“To Where the Path was Leading”
We were a large family and there were none of the home conveniences that we have today. Our lighting was candles and oil lamps. A coal fire had to be lit every day – it was the only means of cooking and heating; water had to be boiled in a tin cauldron for bathing and laundering etc. My mother never had time to attend church but she always said that she was Church of England, and she was English. Someone came to our home to christen the babies but it was never mentioned what denomination that entitled us to.
My father was North Walian, Calvinist Methodist. All his religious books were written in Welsh. He was very faithful to his Welsh Chapel. When I was a child, miners worked six days a week, yet on Sundays, his day of rest, my father would walk down steep hills to attend morning, afternoon and evening services. It was strictly forbidden to play games on a Sunday. The choice was to go for a walk or go to Sunday school. None of us, except my father, understood Welsh. Occasionally we three younger children would go to the Temple Sunday School but we never became members.
I cannot recall being aware of any religion other than Christianity. There was a Catholic Church – “for the Irish” so it was said; also Welsh and English Churches and Chapels. There was a class distinction between Church and Chapel attendants, an accepted undercurrent that the former were the “upper crust”. They had got something special that others had missed!!
Perhaps my soul got a “kick start” when I asked what book the church goers carried to their services? I was told that everyone used the Bible. That puzzled me. I couldn’t fathom out why there would be different forms of worship! That was my only question. I wasn’t a seeker, nor committed to any regular religious time schedules.
During the war, when stationed in Scotland, I often attended Church of Scotland and I loved the Non-Conformist hymns. During my married years, practising religion had no part at all in my life but, with hindsight, I think there were a few incidents that might have re-started some response in my `inner being’.
One Easter time a magazine printed an article about the crucifixion, accompanied by a coloured painting vividly depicting the agony that would have been suffered. It had a profound effect on me. It made me so very, very sad. I kept that supplement for a number of years and brought it out every Easter, and always got that same feeling of deep sadness. I had no doubt that a man named Jesus had lived and that he was eventually nailed to a cross. For me, the truth of it was in that picture.
The years rolled by. I moved house, lost or mislaid the picture but, strange as it may seem, another magazine and another picture had some bearing on my thoughts. This time the picture was a black and white slushy snow scene. The caption said: “If you can see a face, then the picture has a message for you.” Was it imagination? After staring for some time and turning the picture around, I could see the lines of a face. Like a negative, I might even say, it was similar to the Turin Shroud. I wasn’t the only one to see the face, but there were a lot of people who could not see it and they thought it a bit of a con!! For all that, I don’t know what the “special message” was for me – unless…
Wales often used to have revivals. It might have been in the early sixties that a well known Evangelist was coming to preach in my home town. Out of curiosity, I went on my own to hear him. I cannot recall one word of his sermon but at the end he said: “If you believe in God, will you stand and be counted. Will you stand as a witness and let others see that you have faith?” I felt a strong urge to get up on my feet, and I did just that. I don’t know if any one there remained seated. I do know that at that moment there was a powerful magnetism attracting me. Even after that experience I still did not attend any place of worship, but there were times when I had a guilty feeling. It would trouble my conscience that I had “stood to be counted” and then left it at that. The few services I did attend had no meaning for me, and nothing to which I could feel dedicated – until…
It is not in Swansea now, the Hair Dressing Salon that was also a training school. I used to take advantage of their cheap-rate days when the students would give you “all the glamour” for half the price! One day I was there, almost ready to leave, being `combed out’ when my attention was drawn to a lady under a dryer. She was speaking in a loud voice, telling everyone about a letter she had read in a local paper.
The writer, signed herself “Londoner” was complaining that Swansea was a “lonely” unfriendly place for women on their own. They weren’t welcome in pubs and clubs as men were, and someone ought to do something about it. Thinking she could help to bring together lonely people, the person I was hearing said she had booked a room for an inaugural meeting. My curiosity was roused but it was time for me to pay and leave, so I heard no more.
When I got home that day it was time to go into the kitchen to make my tea, and in the kitchen was a copy of the evening paper, several days out of date. I don’t know why I had kept that newspaper, nor why I had not previously noticed the announcement that was now staring me in the face. “At the Red Cross Centre, an inaugural meeting, for people on their own, wishing to form a social club.” The date was a few days hence! What a strange coincidence! I went to that inaugural meeting. I sat talking to a lady until the chair lady opened the meeting. She, of course, was the same person who had been speaking in a loud voice at the hairdressers. After a few preliminary remarks, she said: “The lady who wrote the letter, signed Londoner, was here in the audience. Would she please come forward and tell us what she has in mind?
The lady I had been sitting talking to got up and went to the front. So it was her. And it was my first Bahá’í! But I didn’t know it then, not yet! For the past 24 years I’ve known her as Dee.
We established our friendship that first evening. Dee suggested that we go for a drink after the meeting – she had a rather la di da accent and I thought we would go to the Dragon Hotel for a sherry before a meal there. But no, we went to a café in Mumbles and we had Oxo and beans on toast. It struck me as odd at the time. Our friendship progressed. We spoke on the ‘phone, arranged to meet again, and there followed invitations to each other’s homes. On one occasion Dee was wearing a small lapel badge. It looked like a snake to me. I asked what it represented? She said something about a Bahá’í symbol.
By this time I knew that Dee was letting bed-sits to African students, and when I was asked to go to a “fireside” in her home to meet other Bahá’ís, I expected some of her students to be there to tell us about their African Bahá’í religion! The guest speaker at my first fireside was Carl Card from Cardiff. Also there were Jeremy and Denise Fox and Dee (Dewar) Telford. No African gentlemen!
In the Bahá’í Nine Year Plan, Swansea was to be raised to LSA standard. There were weekly firesides, and regular public meetings. Many interesting speakers came to help with the teaching work. They were very influential in my early Bahá’í education. Major Harry Charles, Mrs Mehrangiz Munsiff, the Newman sisters and Owen and Jeanette Battrick, to mention a few.
Dee lived in Swansea for a few years after introducing me to the Faith. She had a car and I went with her to firesides in many communities. On Whit Sunday 1966 Dee had invited me to her home for the day. She lived on a hill. I could climb the hill in those days, passing the Guildhall clock at ground level. I used to look back at it from the top to see how long it had taken me – usually 10 minutes. Now it would take me an hour! After lunch I said to Dee: “I’ve signed that card you gave me.” She dropped the dish she was drying! She threw down the tea towel and, with tears in her eyes, she gave me such a hug!! I wasn’t expecting that reaction, nor the next – we had to go immediately to Jeremy and Denise’s house. They were not at home, so my card was pushed into their letter box. Dee said that they must see it as soon as they got back from the weekend school they were attending.
Every Bahá’í remembers the moment they handed over their registration card. It touches the heart of everyone who witnesses it. It comes as a surprise to the newly enrolled one to see everyone weeping with joy. But after a while we get used to it. I would like to add that it only took a few months for me to accept the Faith. I was not holding on to any preconceived ideas about religion. My background was not filled with teachings that had to be reconsidered or discarded.
Progressive Revelation made absolute sense for me. I could take in the teaching that a new, religious message was given to man from age to age by a Manifestation of God. Hence we have Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, etc. And after reading David Hofman’s book The Renewal of Civilization I knew the Bahá’í Faith was for me.
I tremble a little when I dare to think that I was meant to go to a hairdressing salon on a certain day. It was intended that I should have kept a certain newspaper, and divine intervention that I would follow what I read about a meeting, and that I would go there to the Red Cross centre to meet Dee, who was to become my beloved, spiritual mother.
Gladys Margaret Parker
Glamorgan, S Wales, October 1992
[Editor’s note: Gladys passed away on 21 November 1995 in Swansea.]