Sally Tempest

I first came upon the Faith in Pontypridd in the heart of Wales. I was in hospital at the time as I had a back problem. Whilst convalescing, I was told that one of the other patients in the ward was the Headmistress of a local infant’s school, and that she needed cheering up. As I was also a teacher, the nurse asked me to see what I could do. It transpired that the Headmistress was Beatrice Newman. She was most anxious to get out of hospital to go to a Bahá’í picnic. I naturally had to find out why this seemed so important to Beatrice, and so she started to tell me about the Faith.

As it happened, I too was anxious to get out of hospital, but in my case I wanted to attend an ecumenical conference which was concerned with the bringing together of different denominations of the Christian Faith.

I naturally took a very positive attitude about the matter; Beatrice had simply got it wrong! After all, we couldn’t both be right, could we? After leaving hospital, I attended a number of Bahá’í meetings, but my objective was to heckle rather than to understand. This experience does seem to be very common amongst Christians. They have been praying “Thy kingdom come ….” for two thousand years, and anyone who appears to disturb the picture may be unwelcome.

It was at about this time that I met Mehrangiz Munsiff, who rapidly assessed my frame of mind. “The Jews rejected Christ when He came the first time …. are you going to be guilty of rejecting Him when He has come again?” she asked. The question brought me up with a jolt. From then onwards I began to look at the Faith with new eyes, and it was not long before I became a Bahá’í.

Looking back, I was very fortunate to be living near Pontypridd. As you may imagine, there are not many places around that have been able to form a local Spiritual Assembly without any pioneers. Well, what made Pontypridd special is that it was one of the first places to achieve this very distinction. At the heart of the Community were the Newman sisters, Beatrice, Mary and Flo, now all passed on to the Abha Kingdom.

Before the establishment of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Pontypridd, there was only one Local Spiritual Assembly in Wales. Marion and David Hofman had pioneered to Cardiff, and although by this time they had left, a result of their pioneering was the establishment of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Cardiff. The centre of Bahá’í activity in Cardiff was at the home of David and Barbara Lewis. A member of this Local Spiritual Assembly was Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, Charles Dunning.  Although he was in a nursing Home in Cardiff, he still took a very active part in the affairs of the Cardiff Community. Friends from Pontypridd visited the Cardiff Community on a regular basis, and Charles, who had a special affinity with the Guardian, enthralled us with his stories about him. Charles was a very forthright character, whom I dearly loved. When the Guardian called for pioneers to the islands of the North Sea, Charles had pioneered to the Orkneys. He tried to sell sheets with very little success. Charles dearly wanted to go on pilgrimage, and told the Guardian this, but of course Charles had made very little money, and could not afford to go. Charles told of how the Guardian had paid for him to go on pilgrimage. I don’t mean to be disrespectful in what I say, but Charles had eyes that wept very badly, and this did not make him look very attractive. Charles himself was aware of this. He told of how the Guardian kissed him on both eyes, and people didn’t seem to notice his eye complaint anymore. Charles was a smoker, and when he was on pilgrimage, some of the believers told him that he should not smoke on God’s Holy Mountain. The Guardian, who loved Charles Dunning, got to hear of this, and Charles took such pleasure in recounting that the Guardian put a packet of cigarettes on his chair every morning at breakfast. What a lesson that we should not criticize other people. When Charles spoke of the Guardian, it seemed as if a light surrounded him.

There were very few Bahá’ís elsewhere in South Wales at this time, but Beatrice and Eric Kent lived in Caerphilly. Eric had met David Hofman on a train en route to London. [See Eric Kent’s story]. This resulted in the study of the Faith by Eric and Beatrice. It was a wonderful privilege to live near Pontypridd when this unique Local Spiritual Assembly was established from local people with no pioneers. Everyone in the Bahá’í world was interested in visiting this small Welsh town. I remember clearly transporting Hand of the Cause John Ferraby in my old Ford Anglia car when he gave a talk at the YMCA in Pontypridd. I also gave a lift to Hand of the Cause Mr Faizi, who also gave a talk at the same YMCA. Hand of the Cause Mr Furútan visited on a number of occasions. Adib Taherzadeh, who served on the Irish National Spiritual Assembly, was quite a regular visitor to Pontypridd, and gave many talks, including at weekend schools. Ali and Violette Nakhjavani, together with their young daughter Bahiyyih, were also regular visitors to Pontypridd.

Pontypridd and Cardiff Spiritual Assemblies worked very closely together. I was teaching in Cardiff at the time, and soon started youth firesides in the home of an assembly member, Doreen Bartlett, who lived in Ely (South Wales). As a result of the firesides held in Doreen’s home, her son Viv became a Bahá’í. A little later, his friend Rita also became a Bahá’í, and in due course they were married. Viv and Rita became well known in the Faith, Viv serving as an Auxiliary Board member, and Rita serving on the National Spiritual Assembly for many years.

In accordance with the Guardian’s plan, some pioneers started coming into Wales. Jeremy and Denise Fox pioneered to Swansea and became exceptionally good friends of mine. Various areas became open to the Faith as a result of many teaching activities. As well as Cardiff, Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Swansea, and Llanelli became open to the Faith. There was great excitement when Derwent and Nora Maude, who lived in Borth, opened Aberystwyth to the Faith. A little later, a local headmaster’s wife, Eunice Williams, opened the Rhondda to the Faith.

Around this time, there was tremendous excitement as we heard that the World Congress, originally to be held in Baghdad, was going to be held in London instead. At this time, I was teaching in Cardiff, and the World Congress was not going to be held in school holidays. This caused a problem as it was inconceivable that Mary Newman and I would not be able to attend this highly significant event. We both decided to apply for leave of absence, not easy to attain. Bahá’u’lláh must have been with us, as we were granted a week’s leave of absence without pay. When I retired, I had to make up the contributions for this week, but boy was it worth it!

A small group of us set off from Cardiff for the World Congress. This group included Beatrice, Mary and Flo’ Newman, Eric and Beatrice Kent, Charles Dunning, David and Barbara Lewis and myself. When we arrived at the Cardiff station platform to catch the train to London, the first thing we saw was a large Bahá’í poster, designed by Willy Bloom, called ‘The Books of God are open Wide.’ This had been placed there by the Cardiff Local Spiritual Assembly. We were tremendously excited at the prospect of arriving at the Royal Albert Hall, expecting to see hordes of Bahá’ís milling around. What a disappointment — all we saw was a poster on a hording, saying Bahá’í World Congress. We decided to go out for lunch, and be back in time for the start of the Congress. When we returned from lunch, it was an entirely different scene. There was a police cordon allowing the Bahá’ís to cross the road from the Albert Memorial to the Royal Albert Hall. We ended up in a huge queue, and instead of the marvellous seats we thought we were going to get, we ended up in the Gods. What a wonderful scene was spread before me! I looked down upon a sea of different nationalities, in colourful national costumes, races of all different colours, and I realized this was the world of which I wished to be a part. It was the reason that I became a Bahá’í, because even as a confirmed member of the Anglican Church, I had always believed that God loved everyone, and that we were all part of God’s world.

The World Congress in 1963 was one of the most memorable experiences of my Bahá’í life. I suppose, if I analyse it, four things stand out in my remembrance of this special occasion. The first of these, was the historic announcement to the Bahá’í world by David Hofman of the results of the election of the first Universal House of Justice, whom we knew so well. Rúhíyyih Khánum told the Congress that the Guardian had laboured night and day to achieve this historic goal. As far as I can recall, the first decision made by the Universal House of Justice, was that because there was no Guardian, there would be no elected chairman of the Universal House of Justice.

The second remembrance is sad. A beautiful young boy, aged about seven, chanted a prayer for his father who was in prison in Egypt, for no other reason than that he was a Bahá’í.

The third occasion, I remember with pleasure, was a session when people of varying nationalities representing their countries went up onto the stage, dressed in their national costumes to tell the Bahá’í world the message that they would take home to their people. I remember most a young Bolivian Indian, dressed in his national costume with a beautifully embroidered peaked cap. He told the Bahá’í world that his tribe had all clubbed together so that he could come to London to represent them. I will never forget the message that he told us that he would take back, “I go back to my people and tell them that everybody love them.” This brought tears to the eyes of over seven thousand people in the Albert Hall.

As a young teacher, I had been volunteered to look after children. At first I was not very pleased about this, thinking of how many historic sessions I would miss, when I spent my time with the children. How wrong my first thoughts turned out to be! I looked after beautiful children of every nationality you could imagine. How much I learnt from them about different nationalities and customs! How blessed we all were, when the members of the Universal House of Justice often came to the hall to see the children, as did all the Hands of the Cause. I felt embarrassed when a press photographer took my picture holding a little African child, which subsequently appeared in the paper.

I remember the main headline that the press used about the Congress. There was so much love and people kissing each other as a greeting that the main press headline called the Bahá’í Faith the kissing religion. Nobody objected, because it portrayed the love and fellowship of all nationalities that was apparent around the area of the Royal Albert Hall at this particular time. What a privilege it was to be present at this historic conference, and how blessed was London to host it. This only occurred, of course, because Baghdad, where the Congress was scheduled to take place, was unstable and not safe for people to visit. I remember with great joy every session that I attended at this Congress. It seemed to portray to me all my hopes that all the world would one day associate with each other in love and harmony. I will always remember, as a twenty six year old, the experience amongst the Bahá’is, as it completed my vision of a Bahá’í world.

The next significant event in my Bahá’í life came in April 1964, when accompanied by Miss Mary Newman of Cilfynydd, Pontypridd, I went on pilgrimage. I had never flown before, and was rather nervous. The scheduled flight was from London Heathrow, with an overnight stop in Athens, and from there to Tel Aviv. The longer we waited at Heathrow airport, the more nervous I became. Imagine my nerves when over the tannoy came an announcement that the flight from Heathrow to Athens was delayed due to technical difficulties, and passengers were invited to take a meal at the company’s expense! Eventually the flight took off, and we arrived in Tel Aviv as planned. We took a bus from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Imagine my surprise when a woman carrying a pair of chickens boarded the bus! We finally arrived in Haifa, and caught our first glimpse of the Holy Shrine. It looked so beautiful to me.

Pilgrimage was very different in those days from today. Pilgrims were guests on Mount Carmel. Six Western pilgrims stayed in the brick building facing the entrance gate to the Shrine, in those days, this was called the Western Pilgrim House. Six eastern pilgrims stayed in the next building, and this was called the Eastern Pilgrim House. All pilgrims gathered together for meals and inspiring talks by the Hands of the Cause and members of the Universal House of Justice in the Eastern Pilgrim House. This was quite a historic pilgrimage, and was well photographed, because it was the first pilgrimage that had been held after all members of the Universal House of Justice had taken up residence in Haifa. I can remember standing in the window of my bedroom, which faced the Shrine, and seeing the nine members of the first ever Universal House of Justice, walking down the path after praying at the Shrine of the Báb. When I saw their faces, I was absolutely convinced that these men were divinely guided.

Mount Carmel was very different in 1964. The gardens were still beautiful, the memorial gardens were lovely but there were only two buildings on Mount Carmel, the Shrine of the Báb, and the Archives building. What a delight it was to be staying on God’s Holy Mountain, and to be able to visit the Shrine of the Báb at any time. I remember Hand of the Cause, Mr Furútan, telling me at the time to make the most of this opportunity, because in the future, pilgrimage would be very different. The other privilege of this early pilgrimage was that we had three nights sleeping in the Mansion at Bahji. What a delight to be able to visit the room of Bahá’u’lláh and His Shrine, any time of the day or night. I remember getting up very early one morning to visit the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh.  What a beautiful sight I saw. The sun was shining. The birds were singing, and the gardeners were watering the flowers and herb borders. You could smell the herbs. I went to the Shrine, and I was there alone. How different is pilgrimage today when hundreds of people visit the Shrine together.

After returning from pilgrimage, I went to a Summer school in Carlisle, where I met an Iranian Bahá’í whom I subsequently married. We moved into Pontypridd, and served on the LSA there. Although the marriage ended in divorce, it afforded me a marvellous opportunity to visit Iran. I dearly wanted to visit two places in Iran, the house of Mirza Buzurg, and the house of the Báb. These two visits were possible in 1979. I had a flat in Tehran for a number of months, and my then father-in-law was a custodian of the house of the Báb in Shiraz. I had been warned before going to Tehran that I would not be able to visit the house of Bahá’u’lláh unless I could present a letter from the British National Spiritual Assembly at the Haziratu’l-Quds in Queen Elizabeth Boulevard, Tehran, stating that I was a Bahá’í in good standing. So, armed with my letter which dear Charles Macdonald had written for me, I presented myself at the Tehran national office. It took quite a time whilst they checked my credentials, so in the meantime they sent me up to the tea room. I was astounded when I entered this room, for on the wall was a life-size picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá holding a white rose in his hand. I have never forgotten the impression this made on me. Eventually a member of the National Assembly came to tell me that I would be able to visit the house, and that they would telephone me when this could be arranged. Finally I received a phone call saying that they would pick me up at 8 o’clock the next morning, which they duly did. I got into the car, and discovered that there was an Egyptian lady in there already. She spoke only broken English, and I certainly did not speak any Egyptian, but I discovered that she had only recently been released from prison in Morocco – imprisoned just because she was a Bahá’í.

In order to get to the house, they really took us on a mystery tour of Tehran. The location of the house was a closely guarded secret. The car stopped on the main road, and we had quite a walk through narrow alleys of small Muslim homes. The only stipulation that the NSA of Tehran had made was that your arms should be covered when visiting the house. I wanted to look my best for this special visit, so I wore the best dress that I possessed which did not have sleeves. I then covered up my arms with a white shawl. The Muslims living in the area knew that people who were smartly dressed were going to the house. This did not please them very much. One of the Muslim men sitting on the doorstep spat at me, and it landed on my beautiful white shawl. I thought of wiping it off, and then I changed my mind. I suddenly felt very proud that I had been spat at, whilst going to visit the home of Bahá’u’lláh

It was lovely seeing where Bahá’u’lláh was brought up, but the most lasting memory occurred in the room where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was born. My Egyptian friend chanted a prayer. I could not understand a word of it, but it was so spiritually beautiful that it seemed to go directly to God. What a blessing it was to visit this very special place with such a very special Bahá’í. The other lasting memory was that one of the gardeners was blind. I sat in the garden talking to him. There was not a weed in the flower bed where we sat. I asked how he managed to keep the beds without any weeds. He told me by feel. He placed a red rose in my hand. It was marvellous that we could manage to converse – his English was broken, and my Farsi was very limited, but I remember that he was a delightful man.

As I previously stated, I particularly wanted to make two visits whilst in Iran; the house of Mirza Buzurg in Tehran, and the house of the Báb in Shiraz. I have already recounted the visit to the house of Bahá’u’lláh, and was now planning my visit to the house of the Báb. I thought that I would drive to Shiraz, so I hired a Mini. I started to drive through the streets of Tehran, feeling a little nervous, when suddenly a refuse lorry dropped all its rubbish in front of me. This frightened me so much that I took the hire car back, and proceeded to Shiraz by bus! I had read many times about the beautiful perfumed roses of Shiraz. I was not disappointed when I visited a beautiful garden where the Tomb of Hafiz was to be found. The perfume of the roses in that garden was glorious.

The visit to the house of the Báb was not difficult to organize, because, as I mentioned before, my then father-in-law was the custodian of the house. The route to the house of Bahá’u’lláh was approached through small Muslim dwellings, whereas the route to the house of the Báb was lined with small Bahá’í dwellings. Everybody knew Mr Rowshan, and the Bahá’ís standing in their doorways greeted me with Allah’u’Abha. How privileged I was. Mr. Rowshan left me to visit Bahá’ís in the area, and I was alone exploring the house of the Báb. I spent most of my time in the room where the Báb met Mulla Husayn. It was so peaceful and quiet, that I could imagine only too well the Báb’s Declaration to Mulla Husayn, that He was the object of his search. I next sat in the peaceful courtyard of the garden next to the orange tree that the Báb had planted with His own hands. I remembered Richard St. Barbe Baker had been called to Shiraz to treat the tree when it was slightly diseased. At the time of my visit, it was laden with oranges. I am still in possession of a leaf from that tree that I picked up from the ground. It was only a small house, but the atmosphere was so spiritual.

On my way back, I was again greeted with Allah’u’Abha by the Bahá’ís who lived in the small houses in the area. One of the Bahá’í ladies offered me tea, and I went in. This lady had none of this world’s goods; it was a very small room with a small stove in the corner which served as heater and cooking facility. She served me tea in a cracked glass. l must say that she served me with such grace, dignity and spirituality as I have never before experienced. It was the best tea that I had ever tasted in my life. I may have had more of this world’s goods, but I envied her nearness to God. She was one of the most spiritual souls that I have ever been privileged to meet, and I don’t even know her name.

When I look back on the two visits that I wanted to make during my time in Iran, to the house of Bahá’u’lláh and the house of the Báb, and the benefit I gained from those visits, it breaks my heart that nobody will have these privileges, because both properties were destroyed during the revolution.

My visit to Iran was coming to an end, and I must confess that I quite looked forward to my return home to Pontypridd. I longed for the sight of the green green grass of home.

The return flight from Tehran was a bit of a nightmare. The plane was very heavily overloaded, and arrived at Heathrow eight hours late, after being diverted many times. I felt sorry for my brother and his wife, who were waiting at Heathrow for my arrival. I returned to Pontypridd, where I continued to serve on the LSA. Charles and Yvonne McDonald were personal friends and frequent visitors to my home. Charles, at this time, was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly. Although I offered to pioneer on many occasions, Charles always said that it was the National Assembly’s wish that I should stay in Pontypridd. The Newman sisters had been very much part of my Bahá’í life, Beatrice having introduced me to the Faith, Mary having been my companion on my first pilgrimage, and Flo having been with me as we studied the Faith together. The Newman sisters had pioneered on many occasions, and I was a frequent visitor to their home, wherever they lived.

Whilst they were living in Winchester, Charles, Yvonne and I visited them. There was a weekend school being held in the Isle of Wight whilst we were there, so we decided to go and we all piled into Charles’s car. On the way back to Winchester, we decided to stop on a hill overlooking the city of Winchester, and say the Tablet of Ahmad for the town. After this we all piled back into the car, and to our horror, the car refused to start! I had to walk two miles back to the Newmans’ house in Winchester where my small car was parked. I drove back to pick them up, and very much against the law, because it was heavily overloaded, we arrived back at their house, and phoned the AA.  Charles’s car was finally fixed and he drove it back to Winchester.

From Winchester, the Newman sisters pioneered to Poole, first Flo, followed by Mary and Beatrice. They bought a property in North Road, and this became the centre of Bahá’í activity in Poole. As always, I was a regular visitor to their home. It was at this time on a visit that I met Michael Tempest. We saw each other regularly at meetings, and finally one September we went out on a boat trip in Christchurch together. We had a very quick courtship and by January, occurred the happiest day of my life — we married. The civic Ceremony was held in Cardiff, and the Bahá’í ceremony on the same day in North Road at the Newmans’ home. This was at the beginning of 1979. Michael’s job was in Poole, and I managed to get a teaching job in Kinson, and since that time I have served on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Poole.

Twelve years later, I went on my second pilgrimage with my lovely husband Michael, and I was delighted that I was able to see Hand of the Cause Mr ‘Ali-Akbar Furútan, who had been so much part of my first pilgrimage. Mr Furútan had a wonderful memory, and when we saw each other again, his comment was “We were very close”, and I hadn’t seen him for 38 years!

When I became a Bahá’í, there were 23 Hands of the Cause living, and now they have all passed on to the Abha Kingdom. I have been privileged to be a Bahá’í for over 50 years and hope to continue to serve for the rest of my life.


Sally Tempest

Dorset, 2014

Sally and Michael Tempest

Sally and Michael Tempest