My parents had rather different attitudes towards religion. My father, while not quite agnostic, was very sceptical of organised religion and, in fact, of bureaucracies in general. He was, however, a very honest person and went out of his way to help others once convinced of the need. Apparently he had a bit of a reputation for sticking to principle at the government department where he worked as a valuation surveyor!
My mother, on the other hand, was very patient and fulfilled the role of a kind, self-less, housewife for many years, attending a Methodist church from time to time but less and less in later years. Be that as it may, if she felt strongly about something then my father would just say “Yes dear” and that was it.
Though I was born in London we moved to the North of England when I was small. I recall being taken to church for Sunday school occasionally in my early years in the village where we lived and not being much impressed. I never went voluntarily. Religion was just not a topic of conversation in the house until, much later I might bring up the topic of the Faith myself.
In the mid-teen years I started to develop an interest in things of a mystical nature having for years been an avid reader with a keen interest in science, science fiction and fantasy. Topics of interest included some which were popular ‘fringe’ topics at that time but which are of little interest now. Eventually my interest was attracted to mysticism, yoga and meditation.
It was around this time that I completed school in Newcastle and left home to attend Lancaster University where I studied Physics. I later discovered that there were Bahá’í books in the university library but I never came across them although I did visit that section at times.
There was a Zen meditation group at the university. I became very interested and joined the group for a time. The leader of the group was associated with a Buddhist monastery in the Pennines and I considered doing the same. Later, I took up transcendental meditation with another campus group and continued to practise this for some years although I did not maintain contact with that organisation for long after leaving university.
After completing university I had two employment offers: an interesting and well-paid job as a programmer with a defence contractor and a programming job at the Meteorological Office. The first was rejected purely on ethical grounds – it felt the wrong type of work, not the kind of work I could do with a clear conscience. I have wondered what would have become of me had I accepted this offer, since accepting the second led me to the Bahá’í Faith.
I moved down south in late summer 1974 to start work at the Meteorological Office at Bracknell in Berkshire, taking a room to rent a few miles away in Wokingham. Once settled I began to search for sources of spiritual knowledge. A few weeks later I came across a notice of a public meeting in Wokingham Town Hall about the Bahá’í Faith. This intrigued me as I had never heard of it before, and, looking it up in Encyclopaedia Britannica, the teachings sounded very attractive and so I decided to attend. This was a turning point in my life and the search for knowledge finally produced results.
I recall the meeting was at night and there were not many people there – I suspect I was perhaps the only non-Baha’i though that was not obvious at the time. Being very shy I probably did not say anything much and I do not recall anything about the content. However I was keen to learn more and eagerly attended firesides with Gwen and Gordon Mackenzie and with Ray and Mahin Humphrey. I was also keen to read, the book which really convinced me being The Seven Valleys and Four Valleys. About six weeks or so later I expressed my desire to join the Faith. It turned out that Ray also worked at the Meteorological Office in Bracknell. Surely some prayers of his were at work!
I have very warm memories of local Bahá’í activities during the following two years. I read a lot and attended deepenings, one summer school and two Conventions. I went to the Paris Conference in 1976 and discovered that my school-learnt French was incomprehensible to Parisians!
I took part in teaching activities, with limited success – making friends has always been difficult for me. One memory is of walking around Slough with some other youth reciting the prayer, the Remover of Difficulties.
I recall attending a few wonderful meetings in Henley but this was difficult as getting back at night by public transportation was impossible. I also recall around this time a one-day deepening on prayer given by Meherangiz Munsiff which made a deep impression on me.
One prized memory was an appeal for help doing some gardening work around the resting place of the Guardian Shoghi Effendi at the New Southgate Cemetery in North London. I was fortunate to be able to go and to have the bounty of participating there.
Early in 1976 I went on pilgrimage and gained memories to last a lifetime. In the pilgrimage group there were a number of young people by whom I was befriended and who are not forgotten. One was Gordon Naylor who, curiously, came to Guyana some years later with his family as a pioneer.
Sometime in 1975 I had learned about pioneer goals and I resolved to commit my life to this end, so began the process of offering to pioneer and identifying a goal. This process led to writing to various places, mainly in Africa and the Pacific area, seeking employment. Finally, in 1976 it seemed that there was employment for me as a teacher in Guyana in South America. I was interviewed in London but a definite offer and contract failed to arrive. Eventually I put my trust in God and made arrangements to go to Guyana regardless.
My parents were rather doubtful of my interest in the Faith and especially of my departure for South America but they did not object and faithfully supported my decisions and still do so today. Their support through the years has helped immeasurably in making life less difficult and especially with regard to the education of the five children of my marriage. I am most thankful to God for this!
It happened that the flight to Guyana in October 1976 also had as a passenger international travel teacher Meherangiz Munsiff. There was quite a group of friends waiting for her arrival at the airport in Guyana and this was fortunate for me as although my arrival did not seem to be expected, I was able to join the group and thus I was welcomed to Guyana.
Looking back over the years the only thing I regret is not having had the chance to get to know more of the friends in the UK before I left. I look forward to doing that in the future either in this world or the next.
On reaching Guyana I did, after some delay, get a teaching job in a local school under local conditions. They were a bit suspicious of someone coming at their own expense and without a contract.
A year later I married a local believer, Carol Fraser. There followed four daughters and a son – all active believers, for which I am most grateful.
Guyana, June 2013