Jan and Bryn Fussell

Jan and Bryn Fussell

I first came across the Bahá’í Faith in Cambridge in 1977. I had become friendly at work with Beth MacEoin and had been invited over to dinner one evening with Beth and her husband, Denis. I asked whether they would like me to take a bottle of wine – to my surprise, Beth declined because, she said, they were Bahá’ís and so did not drink alcohol. I was intrigued; I thought ‘Bahá’í’ sounded more like an island in the sun than a religion!

After dinner, we got to talking about religion. Denis had a huge collection of books and kindly offered to lend me some. I read about Confucianism and Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and so on. . . . going though every religion I had ever heard of. Finally, I came to the Bahá’í Faith. Denis lent me All Things Made New by John Ferraby. I was immediately hooked by the logic underlying all aspects of the Faith; everything made sense. All the other Faiths contained elements with which I disagreed, but the Bahá’í Faith answered all my questions and seemed to me to be the only way forward. So, a third of the way through the book, I decided to become a Bahá’í.

I was just getting over a failed relationship at the time and didn’t want to use religion as a prop, so I waited a few months before actually declaring and signing the card, until I was certain that I was doing it for the right reasons. I met more Bahá’ís, moved to Wales with a new job, and lodged with a dear lady called Margaret Morse, who also happened to be a Bahá’í. “These Bahá’ís are all over the place”, I thought: “They’re everywhere. How strange that I’ve never known about it until now.”

Becoming a Bahá’í really changed my life for the better. It gave me a true sense of purpose in my life. I became less judgmental and prejudiced. I began seeing other people as part of my own extended family. I think it also gave me an inner confidence so that I felt at ease with others; I was able to talk to anyone; I was not intimidated by anyone in authority and I have always based my judgments upon fact and personal experience, not on the opinions of others. This has stood me in good stead over the years. I have also learnt to keep a confidence to myself and not to join in gossip.

Family and friends were not worried by my declaration; they knew I would have researched it properly and would not have made a rash decision. None have become Bahá’ís, but they do ask what the Faith has to say about different situations and problems in their lives and respect the soundness of its advice. My aunt and cousins were shown around the National Bahá’í Centre in London one Saturday, on giving me a lift there. I believe they were quite impressed by the ambience of calmness and serenity which flows throughout the rooms, and the fact that they were made so welcome by their gracious guide.

Gradually, over the years I have been called upon to serve the Faith in various capacities, all of which have given me an insight into the frailties of human behaviour and made me into a more rounded person. I served on the Swansea, Llanelli and Carmarthen Local Spiritual Assemblies, mostly as secretary but also as treasurer; I was a member of the Regional Advisory Committee, which later combined with the Pastoral Committee, on which I continued to serve; I served on the Welsh Spring School committee and the Association of Bahá’í Women. I also conducted our little Welsh Bahá’í choir and wrote and arranged music for choral group. Each summer my husband Bryn, our son Habib and I attended Sidcot Summer School and we took an active part in the musical activities there, especially the last-night talent show. We also took part in the production of the CD A Wayfarer’s Journey which proved challenging and exhausting, but the outdoor performance in Cheddar Gorge was well worth it. Several other musicians took copies of my own songs for children back to their home communities in France, Scandinavia and Russia.

In Wales, a group of local Bahá’í ladies began offering ‘Tranquility Zone’ meditative sessions to local hospitals, nursing homes, and at the Housing Association headquarters in Swansea. We were invited to give three sessions during the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Week and at an ex-church-now-community centre in Llanelli. These sessions were always much appreciated by those who attended and were an informal method of bringing the Bahá’í Teachings to a wider public.

Tracey Roberts-Jones and I were then asked to take morning assembly at several local junior schools in Llanelli. We were also invited to teach the Faith as part of the comparative religion classes at two of the senior schools, which resulted in us reaching all the 14 and 15-year olds in one particular school. Bryn and I also went on to take part in several workshops during the school’s comparative religion day. All very rewarding.

Tracey and I also ran twice-yearly annual Women’s Weekends for a period of about ten years. These were held in a secluded rural setting and were designed to raise the participants’ self-esteem, to enable them to take on a more fulfilling and active role in society, and to encourage them to achieve their full potential. Initially aimed at Bahá’í women, they gradually drew in more and more non-Bahá’ís, many from the caring professions who badly needed to de-stress and be put in touch with their inner selves once more.

At a particularly special weekend, a group of ladies said that they wished to continue meeting up, in order to build on their new-found friendships, and so the women’s Monthly Discussion Group was formed. Each month, around ten of us would meet in someone’s home; we would have a half-hour ‘Tranquility Zone’ session, followed by an exchange of views on something topical in the news. We became very supportive of one another and helped each other when problems arose. Everyone accumulated various quotations from the Writings, plus one or two prayers, eventually leading to two groups studying Book One in the Study Circle series.

Noticing that not everyone was equally happy with the content of Book One, I felt a short, introductory workshop, setting the scene as it were, with a one-off precursor to the study circles might be useful, so I put one together and sent it to the relevant committee overseeing such matters. They kindly retained it as a possible additional teaching aid.

For me, as for so many other Bahá’ís, a major turning-point was reached when we went on Pilgrimage as a family. Being a musician, I really wanted to sing a prayer rather than just say it. I had a feeling that, strictly speaking, this wasn’t really allowed, but one day, finding myself alone at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s resting place and with no-one else in the vicinity I plucked up courage and sang ‘Blessed Is The Spot’. I was very nervous. And then it was as if a quiet voice spoke inside my head. “This was not important”, it said. “What is important is what you do when you return home”. I believed it to be ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He was just gently showing me that there were more important things to do – namely, teaching the Faith: that was what really mattered. I have never forgotten it.

Everyone experiences tests and difficulties, but the Faith is there to see you through. Our worst nightmare was when my husband was involved in a major court trial. We were sick with worry, and concerned that the bad publicity would harm the name of the Faith. Bryn was completely exonerated and the support we had from friends and neighbours, Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís alike, was amazing. A second attempt to make false allegations about Bryn was thrown out by the judge and an ‘abuse of process’ was announced. As a result, the trial had set a new legal bench-mark which our legal team felt would aid a change to the law, perhaps not immediately, but in due course, which it badly needed.

We had set out to be courteous to all those involved at the court, whether officials, members of the staff, members of the public, lawyers, or catering staff. We looked everyone in the eye, told the whole truth at all times, and trusted that justice would prevail. At one point the courtroom appeared to me to be bathed in light and I felt the presence of three persons behind me: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh and The Báb. It was a very stressful time but we won through, and the love and support of the National Assembly encouraged us. Afterwards, we felt that the Faith had touched many people, which was perhaps the reason that test had been sent to us.

Unfortunately, my husband went on to develop two forms of dementia, and I now do a lot less for the Faith; I find that my energy levels are much lower. However, I do what I can, as do we all, and I try to be helpful and courteous to others. Increasingly, people confide in me and turn to me for advice. I try to be non-judgmental and supportive and ‘build bridges’. Above all else, I remember what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said to me.

____________________

Janet Fussell

November 2013

Jan (second from R) and others in 1977

Jan (second from R) and others in 1977

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