with tenants, who provided much of the income. The wonderful indefatigable Isaac De Cruz and Pauline were ever the perfect hosts, and worked hard to make everyone feel welcome.

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Michael Melville

Cheshire, Revised February 2014

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