Barbara Smith with Thelma Batchelor - Eden Project

Barbara Smith with Thelma Batchelor – Eden Project

I was born and brought up, the third of four sisters, in Chippenham, Wiltshire. My parents made sure we went to Sunday school but they didn’t attend church themselves. I met my future husband Terry in Bristol during the time I was doing a secretarial course. I was 17. We married six years later when I was 23 and our first son Robert was born a year later. We decided to emigrate to Canada, so Terry travelled out first, finding himself a job soon after arrival and I followed out on the Cunard transatlantic passenger ship, RMS Scythia. Our two other sons Michael and David were born in Canada.

We were living just outside Montreal, Canada, in a place called Beloeil. We had three small children and came to the conclusion that we were not being good parents because we were not churchgoers, and we thought we owed it to the children to introduce them to the church. So we started to attend the Protestant Church, known as the United Church of Canada, and we enrolled the children in Sunday School. After only about three weeks of this new Sunday activity, Terry said he wasn’t going any more as he was not feeling anything spiritual in the church services. After discussion we decided to give it one more chance, and that on the following Sunday, while in church, we would pray, ‘For goodness sake, God, we know You are there but can’t find You, please help us!’ And this is what we did.

During the course of the following week, Terry met a person at work, in Montreal, whom he had not met before, and during the course of their conversation it emerged that she and her husband also lived in Beloeil and travelled into Montreal each day for work. She invited Terry to call on them with me and the children.

We instantly became good friends and a couple of months later, when they were planning an annual get-together on the coast of Maine during the Labour Day holiday, they suggested we went along too. It was during that weekend that they gave us the book Thief in the Night by William Sears, and as Terry was reading it, he kept saying, ‘Just wait till you read this, just wait till you read this!’

This was at the beginning of September 1961 and was the start of an incredibly exciting time for us. After reading Thief in the Night we knew it was the truth, but felt we should read more. We couldn’t read enough!

On one bitterly cold evening they wanted us to drive 18 miles to St Lambert where Ruth Moffat was speaking. Terry got home from work, exhausted, and we decided we wouldn’t go. Then the doorbell rang and it was John and Moira. They said, ‘Moira’s going to baby-sit for you and John is going to drive you to St Lambert’! So we had no choice! How glad we were to have had the privilege of meeting and listening to Ruth Moffat, then an old and frail lady, but ablaze with her love of Bahá’u’lláh.

We had been to one or two firesides and when we were told that Roland Estall was coming to speak at a fireside, I offered to hold this fireside in our home. Thinking a large crowd would turn up, I borrowed chairs from neighbours and splashed out on buying some flowers, an expensive commodity in those days in the thick of a Canadian winter. And imagine how surprised I was when the only ones attending were Terry and me and the five local Bahá’ís. I little dreamt that this whole evening had been arranged solely for us!

It paid off, for in January 1962 we declared our love for Bahá’u’lláh. Hand of the Cause Mr Khadem was visiting Montreal the following weekend and we met him at the Maxwell House on Pine Avenue, Montreal, and Terry was surprised to experience his first hug from a man!

Our lives changed completely, and for the first time I enjoyed living in Canada; something wonderful had come out of a Canadian winter, which hitherto I had found hard to endure.

Our wonderful teachers were John and Moira Pollitt, and the other three Bahá’ís in Beloeil were Priscilla and Bill Waugh, and Priscilla’s mother, Mrs Ellen B. DeMille. Two more Bahá’ís moved into Beloeil (Pam and David Fairchild), and at Ridván 1962 we formed the first Local Spiritual Assembly in Beloeil. We had what Terry and I always considered was a near-perfect LSA, because we all loved each other so much and we were never happier than when we were all together, and we laughed so much. They were all in the habit of saying the Long Obligatory Prayer each day, and I am so grateful that they encouraged us to do the same.

John and Moira remained life-long friends who visited us several times in England. John passed away whilst on pilgrimage in 1983 and I was able to visit his grave when on my own pilgrimage in the summer of 1984. Many, many years later, in 1995, I visited Priscilla Waugh, pioneer to Isles de les Madeleine, in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Quebec, where Bill had passed away some years before. Few will have pioneered to more desolate or less welcoming places than the Isles de les Madeleine. When Bill passed away the Church would not allow Bill his burial in the cemetery, and he was buried alone in a spot outside of the church grounds. Blessed is the spot. It was a wonderful experience to meet Priscilla again.

Terry met our good friend Thelma while he was working in the Head Office of the Bank of Montreal very soon after she had arrived from England to work and travel in North America. Terry gave the book Thief in the Night to her to read and a few months later she became a Bahá’í in San Francisco.

In 1966, four years after we had become Bahá’ís, we moved back to England with our three boys and settled in my home town of Chippenham, in Wiltshire. It was a terrible wrench to leave our Canadian Bahá’í community and it took us a while to settle down. Terry qualified as a school teacher and I did secretarial work. As Terry was both a school teacher and an irrepressible teacher of the Faith, we soon gathered around us a wonderful group of people who came to the house on Friday evenings straight from school and work. We ate together and sometimes we had visiting speakers. The Bahá’ís from Bath and Bristol would usually join us too. Visiting speakers included Ursula Samandari and also Beth Bowen from Massachusetts and Sammi Anwar (these two friends toured Britain travel-teaching in their yellow VW Beetle for several months). The Priem family, who were living nearby, became Bahá’ís. We met them through our white cat who was lost and subsequently found by Veronica Priem and because of this our close friend Ron Batchelor always referred to the cat as a ‘paw of the cause’! Ron and Thelma were regular visitors before they were married and went to live overseas during the 1970s and 1980s. They’ve also been regular visitors to Cornwall ever since they returned to live in the UK. They left their caravan with us when they pioneered to the Solomon Islands and then to Nepal, and in our garden it housed many an additional travelling teacher, musician, speaker or a young soul attracted to the spirit of Faith that emanated from all the comings and goings over the years.

After a 10 minute talk at an assembly at Terry’s school in Melksham in the late 1960s two of the pupils became Bahá’ís, Peter Conn and Jill Pearce. In the 1960s there were frequent weekend schools held around the country and so it was easy to get to know the friends from all over the British Isles. Terry was often called upon to give talks and he also served on various committees.

One of the greatest gifts of these early days in the Faith is that we are called to serve in roles that will be filled by far more capable and experienced souls in the future. We had the privilege of serving on many institutions and in organizing several events – some of which were blessed with the attendance of Hands of the Cause of God and brilliant orators and radiant souls. A year or two after we arrived back in England we travelled to Exeter and also to Birmingham to listen to Hand of the Cause of God William Sears who was giving a series of talks around the country. On one occasion we mentioned to him that it was costly being a Bahá’í family and travelling around the country and staying at the many events that were held in those days (travel teaching, summer and winter schools etc). Bill Sears assured us that he would say some prayers for a solution. We saw him a couple of weeks later, by which time we had been inspired to buy a VW camper van – problem solved!

Like the 1960s, the 1970s were filled with love, laughter and the most precious friendships – too many to mention them all, but Hilda Black, Prudence George, Ron and Thelma Batchelor, Jim Talbot, Victor and Veronica Priem, David Lewis, Rita and Viv Bartlett, Ann Moqbel, and the steadfast Pat Keeley and the Bahá’ís of Bath and Bristol had special places in our lives. In 1980 I re-trained to teach shorthand and typing (and later word processing) and in 1982 accepted a job lecturing in college in St Austell, Cornwall. Terry sold-up and joined me a year later.

Sadly and suddenly, in November 1983, Terry died shortly after our move and he lies buried in the cemetery in Eastbourne Road, just around the corner from where I live, side by side with Mr Rezvanullah Maani who died a day earlier. Also, Pat Keeley, who passed away in 1998, is buried close by, as is my eldest sister Kathleen.

In the early 1990’s I had the privilege of a most extraordinary travel-teaching trip to Romania with Homa Khalilian. These were relatively early days for the expansion of the Faith in Eastern Europe and conditions were tough. Fortunately Homa had brought a small gas stove so we were able to heat water and make tea, otherwise, hot water was a rare treat. The trains we travelled on usually had no lights and I remember arriving late at night at one destination in utter darkness – no lights at the station either! As we climbed down from the train we had no idea of what kind of place we were arriving at or if we would ever be seen again! Of course, the people of Romania were kind and welcoming and our days were busy meeting searching souls and sharing what we could of the Faith with them.

…………………………….

So as I write this in 2014 I have been part of the Cornwall Bahá’í community for 32 years. The Cornish Bahá’ís have been a close-knit, loving and supportive family to me. They have all been a very united group and I have loved them all: from Launceston to Land’s End, Mr and Mrs Maani, Mr and Mrs Mirzai, Philomena and Jamile Clifford, Di, Paul and Jonathan Profaska, Arthur and Dru Wetherelt, John and Maureen Gilbert, Geoff, Michaela, Rosie, Jordan, Bonnie and Mica Smith, Joan and Gill, Ken and Betty Goode (Sabri), Lillian and Ernest Ruby, Noreen and Derk Atkinson, Pauline Bray and all the others whom I have not named. Not, of course, forgetting my son David, his wife Manijeh, and their children Bayan and Holly who, after 11 years’ pioneering in Zambia, returned to this country, settled in Penzance and became part of our Cornish Bahá’í community from 2005 until last year when they moved to Cambridge.

I have been active in being able to start up a branch of the United Nations Association in St Austell and also able to build up interfaith activities within the branch. We introduced Interfaith celebrations every other year. Our concentration has been on interfaith work which has also enabled the Cathedral in Truro to join in such events. The result of many years of interfaith work is a purpose-built building to be opened this year, called “Dor Kemmyn” which is Cornish for Common Ground. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahá’ís, Hindus, Buddhists and Quakers are all involved, and all have joined forces to actually make the bricks and raise the funds for what I believe is the first purpose-built interfaith centre in a rural area in the UK.

_______________________

Barbara Smith

Cornwall, July 2014

Terry and Barbara Smith, with Ron Batchelor holding the ‘paw of the cause'  Chippenham, Wiltshire (1967)

Terry and Barbara Smith, with Ron Batchelor holding the ‘paw of the cause’ Chippenham, Wiltshire (1967)

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