I became a Bahá’í’ in London in June 1964, when I was 23 years old.
My awakening began some thirteen years earlier when living in the Middle East. My father was a career officer in the Royal Engineers, seconded to the Jordanian Arab Legion, and our family was living in a small Army base at Zerka. Our house overlooked a refugee camp for Palestinians displaced by the recently established State of Israel. Over our garden wall were refugee children living in tents, and as my mother did volunteer work for UNWR, I became increasingly aware of the injustices. Another significant experience at that time was that our Arab gardener who was illiterate would chant passages from the Koran – it was said that he had memorised the entire book. But I began to hear remarks about ‘infidels’ and that ‘only Christians are saved’. I felt confused because there seemed no logic to these remarks. My maternal grandmother, whom I loved very much, was a faithful Catholic all her life and when I stayed with my grandparents in London between boarding school and flights to Jordan I would accompany her to church. I loved to light a candle and happily knelt with her in prayer. However, after being confirmed at thirteen in the Church of England, I lost my belief in God and by the time I was twenty, sharing a flat in London and pursuing my career as a ballet dancer, I was desperately seeking a purpose in life, rejecting my conventional background, but convinced that there was order and a path for my life, if only I could discover what it was. I began to go into empty churches and ‘pray’, asking that I might discover the reason for my existence. I read whatever I could find about different religions. I knew that the poet T.S. Eliot, whose verse I much admired, was a devout Anglo Catholic and longed to find spiritual satisfaction in the Catholic Church, but could never reconcile the teachings with modern day life. There were times when I felt a sense of despair in my search.
Then, in August 1963, while rehearsing for a musical comedy show in London, I began having intense conversations with a young actor, Phillip Hinton, who was also in the cast. Each day after rehearsals we would talk and the next day I would come back with more questions. He rambled on about unity and prophecy, but what really caught my attention was the concept of ‘progressive revelation’. Immediately, that made sense and I remember telling whoever would listen to me about this very exciting and logical idea that throughout the history of humankind, God had manifested Himself as the Buddha, Muhammad, Christ, and now in the person of Bahá’u’lláh. I was surprised that others didn’t share my excitement!
Over the next nine moths I read, questioned, attended firesides at Rutland Gate, prayed – still not believing in God – and gradually came to recognise the station of Bahá’u’lláh’. It was the most exciting and intense time of my life. All my adult life I had been searching, and here was this supreme claim. I could find no flaws, and I longed to belong. By now I had read Some Answered Questions, Paris Talks, Gleanings, The Dawn Breakers, God Passes By, The Kitáb-i-Íqán and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, The Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, The Hidden Words (that was about all that was published in English at that time). Finally one morning I rang the National Secretary, Mrs Betty Reed – but then put the phone down before it was answered! The next day I rang again and, this time, told her I wanted to be a Bahá’í. “Well that’s very nice dear,” she said, “but you will need to write to the Local Spiritual Assembly of London, state that you accept Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for today, the Báb as the Forerunner, and all the past prophets. You should also state that you accept ‘Abdu-l’Bahá as the Centre of the Covenant and the Perfect Exemplar and that you accept the laws and ordinances of the Bahá’í Faith!” Well, I was a little surprised that she was not excited about my declaration – there were very few young people in the Faith in London at that time and it had taken me great courage to pick up the telephone! Over the next week I laboured over my letter, deep into the night, and I continued to pray for certitude. I have no record of my letter or of the reply, but there must have been one, because I remember attending my first Nineteen Day Feast at Rutland Gate soon after. Not that it was particularly memorable – about twenty elderly friends and several teenage girls!
The following few months were memorable, I left my job, I left my flat, I went to Paris to stay with family friends, we drove to Florence to visit the art galleries, in Paris auditioned for the renowned modern ballet choreographer Roland Petit, but instead of going to the call-back audition I went to Frankfurt for the opening of the Bahá’í House of Worship. Somehow I knew there was to be a four-day program, so I took the overnight train, booked into the youth hostel and got myself out to Langenhain.
It was an incredible experience. I knew no one, but there were hundreds of Bahá’ís from all walks of life and cultures visiting the newly opened House of Worship. When I entered and lifted my head upward, I saw light upon light streaming down through the glass-sectioned dome on to what seemed like the entire human race. I stood there with tears streaming down my face – I was home.
Soon after, I returned to London and accepted Phillip’s ardent marriage proposal! My parents insisted on a year’s delay, and so late in 1964, Phillip and I took off to South Africa, performing in a season of Shakespeare in Cape Town’s Maynardville open-air theatre and staying with Phillip’s father and stepmother. Again, I had the opportunity to meet more of my Bahá’í family: Phillip’s spiritual father, pioneer Lowell Johnson, the wonderful Cape Town community, and the Bahá’í friends in Lesotho.
Phillip was due to make a pilgrimage to the World Centre in March, and as I was a new Bahá’í, he cabled the Universal House of Justice from Cape Town to ask if I could join the pilgrimage. We were in a group of just seven Western pilgrims. One of the very last groups to do so, we stayed in Haifa as guests of the House of Justice, in the building adjacent to the Shrines which later became the Pilgrim Centre. We had meals there, always attended by one or two members of the House of Justice and at least one Hand of the Cause. In Haifa our daily guide was Hand of the Cause Paul Haney, with whom we formed a deep, lasting friendship. Then we were driven to Bahji with Hand of the Cause Abu’l-Qásim Faizi as our guide. Another life-long friendship came out of this time with him. We slept in the Mansion of Bahá’u’lláh’, and Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum spent precious moments with us at the Shrine in Bahji.
With our hearts still full of this overwhelming bounty, we returned to London and were married on the last day of April 1965, after many difficulties in obtaining consent and agreement on the wedding ceremony. In the 1960s the civil ceremony preceded the Bahá’í marriage. A few Bahá’ís attended the reception given by my parents after the civil ceremony, on the condition that no mention be made of the Bahá’í ceremony to follow. None of my family came to Rutland Gate where dear Audrey and Earl Cameron had arranged prayers and refreshments and our beloved Owen and Jeanette Battrick conducted the ceremony.
During the first nine months of our marriage we were blessed to get to know Adib Taherzadeh. We stayed with him in Dublin during a two-month engagement in The King and I at the Gaiety Theatre. After that he would stay with us in our modest basement flat in Kensington during National Assembly meetings.
Our five years as pioneers in Epsom, Surrey were, for both us, the opportunity to consolidate our Faith, gain a broader appreciation of the implications of the Faith and first experience Bahá’í Administration.
The Bahá’í community of Epsom is significant for many Bahá’ís and much of these associations centred round ‘Clerdoun’, the home of Patrick and Christine Beer. While we were there in the early ’70s, we had visits from four Hands of the Cause, enrolled over twelve new Bahá’ís, almost all young, held what may have been the first nine day institute in England, hosted a concert for England Dan (Dan Seals) and John Ford Coley, opened our homes to some of the first Bahá’í migrants from Iran, regularly went ‘street teaching’ and literally experienced people knocking on our doors wanting to know about the Bahá’í Faith! We will never forget our dear friends, Mahin and Ray Humphrey, Pat and Chris, Patsy and Graham Jenkins, Helen Babb, Lindsay Moffat, Iran Jolly, Margot Priest, Simon Mortimore, Hugh Blyth and many others. It was a life full of love and excitement – a perfect environment for our two little boys, Sean and Simon.
In late 1974 we pioneered to Australia and settled in Sydney, where we had our third son, Benjamin, and raised our children, and now our seven grandchildren, with the loving support of the Bahá’í community. We have been very blessed and had many and various opportunities for service.
Wollongong, NSW, Australia, January 2014