Christopher Vodden

Christopher Vodden

I first heard of the Faith when I was living in India in 1958. I was nine years old and living in Panchgani. My father taught at the Anglo Indian Anglican School: St. Peter’s School. Two brothers, Paul (my twin) and William, three years our junior, went to the same school. The family had left England in 1954 to go to India where my father had been posted by the British Council, for whom he worked. At the beginning we lived in Bombay and then after four years he was seconded to Panchgani to gain `hands on’ experience of an English median school where he taught English.

I was aware of the Bahá’í School in Panchgani because we often used to pass it on our walks to Table Mountain. I was aware that the Bahá’í Faith must be a religion but just thought it was one of the many Indian beliefs. Although I was only nine or ten years old, I knew about the many religions in India: Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jew and even the small and obscure Zoroastrian Faith, which I knew as Parsi. I saw them as all the same and indeed no different from my own background, Christianity. So at an early age I was not prejudiced in favour of one particular religion. I could see them all worshipping God, they had a building where they went to worship and pray and had various ‘holy’ rituals.

I was brought up as a Christian. My grandfather was the Bishop of Hull from 1934 to 1957. Hand of the Cause George Townshend’s Manifesto “The Old Churches and the New World Faith” was sent out in 1948 so my grandfather must have received a copy. I was baptised by my grandfather and my parents were married by him. As a family we used to go to church fairly regularly but I was aware, as I got older, that we went to church less and less. My father, I later gathered, was becoming more and more disinterested in the church. We were more secular than religious.

While living in Bombay my brothers and I used to go to watch Walt Disney cartoons at someone’s house. While the films were being set up on the projector I was always fascinated by a large picture, hung on the wall, of Jesus Christ standing on a cloud. It was depicting Christ descending to earth on a cloud surrounded by light. I still have this picture clearly in my mind and for much of my pre-Bahá’í life I was intrigued by the thought of the return of Christ.

When I was eleven my brothers and I were placed in a Quaker boarding school in England so that my parents could return to India. It was the Friends’ school, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire. I was very happy there, it being set in beautiful country close to the Yorkshire Moors. My twin brother and I were very behind academically, having been to so many different schools, which had somewhat hindered our education. My father thought that we might catch up in an environment where attention was given to children who were behind.

I was drawn to the outdoors, enjoying walking, rock-climbing, swimming and running. Although academically lagging at school, I excelled at sport. After leaving, I later joined a running club, competing regularly for the team and representing my county.

As I grew older I became more and more atheistic. I thought that anything that did not agree with science was superstition. I thought that religion was nothing more than superstition, all religions coming under this heading, whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim or whatever.

On leaving school I joined the police, being a police cadet for about two years and a Police Constable for three years, after which I worked in the food industry for a further three years. In 1975, not having been much of an academic, I decided to go to teacher training college in my home town, Hull. After the first year I transferred to the B.Ed. degree course and in 1978 graduated with a degree.

While at college I met Clive and Jill Tully, two steadfast Bahá’ís in the Hull community. They were in the same year as myself, and Clive was in the same tutorial group for education. I was most impressed by his attitude and the sensible remarks he made during our sessions. I invited him and his wife up to my room for coffee on a number of occasions and again was impressed by their ideas. They very wisely hardly mentioned the Faith, only saying that they were Bahá’ís. They seemed to be very sympathetic about my ideas. I told them I thought people should work together and traditional religion didn’t seem to be the answer to the problems facing mankind because its ideas were not in harmony with science.

At college I began to think about creation and how it came into being. I came to the conclusion that there must be an unknown essence, beyond man’s comprehension, responsible for creation and maintaining control. One of the courses I was taking was `Evolution and Pre-History’. I enjoyed delving into subjects concerned with the evolution of the earth, life and man, and the Neolithic period. We also touched on subjects related to the Ice Ages, Plate Tectonics, and the weather; whilst studying these I realised that existence was impossible without there being some responsible essence beyond our knowledge. Existence could not be just coincidence, so I had, in my own way discovered God. I thought that I was probably one of only a few who had this kind of belief and did not really think about belonging to any kind of formal organisation.

After leaving college I sometimes noticed the word Bahá’í. For example, I was in London once when I saw a huge sign with two hands together in prayer, with the words ‘Bahá’í Faith’. Whenever I thought about the Bahá’í Faith I had this great urge to find out what it was. It was so strong that I can remember saying to myself, “I must find out what this belief is. If I ever go through my life and not find out what it is, I might regret it.” It was a powerful motive. In the meantime I was toying with the idea of getting involved with the Quakers. I knew their ideas well, having been to a Quaker school, and by then I wanted to belong to some group that held beliefs similar to mine.

One day in 1980 I saw a sign in Hull library advertising a Bahá’í meeting that evening. I had no intention of going but it gave me another strong need to find out about this organization, enough to cause me to do something about it that very day. I went home and wrote to the library asking for the name of the local Bahá’í secretary. I got a letter back in a few days saying that Clive Tully was the Chairman and Jill was the Secretary. I had not seen them for about four years, as we had drifted apart after our first year at college. I wrote asking them for a book about the Faith and they replied straight away – can you imagine how they felt?! They sent me David Hofman’s The Renewal of Civilization, which Clive guessed would be a good choice, since he remembered what subject I had taken at college. His judgement proved to be sound. I read the book very carefully and was impressed at how much sense it made. I was also attracted to the principles and felt drawn to the tragic life of The Báb.

I started going to firesides at the Tully’s home and became more attracted to the teachings of the Faith and the small community in Hull. There were three sixth-formers also investigating the Faith at the same time: Alison and Derek Vint (not married then) and Debbie Conkerton (now Debbie Tibbie); all three became Bahá’ís.

Although I loved the principles, I had difficulty accepting Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God. It still seemed, in my ignorance at the time, a little `magical’. In retrospect, I think I had very little comprehension of man’s spiritual nature.

I wanted to support the Bahá’ís in some way so I donated a sum of money. I was quite surprised when I received a letter from the Local Spiritual Assembly of Hull saying that they were pleased to receive the donation but that they were unable to accept it themselves. They went on to explain that only Bahá’ís can contribute to the Bahá’í Faith. They said that they had given the money to a charity. I had never come across any organisation that refused money and therefore there must be something to it. I decided I would enter wholeheartedly into the Faith and would soon discover if it were true or not.

After a year of attending firesides I finally decided to register as a member of the Bahá’í Faith. Clive and Jill were unaware of my decision at the time. They must have thought I was never going to sign my card. On September 24th, 1981, I invited them over for dinner. After the meal we started talking about the Faith. They could see my enthusiasm and presently they asked me if I was thinking of `declaring’. I told them I was and that I wanted to do it that evening. We drove over to their home. I remember the scene so well. Jill read the prayer for the western United States, which starts “Oh God, Oh God, this is a broken winged bird….” I then signed my card. A few days later I attended my first Feast, which was at the prefabricated home of John Kipling, one of the dear Bahá’ís of Hull. I well remember that occasion too. There was a lovely atmosphere, full of love. I attended every single Feast for the next three years.

After about three months of my becoming a Bahá’í there was a by-election and I was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly. The following Ridván I was again elected to the LSA and became Secretary, in which capacity I served for the following three years.

In May 1985 I went to Haifa to serve at the Bahá’í World Centre as a security guard. In July 1986 I left the World Centre and went to live in California. While there I served on the Local Assembly of Vista, being its Minutes Secretary and Treasurer. In September 1988 I returned to the World Centre and served as the Administrative Assistant in the Security Office. I was asked to live in the grounds of the Master’s House where Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum lived. Another member of the staff had also been asked to reside there since it was felt having young men living there would provide more security. I lived in a small flat above the old printer’s shop and next to the room where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá used to reside during the summer months. The other staff member and I took it turns to sleep in the hall of the Master’s House at the foot of the stairs leading to Khánum’s residence.

At about the same time, Khánum had asked a young lady on the World Centre staff to help her with her ‘museum’. She had a degree in museum studies and worked in the Archives Department. During her world trips, Khánum had acquired an extensive collection of gifts which needed to be catalogued, preserved and displayed; she wanted the young lady to help her with the task. I soon became acquainted with the girl and before long we became good friends and were soon married. Her name was Lori Ubben, from Illinois. Khánum heard that we were going to get married and gave her ‘approval’. She was one of our witnesses at the wedding, which was held in the home of Counsellor Don Rogers in December 1989. We served together for twelve years and our two sons Dalton and Devon were born in Haifa.

In 1991, not long after the birth of Dalton, our first son, Lori attended a voluntary medical check and was found to have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She had surgery, and subsequently had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Lori made a good recovery from the cancer, which has not returned, but the effects of the radiation were to give rise to Congestive Heart Failure some twenty years later.

In 1995 I became the Guard Operations Manager, supervising the Security Guards. I was responsible for the young men and women coming from all over the Bahá’í world to serve as security guards. When construction of the terraces began, we had to increase the number of security staff, employing local workers to perform the extra duties.

I was a member of a small cadre whose task was to chauffeur the members of the institutions to and from the airport when they went on trips abroad. Consequently we had the exclusive privilege of being in the company of these dear friends for a short time. They were always happy to chat with us, sharing stories and insights of the Faith.

In December 2000 we as a family left the World Centre to take up residence in Peoria, Illinois, where Lori’s mother lived with her disabled brother. We were there to help the family to support both Lori’s mother and her sister whose husband was dying of cancer. We lived as isolated believers in the small suburban town of Bartonville. The adjacent community of Peoria had an assembly and a Bahá’í Centre, and we often attended Bahá’í meetings there, especially on Sundays when there were devotional gatherings and children’s classes. Many Bahá’í children attended, and both Lori and myself acted as teachers. Both our sons, aged five and ten when we left Israel, attended the classes.

Lori worked as Archivist for the Peoria Catholic Diocese and I worked for Caterpillar, the company that made the large yellow earth moving vehicles, at their world headquarters in Peoria. I was in the Corporate Command Centre monitoring security and fire alarm systems from all over the United States for three years, then worked as a concierge at a local hotel owned by a Bahá’í. The owner had made his fortune as a stockbroker and served a term as the mayor of Peoria. Although belonging to an active Christian family he had become disillusioned with the dogma and ritual of his Faith. He had also come to realise that politics was not solving the problems facing humanity, and began a study of religion. When he came across the Bahá’í Faith he espoused the Cause with enthusiasm.

The boys went to school in Bartonville and enrolled in the local Boy Scout troop where they were very active. Lori became a den leader, then District Training Officer and finally a troop Commissioner. Both boys went on to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable.

In December 2010 I took up a position as the Director of the Activities Office at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, about 180 miles northwest of Peoria. Our family were in a position to move since Lori’s sister’s husband had died and she had remarried and moved to Tennessee. Lori’s brother had to move into special care and later died. Lori’s mother was living at home and although elderly and infirm, was being well cared for.

The family currently lives in the town of Mount Prospect, to the northwest of Chicago. Lori and I serve on the Local Spiritual Assembly, she as chairman and I as secretary. Lori was unable to gain employment in her field but worked off and on at several part time jobs. In June she was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. In September she had a heart transplant, and is doing well.

Our elder son Dalton returned to the World Centre in 2009 and served for two years in the Building Manager’s Office. He is now studying at Portland State University and will complete a degree in Environmental Engineering in 2016. He is getting married in the summer of 2015.

Devon graduated from High School in June 2014 and is currently working in a local grocery store and living at home. He hasn’t decided yet what he wants to do.

I completed four years’ service at the at the Bahá’í House of Worship, Wilmette, in December 2014, and look forward to further years of service in the new Welcome Centre due to be opened in the Spring of 2015.

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Christopher Vodden

Illinois, USA, December 2014

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Chris’s wife Lori sadly passed away on 17 October 2016 in Mount Prospect, Illinois.

 

 

Christopher and Lori Vodden with sons Devon and Dalton Devon’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor, November 28, 2014

Christopher and Lori Vodden, with sons Devon and Dalton, at
Devon’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor, 28 November 2014

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