I was born in Sunderland in 1930, the youngest child of Dr and Mrs Alexander Blakey, and brought up as a Jew in a religious family with strong Judaic relations in Glasgow and London. My father was a Medical Practitioner in Sunderland from 1919 until his passing in 1948. I was educated at two private schools and received Judaic education from the age of 5 until my Bar Mitzvah at 13 years. I was instructed to attend Synagogue regularly observing the Sabbath and all holy day celebrations.
My early upbringing directed me not to mix with non-Jewish people but to keep with my own people. At an early age I began to rebel against these teachings. I wanted to love and be friendly with people of all religious backgrounds. My search for a solution began in the mid 1950’s when I was in my mid twenties.
The testing period and searching had begun; I had worked in Sunderland and served in H.M. Forces for five years. I left Sunderland in September 1958 to take up a commercial post in Reading, Berkshire. There on occasions I used to visit a coffee bar run by Bahá’ís Owen and Jeanette Battrick. Time went by and early in 1959 I saw a notice for the celebration of World Religion Day where it stated all God’s religions would be discussed including the latest, the Bahá’í Faith. In February 1959 I attended the meeting and heard for the first time the word BAHÁ’Í.
I had the chance to hear how people of all backgrounds had found God’s message for today – to embrace all people of diverse backgrounds in love and unity. There I met the Battrick family and John and Val Morley. Somewhere in my mind a voice was saying “Michael, this is what you have been searching for all these years. Your wish always to embrace all peoples of God’s planet in love.” I had to go all the way to Reading to find Bahá’u’lláh. I attended firesides at the Morleys’ home in Reading and at the Battricks in Twyford (Wokingham, R.D.) Owen by then was serving on the National Spiritual Assembly.
The Battricks’ home became my second home, meeting many visiting Bahá’ís from all over the world at Twyford, including dear Hasan Balyuzi, Marion and David Hofman, Adib Taherzadeh and many more. Often I would go up to London to firesides at 27 Rutland Gate.
I declared just before Naw-Ruz 1960. I really didn’t feel I had to wait even that long (a year) – this was God’s plan for me. Eventually I told my family – mother, sister, brother, and uncles in London. In a way I was shunned as some religious heretic. I expected their cold response and that was how it had to be. I really gave up a highly social comfortable family life and directed my life forward with Bahá’u’lláh. I didn’t need any further investigation of the Faith.
My uncles of high standing in the Jewish Faith in London, called me to discuss my religious decisions. I told them I had given up nothing, that I still loved Judaism, but that now I also loved Christ, Muhammad, all God’s messengers, and for me – for this day – Bahá’u’lláh. Their reaction was: “You’ll kill your mother.” Bless her! She lived for many years and was always my dearest friend and supporter.
So the years moved on. In April 1961 I met dear Lydia from Luxembourg, who came to live with the Battricks to do nursing training. She had known of the Faith in Luxembourg through Bahá’ís pioneering there, Ronald Bates and Andrew Gash. Lydia declared in Twyford in October 1962 and we married in the garden of the Battricks’ home in March 1964. We visited Luxembourg to meet Lydia’s parents and met more Bahá’ís. We had a beautiful Bahá’í marriage. After some discussion my mother gave her consent and she came all the way down from Sunderland to Twyford to see us married.
Lydia and I had the great joy of attending the 1963 Bahá’í World Congress at the Royal Albert Hall in London and there had the gracious chance to meet all members of the first Universal House of Justice.
In 1964 I pioneered to York and, once qualified, Lydia followed later in the year, and we set up home in a flat where Kirsten, our only child, was born.
Those were happy days, being members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of York from 1964 to the end of 1965. It was at York that we entertained Hand of the Cause John Ferraby at our home while he was visiting York friends. In December 1965 we pioneered to open up East Kesteven district in Lincolnshire. We hadn’t found work in this remote village so worked part time on the land. Those early years were hard for us both, bringing up our child with little work but Bahá’u’lláh helped us and I got work in late 1966 as a Representative.
In 1967 we said goodbye to our spiritual parents, the Battricks, who pioneered out to the South Pacific on earlier requests by the beloved Guardian.
In 1970 work brought us to Co. Durham and we were able to open up the Sedgefield district. We started to advertise the Faith in the local press, and held a Bahá’í stall in the town with other groups on a yearly town event and we got quite well known.
My job finished late in 1970 so after discussion with Lydia, I took up nurse training at the age of 40 at a local hospital for the mentally handicapped, and at last I found how I could release this spiritual love inside me to help these helpless people for I felt so at ease caring for so many distressed people. My work has taken me up the nursing ladder over the years. Now I teach my experience to students going on to care for people with learning disabilities – at a nursing college. Money was tight in the seventies as a student nurse. Lydia got night duty work so I looked after our daughter through the nights.
I was a pioneer in the 10 Year Crusade to York, in the Nine Year Plan to Lincolnshire, and since 1970 our home has been in Sedgefield district.
In February 1985 we at last managed to go on Pilgrimage. A beautiful experience. For me it was wonderfully strange as a Jew and as a Bahá’í going to Israel for the first time and reliving the times of my ancestors 5,000 years before and living the feelings at the Holy Places. Haifa and Acre were beautiful for us.
Lydia rose to be a senior Midwifery Sister at a local maternity unit. All the staff knew she was a Bahá’í. She always acted so justly and with loving care in her work. In March 1989 she became ill with cancer and managed to work on and off till October 1989 when the pain got too much to bear. So she came home and met socially all her friends there and had much treatment – deep radiation and chemotherapy – but she left for the Abhá Kingdom on 5th August 1990. The maternity unit chaplain, Paul Blanche, who knew Lydia very well, at his request led her Bahá’í funeral service. The friends of Durham helped to arrange the Bahá’í prayers and readings from the Psalms. Paul spoke wonderfully about Lydia being a Bahá’í, her caring work, and how he had blessed her hands two days before she left us, for all the babies in her professional life she had brought into God’s world. All her staff came to the service – doctors, consultants and many friends, in affirmation of Lydia’s professional life.
It was doubly sad but three days after laying dear Lydia to rest I had to give my daughter away at her wedding. It was Lydia’s last wish that the wedding – already planned and arranged – would go ahead, as she knew she wouldn’t make it. So it was for me, and I gave my only child to her husband. Lydia is buried in Newton Aycliffe Town Cemetery with a Bahá’í headstone, on which the writings of Bahá’u’lláh are displayed.
As a Bahá’í of Jewish background, I believe there are many Jews ready to embrace Bahá’u’lláh – if only they would take that giant step for God.
Sedgefield district remains opened and with Bahá’u’lláh’s help one day the seeds that Lydia has sown in our twenty years here will flower wonderfully well.
In later years Michael pioneered to the Baltic country of Estonia. For 11 years, from 1997-2008, he actively participated as a member of the Bahá’í Community of Estonia, serving for a period on the National Spiritual Assembly. He lived in Parnu, a Baltic seaside town, where he taught English to local people. Whilst in Estonia, he attended several Bahá’í summer and winter schools. He helped many times at the Bahá’í Centre in Tallinn. He also taught English at the Bahá’í Centre to Estonian and Russian High School children. He often held public meetings in Parnu and was frequently joined there by the Bahá’ís from Tallinn.
On his return from Estonia, in 2008, Michael settled in Darlington to be close to his daughter, Kirsten, and her family. He became part of a small Bahá’í community and was active in teaching the Faith on a personal level and as part of the community. Michael attended Nineteen Day Feasts and Holy Days in the North East and Darlington. He represented the Bahá’í Faith at local Interfaith meetings, spoke about the Faith at local schools and supported Holocaust Remembrance meetings in Darlington.
In 2012 Michael had a stroke and moved to a care home in Darlington. His memory and mobility were affected. His daughter Kirsten visits him several times a week. He also receives regular visits from a local Bahá’í friend and enjoys visits from Bahá’í friends in the North East and Cleveland. Michael remains a staunch and ardent Bahá’í. A photo of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Michael’s room, prompts questions from members of staff who all know that he is a Bahá’í. Despite further deterioration in his health and a move to another care home, Michael always asks about his Bahá’í friends and their activities and sends them all his love and greetings.
Co. Durham, November 1992
Updated in 2014 with the assistance of his daughter, Kirsten Bertram, and Bahá’í friend Fiona Saunders-Priem.
Michael passed away on 29 August 2015.