Where did it all begin? When will it all end? Well, I know when it began, but how it will end, I don’t suppose I’ll ever know; not on this earthly plane at least. I remember the day I left my home town Knott End-on-Sea near Blackpool and set off to begin a new life in Cheltenham. What the future held for me then I didn’t know, but I felt something exciting and out of the ordinary would occur. I rented a flat with two of my sons, Tony and Nigel, near to the railway station, this being a temporary home until I could buy a house or a bungalow. Life was as always – housework, shopping, evenings spent watching TV. Occasionally I went to church or to some religious meeting, and sometimes just to chapel, or the Salvation Army. I became bored with my religious life; perhaps the Christadelphians were the answer but I came away from their meeting feeling spiritually dispirited.
It was November 1969 and I was happy to welcome my eldest son David, his wife and three children into my home. They lived in Hereford, an hour’s journey away. After a brief conversation on everyday life he told me about a new prophet who had arisen from Persia. This prophet had proclaimed He was the Promised One of all ages and that He had come to bring peace to all mankind. I wasn’t very impressed initially as I had read books about these Eastern gurus although I believed they all had ‘something’. I only had faith in Jesus Christ and was looking forward to His Second Coming. I was hoping that I would still be alive on the earth and that I would be one of the lucky ones to see His beloved face. David smiled and said, “Mother! He has already been, in the year 1844”, and he went on to say that the prophet he had told me about was the return of Christ, and also the return of the prophets of other religions. That shook me but I didn’t accept what David was telling me, although I knew that 1844 was the year prophesied by Bible students for the Second Advent. I was rather surprised by my son’s fervour because he had been agnostic and had kindly tolerated his mum’s religious views and church activities in past years. His wife Janet said, “He’s always going on about this new religion”, and so she told him to be quiet, and we went back to mundane conversation.
One Sunday morning I was awakened by David shaking me and asking if I would like to go to a Bahá’í meeting? “What a cheek!” I replied and turned over in bed, annoyed at being woken so early. Tony said he would go so off they went and left me to have a peaceful day. When they returned in the evening I had dinner ready for them. They were all agog and kept on about the wonderful meeting they had been to. Tony said he’d never met such lovely people of different nationalities and the speakers were great. I became envious and wished I had stirred my lazy bones that morning and gone with them. Somehow this meeting sounded different from the usual religious meeting. “By the way”, said Tony, “I met a lovely couple in Bath and they have promised to send me a book written by a man called William Sears who had proved the truth of the Bahá’í Faith through the Bible. “My goodness”, I replied, “I’ll read that book when it arrives. He’s probably got a lot of it wrong, I thought; still, it should be interesting.” A couple of weeks passed, and I was beginning to feel depressed. I didn’t like Cheltenham and I had thoughts of going back to Blackpool from whence I came. There’s nothing here for me, I thought, and I missed the friendliness of the Lancashire folk. I informed Tony of my decision to return home. He looked crestfallen but said he didn’t mind so long as it was after Christmas before my move. I couldn’t really leave Tony on his own at such a time. The next day the postman brought the book promised by the Bath couple. “I’ll read it after you”, I said to Tony. “Oh you can read it first” he replied, “I’ve a lot of studying to do for my exams, I haven’t time for reading”. So that evening after my youngest son Nigel had gone to bed, and Tony had gone to college, I settled down with the book Thief in the Night. Just an hour’s reading, I thought, then I’ll do some ironing and have an early night. Well, I’d never read anything like it before. It really stirred me. I couldn’t put it down; the ironing would have to wait. Tony came in, we had supper and he went off to bed, and once again I got my nose in William Sears’ book. I became so excited about what I was reading, I had to put the book down and meditate for a while. Gosh! I thought, suppose it was really true and this person called Bahá’u’lláh was really the return of my beloved Jesus. I read more and more, until I finished the book. Was it really true? It was very convincing but I decided to study it thoroughly the next night along with the Bible. I must be sure. It seemed too good to be true. There was bound to be something I’d find out when I came to study my Bible.
The next day I wrote to the person who had sent the book, thanked her for it and told her how much I had enjoyed it. In fact, I believed it to be true, but of course I had to make sure and intended further study. This I did and the book passed the Bible test and I felt sure I had found the ‘truth’ at last. I wrote to the couple from Bath and thanked them for the book. After studying it I was convinced it was the truth. Soon afterwards I received a letter from Mrs Barbara Smith who said that the family were overjoyed to hear that William Sears’ book had convinced me of the truth of Bahá’u’lláh and they enclosed in the mail another book, All Things Made New. They also said they would visit me. This they did one cold Saturday in November. As soon as I saw them I liked their warmth and friendliness.
We talked and discussed the Bahá’í Faith and when Terry Smith said Bahá’u’lláh, I repeated it. Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh, oh what a lovely sounding name! I’ll never forget that day when I first heard it from Terry’s lips. Although I had read it in the books, I hadn’t of course been pronouncing the name Baha’u’llah properly. In fact, it seemed a funny sounding name. The way I originally thought it was pronounced showed the beauty of the Persian language. Terry and Barbara gave me some pamphlets on the Faith and the next day I wrote to the Publishing Trust for a list of books. A few days later I received a letter from Mrs Madeline Hellaby who lived in Kendal. At the time she was responsible for the distribution of Bahá’í literature. She sent me several books and a lovely letter telling me she had given my name to a Mrs Gloria Faizi who lived in Hereford. Gloria consequently wrote to me and invited me to her home.
The next weekend I went to meet her, staying the Saturday night with my son David who by then was himself a Bahá’í. I remember the block of flats where Gloria lived, at the top of the John Venn Building. Off I went full of excitement but determined not to be too gullible and to make sure of the truth of this new religion. What a delightful person Gloria was and what a great weekend! She talked to me quietly but convincingly of Bahá’u’lláh and told me many things about the Faith. As we talked on the Sunday afternoon I was struck by the eloquence of her speech and felt spiritually drawn towards her and uplifted; my soul seemed to soar around the room. Goodness! I thought, if I can feel like this with one member of the Persian race, what must Bahá’u’lláh have been like and what power He must have had. As I gazed into Gloria’s lovely eyes something clicked in my mind and I realised in a flash that Bahá’u’lláh was with us that day. I asked “What does one do to become a Bahá’í?” Gloria replied, “You declare your belief in Bahá’u’lláh, promise to obey His laws and ordinances and sign a declaration card which admits you into the Faith.” There and then I declared my belief in Him. I duly signed the declaration card, the Covenant of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was read to me, and we said some prayers. My son David was with us. It was Sunday, 8th March during the period of the Bahá’í Fast (and Mother’s Day) 1970.
I was now a Bahá’í, or should I say, on the first rung of the ladder to becoming and being a Bahá’í. Alas, it was time to catch the bus to Cheltenham so reluctantly I had to leave Gloria. David went to the bus station with me, and I asked him “What happens now?” “You’ll see”, he replied. He kissed me, and we bade each other farewell. As the bus sped on its journey to Cheltenham I felt so happy and quite a different person from the one who had come to Hereford on the Saturday. I kept repeating to myself over and over again, I’m a Bahá’í, I’m a Bahá’í. I felt like telling everyone on the bus but I kept quiet. That night as I lay in bed, I realised that a new way of life was opening up to me. I felt born again, in fact I was – I became a new person on that Mother’s Day in 1970.
I had been a Bahá’í for six months and nothing much had really happened – and then I began to correspond regularly with Barbara Smith. She wrote and invited me to attend the Harlech Summer School in August 1970. Barbara and Terry collected me and my son Nigel in their Volkswagen and off we went. What a glorious time I had meeting lovely people – Bahá’ís from all parts of the world – Ian Semple, Philip Hainsworth, Madeline and Billy Hellaby, Elsie and George Bowers and their children, Ena and Geoff Coulson, Ronald Bates and his lovely family, Pat Keeley, Margaret and Alfred Morse, Peter Smith, and many others whom I was to know more fully in later years.
Betty Reed spoke of pioneering, and as I listened I wished with all my heart that I could go, but I didn’t think I could. What about my lovely bungalow that I had dreamed about for years and finally obtained? What about Nigel’s schooling? And then I didn’t know enough about the Faith. No, pioneering wasn’t for me. Perhaps one day I’d go.
I discussed it with my eldest son, David, and told him of my wishes to pioneer. After all, it wasn’t much use being a Bahá’í if one didn’t do something. “Why not?” said David. “Go if you want to so much. Don’t worry. Your difficulties will be overcome if you go with purity of motive”. Once the thought was fixed in my head I was determined to go, but where to? I didn’t know about teaching committees or pioneering committees. I thought that one just arose and did things for God of one’s own volition. Anyway, having been a serviceman’s wife for twenty odd years, I was used to travelling around the world. I loved new places and faces, so I began to make plans. I decided to go to Blackpool, my native town, for a start. However, things didn’t work out for me there and I soon returned to Cheltenham.
My next pioneer move was to Aberystwyth, where I served on the first Local Spiritual Assembly. I then went on to Llanelli and helped to form the first Spiritual Assembly there. After two years I went travel teaching to Belfast, then Dumbarton, and St. Andrews, and finally pioneered to Brecon, South Wales, opening up the new county of Breconshire (now Powys) to the Faith, taking my youngest son Nigel with me. Over the next 20 years I made more pioneering moves – to Wrexham, Llandrindod Wells, Lytham St. Anne’s, Hereford, Monmouth and Blackpool.
At the time of writing I have returned to Hereford where it all began. I often passed the John Venn building where Gloria Faizi lived and think of my ‘rebirth’ in 1970 and the joy and privilege of being a Bahá’í.
POSTSCRIPT: [Extract from Hilda Black’s letter to Barbara Smith – 23 March 1980]
…. I must tell you of a story – it was brought to mind when I saw all the gables on your roof top. Whilst stationed with the R.A.F. near Market Drayton, I felt the urge to visit one of my friends in nearby Shrewsbury (Salop) so off I went to see her. This friend was a very psychic person, and during conversation on these matters, she told me that sometime in the distant future I would visit a house with many gables, and it would have a big meaning in my life spiritually, if not materially.
Many years passed as I continued to travel with my husband to various RAF stations, some in England and some abroad, including Malta, during which I became an ardent Christian but although I accepted Christ, some of the church teachings left me in doubt as to the real truth of the spirit. I kept a lookout for my house with many gables but I never found it, that is, until I saw your house and all gable ends. Something clicked in my brain, and all that my old friend had told me came to my mind and now I realise how what she said has all come true, because now I know it was from your house that the Spirit of Bahá’u’lláh had drawn me to the Faith and, plus your and Terry’s efforts, has opened a new way of life to me. “I have been given bread instead of a stone”.
Thank you Barbara and Terry, and thank you Bahá’u’lláh!
Blackpool, April 1990
Hilda was living at Knott End-on-Sea, Lancs. when she passed away in October 2014.