Cathy Cardell (Yavrom) daughter of Edmund ‘Ted’ Cardell (Knight of Bahá’u’lláh to South West Africa) and Alicia Cardell (née Ward), has compiled the following account of her parents’ and her own involvement in the Bahá’í Faith.
Recollections of growing up in the UK
The account of the Cardells’ participation in the Bahá’í Faith in the United Kingdom starts with Edmund “Ted” Cardell when he returned from overseas as a brand new Bahá’í in April 1949. He had been in Winnipeg, Canada, and while there had gone to firesides at a friend’s home. He recounted later “this new friend was very wise, as he invited a guest speaker from every religion, and at the end of about six months, he invited a Bahá’í speaker, who simply summarized the ‘World Teachers’ and explained that Bahá’u’lláh was the most recent one for this age”. To Ted, this seemed the only reasonable explanation of man’s struggle to find the meaning of life.
In another source he recounted further details of his declaration. He was working at a warehouse in Winnipeg, and living in a building with many rooms. In spite of the fact that several Bahá’ís also lived in that same building, it was not from them that he first heard the name “Bahá’í”. He was struck with a curiosity one day to go into a bookstore across the street from the warehouse, and asked about any religious materials that were not the usual Christian subjects. He was told that though the store did not carry anything that he was asking for, there was a phone number, however, of a local Bahá’í group. Pursuing this information he was led to Ross Woodman, and firesides with him, as described above. How he suddenly recognized Bahá’u’lláh was an unusual thing for him because “I am a logical person, and one day I was sitting in a café, thinking over this picture of Progressive Revelation, and…. It all fitted! But it still didn’t tell me if Bahá’u’lláh was a Manifestation of God. I just didn’t get any further. So I started the whole process again, and again I couldn’t get any further. I couldn’t get an answer. So I started the process a third time and suddenly I knew it was true! Now don’t tell me how I did it, it wasn’t logic at all. I suddenly knew that I had to take a leap in the dark, and I did, and there I found Bahá’u’lláh! So I walked back to my lodging house where I had a room, and there were several other Baha’is in the same building, and my special friend Ross Woodman. And I asked Ross, “About 3.30pm this afternoon were you praying that I should become a Baha’i?” and he said “Oh nooo!” “Alright,” I said, “I’m in!” and that was how it happened.” [Audio recording by Mr. Mehran and Mrs. Nagmeh Towfigh, Santa Cruz, July 1974].
He quickly became involved with his new Bahá’í community in the British Isles, and immediately began job hunting. By June he had found employment in Fleet Street, London, then the centre of all the UK’s national newspapers. His home base was Great Paxton, Hungtingdonshire, an hour north of London by train. From other accounts, such as that of Ian Semple, we learn that Ted was at a fireside at the home of Philip Hainsworth. We can assume he began to make connections and participate in Bahá’í events. At that time, these might be several hours of travel time apart. In those days there were between five and twenty five Local Spiritual Assemblies in the whole of the United Kingdom. English people did not regularly travel more than an hour’s distance but it seems Ted did.
First Bahá’í Community for Ted
Ted lived with his parents in Great Paxton, but to assist in the teaching efforts he moved to Brighton and was working there by August 1950, sacrificing the high exposure Fleet Street job in the process. This presaged his future endeavours. A humorous anecdote he recounted from this time relates to when he was one of a community of nine Bahá’ís, the other eight all being ladies. The time came to elect the officers of their new Local Spiritual Assembly. Upon counting the ballots and discovering that Ted was elected unanimously as chairman, the ladies responded “Hey, you voted for yourself!” Ted’s response, laughing good naturedly every time he recounted this episode in later years, was “I considered myself the best person for the job, and we are allowed to vote for ourselves!”
Another of the first things he did on his return was to revisit his séance group, which he had originally joined prior to becoming a Bahá’í, in a quest to contact his deceased brother. It seems he believed he was successful, because he reported to the family that his brother had relayed to him that his job in the afterlife was to help soldiers who had been killed to stop fighting, and recognise that they were dead. Ted now returned to this same group with a burning question and a need to say goodbye. He recounted that he felt he had made a connection with a soul called Tom, and when he re-contacted him, Ted asked a question of huge import: “Why didn’t you tell me about Bahá’u’lláh?” Tom’s response was “We don’t know everything here. All I know is that I am supposed to spread love.” Many many times he recounted this anecdote to me, using it to emphasise the importance of the opportunity whilst here on this earthly plane, and of the vital role of the Bahá’í Faith. Ted bade his farewell to Tom, saying that now that he was a Bahá’í his involvement with séance groups was at an end.
The picture below gives us a glimpse of the community Ted joined on his return to England.
The year 1951 was when Shoghi Effendi announced the Africa Campaign to the Bahá’í world. Ted was thirty-two years old and much enthused, so he joined the Africa committee. After assisting other pioneers to go out to Africa, he realized “I was very much inspired by the Guardian and also young and free. Africa was beckoning, but all the goals were full. Looking at the map, I saw Kenya and felt that Nairobi offered a good chance for settlement so I asked the Africa Committee if they would like to write to the Guardian and take on that territory as an extra goal. He was happy to accept and I started job-searching by mail. I sent some of my photo-work to Marguerite Preston so that she could visit photography shops in Nairobi and perhaps find work for me.” No promise of work was found. “On consultation with my parents, they decided to buy me a return ticket to Nairobi so that I would be safe going off…to help me out, if I got stuck”.
In October 1951 he left the British Isles, returning only a couple of times for brief visits. While out of the country in 1953 he also pioneered to South West Africa, today called Namibia, in response to the Ten Year Crusade, for which he earned the appellation “Knight of Bahá’u’lláh”.
After the passing of Shoghi Effendi, Ted flew to England to visit the Guardian’s resting place in North London. Next he decided to visit the United States of America for their National Convention. He crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary and embarked on a teaching trip where he discovered that the American Bahá’ís were greatly interested in the times he had spent with Shoghi Effendi, and the work in Africa. At the US National Convention he met the girl who was to become his wife, Alicia Ward, and in August 1958 they married in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ted and Alicia attended the first Bahá’í World Congress, which was held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 1963.
Ted’s life, especially his time in Africa, is dealt with more fully in a separate document.
Settling in England
Ted returned to England for good in 1965, bringing with him his wife, Alicia, and their first two children, Suzy and me.
Our family moved into a mobile home on our paternal grandparents’ property, the Manor Farm of Great Paxton. Having come from a hot climate, the chilly weather of England was strange but I remember that time as a great adventure. Everything in the mobile home seemed made just to my size. Everything about it was so new and interesting. I especially loved my bedroom because it was mine alone, made, it seemed, to fit me perfectly. My whole bedroom was so small that it was in fact the size of two single beds put together but at the time seemed like a doll’s house, at my size! Immediately next to the mobile home was a patch of wild trees and bushes. My sister Suzy and I had the time of our lives playing in the greenery and I fell in love with this magical new place. The Church grounds close by were also a natural place for me to play, and I remember games of hide-and-seek amongst the tombstones. There was no fear of the dead; my parents were very accepting in that regard – in fact family ancestors, including my father’s brother, were buried there, and we were encouraged to embrace and treasure that fact. Reflecting now, I realise I never played around my family tombstones though, and I think it was because I viewed them with a deep sentimentality. It is now clear to me that my parents saw this new chapter and their new home as a wonderful new opportunity in life. Things had not turned out in Africa the way they had hoped; however they were eager to find new and different ways to serve the Faith. Having had the chance to pioneer in adulthood, I have learned that as a returning pioneer I have had to process feelings of seemingly inadequate service to the Faith. My parents said that they returned unwillingly from Africa, compelled by circumstances. I gather they had to sever any feelings of attachment as regards pioneering and open their hearts to this new chapter in England. I think they must have succeeded, because as a child I wasn’t aware of any negativity relating to our move to England.
My brother James was born in the mobile home. In the following year our paternal grandparents moved out, retired, and handed the farm over to our father, Ted. We moved into the Manor House, and that’s when the family’s involvement in the Faith took on a more active turn.
Holy threads added into our lives
At this time another very special regular event was occurring which wove threads of the sacred throughout every aspect of our lives. For me as a child, it made the Bahá’í Faith personal and concrete. Our family went to Bahji, Israel, to visit our maternal grandparents, Forsyth and Janet Ward, for they were the custodians of the resting place of Bahá’u’lláh. These visits had started in 1960 when I was an infant, and continued until 1969.
Precious memories of Holy Ground
Cherished memories for me include a clip as if from a movie: I am outside of and facing the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. I am facing the windows on the right of the ornate entrance door. There is a small lawn under that window, and it is bathed in brilliant sunshine, but it is not too hot. The shade of a fragrant tree stretches onto the wall of the Shrine. The green of the grass is an intense emerald. In that moment my heart is enraptured by feelings among which are joy and the perfection of this spot, and suddenly without premeditation I do a cartwheel on that lawn.
Another memory of that time is of my mother inviting me to go with her “to do something special”; I could only wonder what it was as I followed her. I sensed deep feelings of reverence from her. Neither of us spoke. She mutely collected an armful of long-stemmed deep red roses and proceeded along the rocky pathways leading to the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. I followed. Then we entered the marble approach pathway and silently removed our shoes. I remember placing my shoes as carefully as she had placed hers.
As we approached the steps leading up to the door, she knelt and kissed each step. I copied her in wonder. What was this place that evoked such reverential emotions? Quietly we tiptoed ballet-like on Persian carpets, and then I beheld an inner garden. How could this garden survive indoors, I marvelled, but quickly my attention was drawn back to mother as I watched her pull aside a carpet hanging on the right hand wall, revealing a door. I speculated as to whether all the hanging carpets in that inner courtyard hid doors. There must have been at least eight that I could see. We entered a small room devoid of anything except another beautiful Persian carpet on the floor. Mother knelt, then sat back on her heels with the roses in her lap. I followed her lead. She carefully took one of the roses and meticulously pulled all the petals off one by one, gathering them into a heap on the floor. I took a rose and did the same. She was not rushing, she was careful not to tear any petals. She then explained that we were preparing fresh petals for the Holy Threshold. I really did not know the meaning of threshold but it was super special for her to be acting the way she was. When we were done we carefully gathered the stems and any fragments that remained. Here my memory stops. Was I able to collect the day-old petals on the Holy Threshold and lay out the new ones? I certainly remember later seeing my grandmother handing to pilgrims little packets of the dried petals, and then I understood the significance of this cyclical practice.
Living on Holy ground was comfortable for me, probably because my parents were comfortable too. However there was ever-present a deep sense of reverence. I was always aware of being only some tens of feet away from the most Holy spot on earth. It was a supernatural place to be, where I felt from the bottom of my heart that this was my true home, where my soul belonged. I could almost see the Holy Concourse and creation, in infinite numbers, crowded together at the circumference of the gardens and circling around the Bahji grounds. I was acutely aware of my own temerity to be present on sacred ground so close to the Holy of Holies. Would I be able to be this close too when I had left this earthly realm?
Now was an opportunity to drink in every moment and hold these precious memories for the rest of my life, which was vitally important, because I clearly knew that they would have to sustain me while on this earthly plane, and possibly might have to last me for eternity. Somehow deep inside me I knew for certain I was not to stay in Bahji, so I took my time to memorise every detail that I could because I wanted to stay forever; at least, I thought, I would have my memories to carry me through. I took great care to visit every corner of the properties. I experienced these feelings from the top of the embankment constructed from the demolished housing; from the path by the cypress trees bordering the Haram-i-Aqdas; from the broken red-tiled paths between the Mansion and the Holy Shrine; from the succulent gardens bordering the two sides of the pilgrim tea-house. Now that I am more experienced I realize this was my inner child feeling insecure, clinging to what she perceived to be her home; not an earthly, material one, but her everlasting spiritual home.
I was not privy to every Holy spot at Bahji. I only saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s bedroom through its open door. The room next door to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room I only entered later in life as a pilgrim, when I was allowed to eat my lunch there. The Mansion itself I was able to see once and even then only because I was accompanying someone there on an errand. There was one special treasure that I dimly recall. I was shown a room – tiny even from my child-sized perspective – in which Shoghi Effendi had placed the old, wooden coffin that had once contained the remains of Navváb. Also in this room were the two original headstones of Navváb and the Purest Branch, which had been transferred from the cemeteries in Akká where they were originally interred. Such precious tender emotions were evoked in me at this time. In later life I learned that Shoghi Effendi had exhumed the Holy Family’s remains and re-interred them in the formal memorial gardens on the Arc below the Seat of the Universal House of Justice on Mount Carmel.
On one occasion I was invited to help prepare the tea service for the pilgrims. What a grand affair! The table that was to be the centrepiece was close to the entry door and already had a flower arrangement on it, and a crisply ironed white tablecloth. The cups and saucers, like everything else, were scrutinised to ensure they were immaculate, and laid out with great precision, as were the teaspoons. A small tray was prepared with cream and cubes of sugar. I had never consciously recognised such meticulous attention given to every detail, and above all the immense humility, tranquillity and love of the blessed Bahá’ís, such as Ruhangiz and her sisters, serving there.
Even the seating arrangements, which consisted of long benches along three walls, received a close look to make sure every wrinkle was smoothed and every inch clean. Numerous chairs were brought in and carefully arranged as required, and the simplest of tasks was an act of devotion. Everyone worked with quiet attention. I felt, or should I say smelt, an awe-inspiring atmosphere, burgeoning and serene. The fragrance in the air wasn’t quite a perfume; it spoke to me of roses, yet I felt more than inhaled it. I was learning first-hand what reverence looked and felt like.
Ruhangiz was humble in a manner that was striking for me. Clearly she deeply appreciated her worldly self and circumstances, conveying a sense that she recognized God standing “within, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting,” yet she was as firm as a rock in deflecting any self-importance, to the extent that it disarmed me and has been a cause of much personal reflection. Her sisters on either side of her in the picture exemplified the same, so I realised it wasn’t a misunderstanding on my part, or a fleeting demonstration. The sisters, and before them their ancestors, resided in the Holy Land and served the Bahá’í World Centre. How blessed I am to have these precious memories of them.
My grandparents’ living quarters comprised three or four rooms located between the area where the tea was served to the pilgrims, and the Holy Shrine. In later years, accommodation for the custodians of the Holy Shrine was a separate house located in the gardens. When I visited, there was a dirt road that served as an access to their apartment in the pilgrim house. Today it is a wide stone path but at that time it ran from the outbuildings for the groundsmen on the outskirts of the Haram-i-Aqdas, all the way up to the stone step used for mounting and dismounting from donkeys in the days of Bahá’u’lláh, at the outside corner of the mansion. I remember being driven in my grandparents’ car on this road and getting out at the stone step. Vehicles could come that close to the mansion in those days. I also remember my grandfather’s keen interest in the gardens and his tending to cacti and succulent plants in that very same area where the road ended at the Mansion. Little did I realise at that time the worldly irony that here was a Berkeley University engineering professor grooming the gardens. He too was exemplifying the same humility as Ruhangiz and showing how pouring one’s heart into whatever was needed for the Blessed Beauty comes naturally. These scenes left indelible impressions on my heart and mind, and contribute to the person I am today.
With our move into the Manor Farmhouse at Great Paxton my family increased their contributions to the life of the United Kingdom Bahá’í community by hosting friends, local and international. There was a welcome stream of visitors and frequent events at our home, which I found inspiring and uplifting, because where we lived seemed remote from fellow Bahá’ís. Not having a local Bahá’í community made us appreciate visitors all the more. I have happy memories in particular of a visit from the Yazdi and Sabri families. It was a treat to have our meals in the summertime in the backyard at the farm.
The year 1966 saw boarding school for me. For an entire year I was a full-time boarder, and for the following three years a day student in Bedford, during which time my youngest sister Julia was born. There is thus something of a gap in my memories regarding Bahá’í activities for the years from 1966 to 1970, which also explains why I remember little of Julia’s arrival. One day in this time period, well after Julia’s birth, my mother Alicia calmly informed me that she was going into hospital. Like all potentially life-altering events it seems I never heard anything of it again, and assumed, since her health was regained, that all had gone well. My reason for including the information about mother’s health here is to illustrate how matter-of-fact my parents were about life and the nature of my relationship with them.
The Farm Picnics
One of the most popular regular events our family started to host for Bahá’ís and their friends was the farm picnic, held on the first Sunday of June, July and August. Several things stand out in my memory as having been particularly enjoyable during the picnics. For several years, dad gave hay-rides, loading up an oversized trailer with hay bales for seats and towing the trailer around the farm with a tractor. It would start in the front of the manor house and travel down to the fields which were on the other side of the train tracks by the River Ouse. Another entertaining activity, my personal favourite, was the game of dodge ball. At the far end of the garden was a tennis court, hand-surfaced with asphalt by my father and his parents, which lent itself naturally to group games. For me the picnics were very exciting, and a time to see Bahá’í friends, which really for me meant my Bahá’í family.
A glimpse into the personal lives of Ted and Alicia
In my parents’ public and private lives they lived the life of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to the best of their ability, each in his or her own way. For example, many mornings at the breakfast table, when we children arrived we would find my dad with a book of the sacred writings of the Bahá’í Faith which he had been poring over from before sunrise. He would recite a passage he had been working on, or even work on memorising it in our presence. He would read it aloud or even comment on it, which later in life I realised had given me an amazing ‘leg-up’.
My mother Alicia clearly lived a Bahá’í life. Even though I saw things from a child’s perspective in this period, the most impressive for me was how she always treated her children with respect, never dictatorially commanding or persuading, but requesting and explaining. I was expected to make choices and encouraged to be myself. By way of contrast, my grandmother Ward’s American attitude was similar to that of my English grandparents in that I was expected to be quiet and docile, obedient and compliant. How my mother had arrived at opposite philosophies I do not know, but her knowledge and practice of the Writings exemplified for us great strength in self-determination. Above all, her uncompromising dedication proved her emotional strength to me and served to ingrain in all of us a sense of self-worth, autonomy, stability, and loyalty to Bahá’u’lláh.
Alicia’s dedication to all children
One day I remember my mother saying that she and us, her children, were not going to go to National Convention. It was a real let-down. I couldn’t believe it! She said we would go when children could enjoy these conventions too. I think it must have been because of the previous convention, at which I played chase with the Khavari children, up and down the hallways. I remember screaming and laughing so much that I worked up quite a sweat. I think I was about seven. The adults must have suffered a great deal. This gave rise to an incident that made me realise how dedicated Alicia was not only to her children’s spiritual well-being but to equal opportunities for all children at Bahá’í events. At the next National Convention I was taken to a room and introduced in a matter-of-fact way to the activities prepared for us children. Looking back, I give great credit to her for not having exposed me to the decision-making process that led to this arrangement, and I never sensed any shame from it.
My mother began a practice at the farm that later in life she developed into a much grander scale. On Sunday mornings we would gather with children from the Cambridge Bahá’í community, and in several rooms for differing age groups we would have Bahá’í Sunday school. Initially there was one year that we did it only as a family, and while mother was talking to us, telling us stories, we would be practising calligraphy. Some years they were held in the home of the Khavari family in Cambridge and other years at our home. Years later in 1982 when I arrived in Portland, Oregon, the Bahá’í communities of the metropolitan area had just formed an inter-community committee to work out the logistics of launching a metro Bahá’í Sunday school. My mother successfully contributed to initiating similar projects in New Mexico and in northern California. A concurrent offshoot of this project was her curriculum and the lesson plans she created, and other materials that expanded on the Bahá’í Writings which supported developing an understanding of Bahá’í educators.
Auntie Alicia Project
In about 1970 my mother quietly became involved with a project that brought her much joy, even in her later years, and on another continent. I noticed one day that her huge desk was laden with office materials. She even had a brand new Xerox machine. By the time I was twelve I realised the project was not her own but rather one for the national Bahá’í community. She had a Rolodex file in which she kept the names, addresses and ages of the Bahá’í children of the UK, which she used for sending them prayer books and letters. She had spoken so frequently and fervently about the need for Bahá’í children to be loved and cared for by the institutions that it was no surprise to me that such a project was initiated. Many years later, in the 1980s, she reported fondly to me that several of those children, now adults, had found her in California and told her how they remembered her as Auntie Alicia and how touched they had been.
Places Abdu’l-Bahá visited in London
Another project that she started and carried out single-handedly concerned the places ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had visited in Britain, one outcome of her research being that she organized a tour to some of them. She rented a bus, invited Bahá’ís from surrounding communities including Bedford and Cambridge, and even arranged for the Dean of Westminster’s wife, Lilian, Lady Carpenter, to meet the participants at Westminster Abbey and take them into St. John the Divine’s Church and speak at length about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Ted’s life revolving around the Bahá’í Faith
Another of my father Ted’s examples of living a Bahá’í life was his consistent teaching. As a child I knew that he was constantly travelling around the United Kingdom as an invited speaker. These trips must have taken place mostly in the spring and winter. During winter, only tilling happened on the farm, which our foreman took care of. Spring on the farm involved preparing the land for crops, but this was kept to a minimum and then dad was out and about again travelling and teaching. In the early 1980s, after having been creating slide shows for some years, he developed one giving the Bahá’í view of child education; this slide show I consider to be one of his most technically complex and refined. How fitting it is to me, as he mentioned several times, that the show was the first collaborative project between my mother and himself.
Daily teaching of the Bahá’í Faith
In 1981, during my second year at college, Ted was experimenting with a new teaching method. I was very busy with the activities of the National Youth Committee but once a month I visited him at Manor Farm where he was living alone, having returned from taking the rest of the family to the United States. It was the year he was selling the farm and equipment by auction. I don’t know how he managed it emotionally. He seemed quiet and industrious as normal. Every day he would go to a local café in St Neots to teach! He explained that all he had to do was mention the Faith to as many as he could, and eventually statistics would determine that he would find open hearts.
He continued this teaching method for eighteen years, up to the day he died in September 1999. He invited me to accompany him to the café in St Neots. His manner was casual and natural. He had picked out a café that had an environment conducive to striking up conversations with others. I remember that at the time the culture of St. Neots was that you kept yourself to yourself. He was careful to pick busy periods, usually lunch times, and seat himself near a likely prospect, which was almost everyone.
Once seated, he would be constantly scanning to look for the most likely opportunities to strike up a conversation. He was still experimenting with how to connect with people’s hearts. I sensed he seemed awkward in his attempts to start conversations naturally. He would start with a comment about the weather, or the news, testing to see if the other was open to chatting. This contrasted with a time I went with him to Taco Bell in Red Bluff, California, ten years later, a busy place for people of lower income. He explained that he went there because people were more likely to talk than other places he had tried. When he initiated conversation it was far more confident and practised. He would almost immediately, somehow, be talking about the meaning of life. This time, his ‘testing the water’ was done by dropping a meaningful question or comment that could easily be developed into a deeper subject. There was no sense of awkwardness. Then he would wait to see what response he got. His favourite approach at this later time was to talk about who Bahá’u’lláh was and what that meant for humanity. A key objective of his was to mention Bahá’u’lláh before the conversation ended.
At this time his teaching method emphasised planting seeds at one’s own pace and in one’s own style. It was up to each Bahá’í how, where and when to teach. There was no endorsed method, script or style, other than what was gleaned from the Writings on a personal level. Ted’s style was one of understanding the interests and position of the listener, and addressing the conversation towards those, while trying to evoke curiosity to examine further spiritual implications. By the 1990s he was including very naturally in the course of his comments, quotes from the Writings. As with firesides, these conversations would progress in the direction of favourite topics and personal interests. For Ted, that would often mean how, for example, quantum mechanics echoed spiritual truths, but needless to say he would not include such ideas unless he felt they would benefit the listener. In the 1960s all the Bahá’ís invested much effort and time in proclamation, which meant public announcements, flyers, posters and meetings to teach the Faith, but today teaching is more precisely focused, with specific strategies such as the Junior Youth Empowerment programme, the Ruhi sequence of books, and the development of personal skills for Bahá’ís and seekers alike.
My decision to declare myself as a Bahá’í
In 1967, at the age of eight, I was struck by the subject of starving children in Africa. This started me on a search for a solution that lead me to investigate all religions, and organisations such as Oxfam, in which my father’s mother was active, and I eventually reached the conclusion that the Bahá’í Faith was the best solution, not just a superficial way out. Though the effects of the Bahá’í Faith would be slow and long-term, I realised even as a child that it offered the only complete solution I could find, by addressing hearts. I mention that I ‘investigated’, but of course, now looking back, I realise my sources were people I questioned around me, and news items either from newspapers or heard on television. Then I weighed these with my own heart’s promptings in order to make a decision.
One day I found my Father in his office creating a step-like diagram on the subject of progressive revelation. He explained that it was showing how revelation was brought to mankind in steps, at first a little, then a little more, and that all the prophets had an important role to play. Before this moment I had wondered which religion was right, or if all of them were part of a set up to confuse mankind, but his description answered my question: they were all correct – what a relief! Now I didn’t have to pick only one.
The nature of progressive revelation impelled me to want to be a fully accredited Bahá’í. After several years of my insisting, when I was twelve my parents gave permission and I signed my declaration card. I still remember that moment clearly. I was kneeling at the coffee table in the living room, in the presence of non-family members too, at a Nineteen Day Feast. I was acutely aware of what I was doing, and I considered it to be taking on a personal responsibility to participate to the best of my ability to help the world hear about Bahá’u’lláh, and thereby address the hearts of humankind.
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom
Ted Cardell served a number of years on the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom. How amazing to be a part of something larger than oneself.
Visit of the Malietoa of Samoa to the Guardian’s Resting Place in London (12 September 1976)
My first experience proclaiming the Faith
An appointment had been made for a reporter to come to our home so I prepared my thoughts by writing them out. When it came to the interview, though, I was extremely nervous. Happily I was able to speak from my heart instead of from the notes. This was arranged for by my parents. It was a teaching opportunity I was eager to take advantage of. This article is from the St Neots Advertiser (1975).
We had a wonderful summer vacation one year where we were able to visit Bernard and Trudi every day. My mother Alicia, being an artist herself, admired Bernard’s style of pottery and even had some pieces similar to his at our home; originals from his lines were quite expensive. They were a fusion of Asian and western styles fashioned in earthy colours and manner.
National Office, 27 Rutland Gate
Throughout my time in England I was at the National Centre many times, starting from when I began accompanying my mother to her business or committee meetings. In later years I travelled by train and bus on my own almost every weekend, which meant coordinating bus and train departures and arrivals skilfully. I had to learn my way around and where everything was, geographically. The first times I accompanied mother she encouraged me to spend the day by myself exploring London, which I did once or twice. She didn’t seem at all perturbed that I could get lost. At first I went to museums and famous landmarks, but then I chose to hang out at the National Centre and see whom I could meet or help.
At that time, the Hainsworth family was living in the apartment on the top floor, as the father, Philip, was serving as secretary of the NSA. Soon after, Enayat Rawhani and his family lived there, and in the 1980s Mary Hardy and her family. It was at Mary’s invitation that I stayed with them, on the weekend when Prince Charles and Diana Spencer were married, but I was only superficially interested in the wedding. I found great interest in the apartment in the basement of the centre, where custodians lived. I only managed to spend time with one of the several custodians; it seemed there were new ones every time I visited. The one I came to know was, I think, Harold Jack, a single, humble gentleman who extended to me true Bahá’í hospitality. Though he lived in modest accommodation he invited me to tea and made me feel at home. I never forgot that as it seemed to exemplify for me the true spirit of the Faith.
The National Centre felt like the hub of gigantic activities. The secretarial staff resided there and had an office where they attended to the physical matters of spiritual import, which conveyed a sense of meaningfulness to me. On the ground floor was the office of the National Teaching Committee, which seemed to have its finger on the pulse of the nation and was the fount of great plans for the national community. It was such a great honour to assist in any way, be it organising index cards, or some small office need. In the back of the ground floor was a larger office where I once found Charles Macdonald. At the time I did not know who he was but later, in India, I came to know him and his wife Yvonne well. I was impressed by his friendly but firm manner. He was surrounded by several desks and many papers. In all the years I frequented Rutland Gate I was never made to feel I didn’t belong, but it was clear that I was expected not to get under anyone’s feet.
A tightly-knit worldwide family
I was the one that answered the phone one day at home and heard the voice of a lady who was distraught. “They’ve killed him!” she said. I knew that this was a matter to be passed to my parents immediately. September 16, 1979, Claire Gung was calling to inform the world of the murder of Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga. Being a Bahá’í always made me feel like I was a part of something so much bigger than myself, like a mighty river whose current directs everything, and this was one of those occasions; thus began my awareness of real-time heroine Claire Gung. Enoch Olinga always seemed to be surreal to me, he was a hero in my mind too, and now his death confirmed that. I felt a great loss, that I would never get to know him personally.
First Pilgrimage for Cathy and Suzy
In December 1976 my sister Suzy and I participated in a UK youth group pilgrimage.
How a test became a source of many benefits
On a hot summer’s day in about 1967 there was a huge fire at the farm. As it raged, I was calmly informed that dad was out at the piggeries working with the farmhands to rescue as many animals as possible. At the time and in the aftermath the subject was treated matter-of-factly, thankfully, for I had developed an attachment to the pigs which I had been allowed to feed occasionally, and I liked to watch the birth of piglets. I had also been shown their then-revolutionary humane housing. The piggeries had alleys which the pigs used such that each sty remained relatively clean. When it was time for the periodic cleaning, gates were closed for each sty, allowing the alleys to become one, and thus cleaned as one. Ted always spoke with admiration of the hygienic ways of pigs, which they had developed quite on their own without training. “Pigs want to be clean! We humans just have to allow them to be”, he said. His respect for them nurtured the same respect in me. At another time when I was watching pigs intently, I realized that the texture of their skins, with their ‘peach fuzz’ hair, was just like that of my arms; that connection with them was instantaneous and permanent.
The fire caused dad to change the farm from being relatively diversified to that of an arable mono-culture, wheat and barley, which is when the grain-dryer came into existence, a feat of Ted’s engineering genius. It became a source of entertainment for some at the farm picnics, when people would enjoy jumping into the grain. Another benefit from the change, and probably the most significant, was that dad had more time to teach the Faith, as there was a lot less work involved.
UK Bahá’í gatherings that felt like family gatherings
Aside from the yearly National Conventions there were also annual teaching conferences and annual summer schools that I shall mention again because they were of the utmost significance for the Cardells, providing for us the much-needed camaraderie of like-minded souls. Winter schools at Henley-on-Thames are some of my fondest memories too.
Loughborough Summer School (1977). Some familiar faces in no particular order: Madeline Hellaby, Paul Bellamy, Malcolm Lee, Sylvia Benatar, Sam Samadani, John Ball, Paul Booth (in wheelchair), Janet Ward (my maternal grandmother)
Temporary home-front pioneering
Growing up, and since we were isolated and far from communities that had more than two adults, our Bahá’í community life had consisted of connecting with surrounding Bahá’í communities and participating in their inter-community activities. Amongst all the wonderful faces I remember, Northampton brings to mind especially Mr Shah. Bedford brings to mind the Bailey family, the Lee family, Odette, Mark, Sylvia and ‘Sue’ Benatar, and the Humphrey family.
Cambridge brings to mind Auntie Merhangiz, Sima and her brother, the Khavari family and later Derek Cockshut and Wendi Momen, to mention just a few of the multitude of hearts that were important to us.
Other names I recall are Paul Adams, Mehran Towfigh, and Kathy and Hamid Farabi who pioneered to Trinidad – and of course Betty Reed and Adam Thorne. So many hearts were woven together to make my childhood a tapestry of love from my extended family in the United Kingdom.
Our Nineteen Day Feasts were mostly held at home, just amongst ourselves, but slowly things evolved locally, beginning I remember with a community formed in Huntingdon. For me it started when Suzy, a new Bahá’í back from Africa, moved into Huntingdon. She had heard of the Faith overseas and on returning, connected with my mother and father who had the joy of witnessing her declaration. She served at the National Haziratu’l-Quds for some years after that, commuting by train. I enjoyed an especially close friendship with Suzy. It seems that soon after, more Baha’is moved into the area to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Huntingdon.
By June 1979 when I returned from a year of service in India, and also at the Bahá’í World Centre, and was preparing to enter college, I was able to offer two weeks of my time to the Huntingdon Spiritual Assembly to help with an extension goal town nearby, where they wished to do groundwork for a public meeting. The town had a central square with a hotel on one side and a city hall on another. I lived there for two weeks, circumambulating with prayers and striking up conversations with whoever I could. It was very difficult for me, being of a personality that does not like to impose. In the evenings I read on different teaching subjects and techniques and spent much time in prayer. I was assured that meantime the LSA would be offering prayers.
On the weekend before the public meeting, one of the LSA members, Suzy, came and visited me for a couple of hours, asking how things were going, and offering advice and ideas to help the teaching work. It meant so much to me to know someone was checking up on me. On that day I was given the option to leave but the presence of an LSA representative infused me with a new dose of persistence. Strangely, I do not remember the name of the town. As part of my efforts I had decided to do a semi-fast. It seemed an appropriate sacrifice that would amplify the diffusion of the divine fragrances. I had some food items that I kept in my room for the evenings, and would have the breakfast provided but skip lunch. The time arrived for the public meeting and a handful of people came but none that I recognised from that town. At that point the LSA assumed responsibility and I went on my way.
An attempt to home-front pioneer again
While I had been in Israel, and then back home and focused on my two weeks of the goal town teaching project, my parents had located and befriended the children of Mr and Mrs Gandhi, and had the honour of being their guardians. We had cemented a new friendship with Mr and Mrs Gandhi while in India and the children were trying to settle in any city that would help the Faith, which my parents were hoping might be Peterborough.
It was decided that if I put my name next to theirs on rent applications and contracts, we could get them a rented home. I wished to move to Peterborough so I took a job with Boots the chemists. It was a great opportunity for me. I also decided to apply to work at a nursing school there, so I commuted from Great Paxton. I liked the job and they liked me. Within a month they offered to promote me to become an assistant manager; it was exciting. On my days off, Sunita Gandhi and I searched for a place for her and me to live, which was difficult, and we came to suspect a great deal of discrimination. After several weeks we had not been successful in renting. I ended up going my own way, to Teacher Training College instead of nursing. Later I learned that Sunita’s parents had solved her accommodation problem by buying a house for Sunita and her sisters.
National Youth Committee
Before my year off, and going to India and Israel, I realized that I would love to serve on the National Youth Committee. I at first asked my father, since he had experience from serving on the UK National Spiritual Assembly, regarding the way forward. He said “All you have to do is offer your services”, so we agreed he would relay my offer to the NSA. After about a year I asked him about it. He said that he had not conveyed my wishes because he did not want to appear as if he or his family were looking for glory, so I reaffirmed my wish and left it in the hands of Bahá’u’lláh. Much later I was pleasantly surprised by a letter of invitation from the NSA. My father never talked of it again or inferred anything to do with NSA matters.
In 1978 I began my first year of serving on the National Youth Committee (NYC) for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom. That year I served with such people as Ruhi (Haqjoo) Parris and Shirin Fozdar. One of the activities that the NYC sponsored and organized that year was a travel-teaching trip in Germany, which included serving at the Mashriqu’l Adhkar at Langenhain. I was blessed in being able to participate in this trip.
The following year I served with, as I recall, Shohreh (Youssefian) Rawhani, Shahab Fatheazam, and Tony McGuire; please note I am going by memory, so these details may not be reliable. I remember that Ali Noroozi also served on the NYC but I’m not certain that it was 1979. However, that year saw several memorable events.
A roaring success was the Winter School held in Alnwick, Northumberland. This was my first experience of being involved in the organization and execution of such an event. I volunteered to oversee the planning and preparing of the meals. The youth hostel venue was isolated so all provisions were bought in advance. There were more participants than we had expected so meal preparation became a challenge. After the first meal there was no food for several of us on the kitchen crew. We re-calculated the provisions and the menu, someone made a grocery run, and after that everyone was fed. Kitchen duties were exhausting and non-stop. I remember attending only one social evening – for the rest I went to bed early. I had underestimated this task, having previously imagined farm work to be the most strenuous possible.
Another event that year was a youth conference. It involved a giant marquee tent for several hundred participants, chairs and a sound system for the sessions, overnight accommodation and meals at a rented venue. We arranged and stocked a sizeable snack bar ourselves. An invitation was extended to Rúhíyyih Khánum. I didn’t really believe we would have her present, so I was awe-struck on the day we heard she was coming. One particular part of her talk remains etched in my memory. Rúhíyyih Khánum explained that just as there are laws of the universe, there are spiritual laws. Gravity is an example of one of the laws of the universe, and she went on to describe that if she climbed to the roof of a building and chose to jump off, the laws of gravity would dictate that there would be certain consequences, like a broken leg. Likewise, there are spiritual laws that dictate certain consequences.
As a follow up to that conference, each NYC member travelled to designated areas of the British Isles and met with local Bahá’í communities to recount notes taken from Rúhíyyih Khánum’s talk.
Concurrently with the National Teaching Conference that year, a local scout hall was rented to provide overnight accommodation for youth in order to encourage their attendance. A lot more people than we had anticipated turned up. When we opened the doors in the morning to leave, we were surprised to see it had snowed overnight – we had not felt the cold or even noticed it. I was blessed to participate also in two travel teaching trips to Wales. My recollections are somewhat vague but I do remember that the first event operated from a small house rented for our team of teachers. Oh how cold that house was! It seemed impossible to get the heating started, or even a fire going in the grate. During the days we were more than busy with the teaching work, which consisted of meeting with the local Bahá’ís and attending firesides.
My third year of serving on the NYC included members Zarin Hainsworth, Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing, Tony Martinez, Nadim Golmohamadi and Suhayl Rawhani, travelling in two minibuses. That year was very busy too, the highlight for me being when two 60-seater buses were rented and a road trip was arranged to the Winter School in Switzerland.
A wonderful teaching trip
During the summer of 1981 the NYC decided to help Belgium with its goals and a travel teaching team was formed. Three young men, including Soheil Djavid from Nottingham, a young Bahá’í from Cameroon, and one other, joined me in driving to Belgium. Upon our arrival we were shown to the homes offering us hospitality. I remember the faces but not the names of the young couple who provided me and one other team mate with bed and board. Happily, these forgotten names, and all others throughout these recollections, are not forgotten by the Holy Concourse, and surely, will provide me with a source of humour in the next worlds.
On one of our first days there we were being shown around by a young Australian Bahá’í man. We were almost sightseeing as we wandered around the market place, along the main streets and were even able to visit a local lad who had just become a Bahá’í. In the main street, police approached our group and asked each of us to show our papers, then without a word, a van arrived, they handcuffed our Cameroonian team mate and whisked him away. We found the police station, thanks to our Australian Bahá’í friend, who also seemed to have a working knowledge of the law of the country. We concluded that if we all showed up and testified that the arrested man was our team mate, we might secure his release. We were worried because apparently anyone could be held for quite some time without any reason in that country. After much coming and going we learned that the arrest was because a robbery had just happened in the vicinity and a black man had been identified as having been involved. We ourselves were not questioned, maybe because our Australian Bahá’í took care of everything, but eventually our friend was released; for us, that was a fast course in learning about Belgium! Later it was explained that at the time the black market was rife, to the extent that it actually supported the economy of the country; in every aspect of life it provided continuing dilemmas for the Bahá’ís living there.
At the request of the Bahá’ís, I met with a young lady who was interested in the Faith, and who invited me to stay in her apartment. I stayed there a couple of nights and she and I talked at length about the Faith. On another day we were invited to meet with the NSA of Belgium and were graciously conducted to a very nice apartment and shown wonderful hospitality and gratitude that was truly touching. Hearing the wishes and feeling the love from the NSA made the trip feel like it was truly a team effort of we ‘imports’ and the locals. One evening we were all invited to a macrobiotic restaurant, a very new experience for me. What an education! We were treated like royalty. Best of all, one Bahá’í expressed thanks to the team by writing out a quote of Baha’u’llah that sparked the first example of what was to become a life-long habit of mine: that of taking note when a chord is struck in my heart by a quote or a concept, and taking much time pondering it, by using calligraphy to further reflect, and usually memorizing it. The special verse at that time was:
“Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll. With the utmost unity, and in a spirit of perfect fellowship, exert yourselves, that ye may be enabled to achieve that which beseemeth this Day of God.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings XCVI)
Monthly NYC meetings were held in different locations in England in order to meet with the youth of different communities, which meant we met in about twelve different cities that year. Occasionally, especially when we met in Wales at Shohreh Youssefian’s home while she was home-front pioneering there, several of us would travel by car together. These years involved hard work aside from the monthly meetings that resulted in minutes that were usually twenty pages long, produced on a typewriter, but the joy was intense, giving meaning and purpose to my college years in Nottingham.
I decided to follow my family and emigrate to Oregon when college finished. The final meeting I had with the National Youth Committee was in Cambridge, at the home of Tony Martinez, in May or June 1982. He and his wife, Gill, and Zarin Hainsworth bade me a poignant farewell as I boarded my bus back to Nottingham.
I had decided not to go with my family to America when they had emigrated two years earlier, because I wished to finish what I had already started. I had completed my first full year of my degree programme. In the USA, not only would I have to repeat it, additionally I would have to complete a four-year programme, so I decided to join them when my degree in England was completed. My family’s emigration had been facilitated by dad having shipping crates constructed, I think there were eight, that our most prized possessions went into. It was on a cold winter’s morning that we posed for a family portrait, with the crates loaded on a truck, in front of the Manor farm house.
After they left, which was at the beginning of the second year of my programme, I travelled to the farm once a month to visit dad, who was there alone, tying up the last loose ends and selling his lease on the farm. The lease had been for three generations of Cardells starting with Edmund Harold Cardell, then his son Harold Stanley Cardell, then finally Edmund (Ted) Cardell. Apparently the Church of England was eager for us to relinquish the lease early. I don’t know how he did it – I was glad I didn’t have to participate in the selling and disposing of four generations of earthly belongings. I still fondly remember to this day the bedroom drawers I had used, and how they felt special to me because I knew that my great grandparents Elizabeth and Edmund H. Cardell had used them; odd how furniture made me feel especially blessed and favoured.
At the time, I was not particularly attached to material possessions but there are those things in most people’s lives that anchor them, so to speak. The furniture, the house and its properties, the graves of my ancestors in the next door church’s graveyard, all carried with them the tangible feel of connection, of nostalgia and honour. These are my closest feelings to roots and belonging, because living a Bahá’í life style, I have often joked, is like being a gypsy: your home is wherever you make it, and for me that has meant Huntingdonshire and Nottingham in the UK, Kenya, Peru, and eight different localities in the United States.
Cathy Yavrom (Cardell)