I was born in 1945. I have always believed in God, even from a very young age, but growing up in the 1950s in a small Welsh mining village it was not a difficult thing to do. The village at that time was quite small and nestled in a valley which had fairly high mountains that had plenty of trees on either side. The village was also full of churches, chapels (both Welsh and English) and a few that followed the teachings of John Wesley.
For each of these places of worship there was also a pub where you could drown your sorrows or have a good time getting inebriated. Many frequented both places.
In time I began to have some issues with God, mainly “Why are all these stories and why is all this information two thousand years old?”, and at night, kneeling at the side of my bed saying my prayers, again I would ask the question “Why is everything two thousand years old; don’t you have any modern stories or things that are more up-to-date?” It was a child’s simple question, one with no answer, and life went on.
When I was about six or seven my parents would dress me up in Sunday best and send me off to Sunday school, which was the Church of England. It was a nice pleasant church built more or less at the bottom of the road. I used to sit there on the hard wooden benches mesmerised by some of the Christians stories that were read out to me.
In my mid to late teens, and apprenticed as an electrical fitter, I began to discover and hear about other foreign religions whose followers also believed in God. A natural assumption for me at that time was that it must be the same God. After all if I believed in God and they believed in God it must be the same God. Wrong. I am taught that the Christian God is the only true God to believe in, so when the vicar spoke against other foreign religions I knew it was time to find something else. My quest thus began in trying to find another religion or faith that did not criticise other people, and could also answer my long-standing questions.
This went on for a number years and I eventually ended up at the Pentecostal Chapel. It appeared to be a happy place with much singing, and it all sounded good to me.
By now I was in my early twenties and I used to hang out with a small group of friends that were interested in the arts and folk music which, living in a small Welsh village, was not considered normal at that time.
It was during this period that my friends came rushing up to me full of smiles to tell me about this new religion they had found. It was called the Bahá’í Faith. I quickly rejected it. After all, I was the religious one and the one who was looking for something. How dare they come up and tell me that they have found something new and different; it was me that had been searching for answers to my long-standing questions. They then told me that as one of them had a car they were going to something called a fireside up in Cardiff on the following evening and I could go with them if I wished. I’m glad I did, because I told them rather forthrightly exactly what I thought of this Bahá’u’lláh and the Bahá’í Faith. I joined them again the following week for the next fireside, when I was a little bit more subdued and listened a little more intently to what they had to say. During the next couple of days I mulled over some of the information I was given and I realised that without really asking, my questions had all been answered.
During the next meeting I attended, in 1966, I declared my belief in Bahá’u’lláh.
At that time, to travel out of the village you could catch a bus. To go anywhere else you needed a car, which was quite rare, as most people could not afford one, certainly not me living on an apprentice’s wage. I was amazed at how how this virtually unknown faith had arrived in a small Welsh village. It happened that a village girl by the name of Isabel Walters was sent to a boarding school in mid Wales where she became a Bahá’í. At the end of term when she came home, she met and told one of the boys from the group about the Faith, who in turn told the rest of us. To me, I never found the Faith, it was a case of the Faith’s finding me.
Three of my friends also declared and the four of us became known as the Glynneath Bahá’ís. They proved to be exciting times for us, as our enthusiasm encouraged more people to come into the Faith.
At about this time Alf and Margaret Morse opened their house to weekly firesides, and I remember quite well the big smile on Alf’s face as he told me that a ninth person had declared and that we could form our Local Spiritual Assembly. What I did not realise was that Swansea was the first of many towns required by the Five Year Plan to be made up of local people. Being on Swansea’s first Spiritual Assembly was certainly a very spiritual time for me. A few happy years passed before a call came for a pioneer to move to Chester to make up their numbers. I took up the challenge and although I was a tradesman I took a job for a few months as a labourer in a cardboard factory.
I stayed in Chester for about eighteen months and only went home when my mother became ill.
Returning, I re-established myself with the Swansea Bahá’ís. It was there that I first met Gladys Parker and Dee Dewar who sadly are no longer with us.
With my mother’s illness cured I found myself in Germany working for the American army putting in an intrusion detection alarm system in two of their nuclear warhead hangars. It was while I was working there that I found and married a girl from Manchester. At our wedding my mother was one of four sisters, and my wife’s mother was also one of four sisters; nothing unusual in that, except that they all went to the same school in Houghton-le-Spring, Durham. Not only that, they were all in the same class together, as their ages indicated.
While living in Rochdale on poor wages, I decided to work overseas. I had no idea where to go or what to do, but I did know that once I had made the decision, my faith in Bahá’u’lláh would open the door and guide me to my first job. So it was that three months later I found myself on a plane to Saudi Arabia. This was the start of what I call my wilderness years, and not knowing any different I decided not to mention my faith to the Muslims.
I firmly believe that my faith in Bahá’u’lláh has helped me through some hair-raising times, such as making an emergency landing in a jumbo jet with an engine on fire and using the chute to exit the plane. I have also been shot at and held up at gunpoint on numerous occasions; never once did I think anything bad would happen to me. After many years working in the Middle East it was time for me to come home and spend more time with my two young sons.
While I was working in the UK I came home with a pamphlet advertising cheap cruises in the Atlantic but my wife had found one that went to the pyramids in Egypt and Jerusalem in the Holy Land. I noticed that the ship also called at Haifa. We had a quick check of our finances and immediately booked one of the two remaining cabins on board the cruise liner SS Canberra. I had never visited Haifa or been on pilgrimage, preferring instead to give my place to a more deserving person.
At the time, the new buildings and gardens had not been built and the waiting time to go on pilgrimage was anything up to six months, or even longer.
I had always told my friends that if God wanted me to go to Haifa he would get me there and now I believed He had made it possible. I could barely contain my excitement; at long last I would be able to visit the Shrine. What follows is my account of the visit.
Having left Port Said, the cruise ship was unknowingly following Bahá’u’lláh’s last voyage and was due to dock in Haifa on the Tuesday morning, 4th October 1988. After an exceptionally early breakfast I was sitting on the top deck watching the land area which contained the Shrine of the Báb coming closer. The way to the harbour was directly in line with the Shrine on Mount Carmel, my destination. I had waited a great number of years to see this site, and there it was coming closer with each passing minute, and with each passing minute my excitement grew. As we approached the harbour entrance, the tugboats came out and pushed and pulled us to align the ship with the quay. I said goodbye to my family and they disembarked with the other passengers for various trips around Jerusalem, but my own destination was within walking distance. Wearing only jeans and a light T-shirt and armed with my passport and prayer book, I took off for the Shrine.
Walking along Ben Gurion Avenue towards the steps that led up to the Shrine, I remembered that members of the German Templers (a Protestant sect) had built some of these houses in readiness for the return of Christ.
Arriving at the bottom gate I was surprised to discover that it was locked, but there was a sign that give me the instructions to follow the road up and that I was to enter the gardens by the top entrance, which I did with some excitement. I entered the gardens and looked down towards the Shrine. I was filled with so much joy and happiness that I could scarcely contain myself. I had waited for close-on twenty years for this moment, and all the time my Bahá’í friends kept telling me to put my name down for pilgrimage, which at that time could mean a wait of twelve months before being given a date. I repeatedly kept telling my friends and myself that if God really wanted me to visit the holy places he would get me there, and here I was with very little input from myself, standing in the gardens. My heart was pounding with excitement. Walking down towards the Shrine my footsteps became quicker and lighter. Stepping onto the path that led up to the Shrine, there were no words that could adequately describe the joyous euphoria I was experiencing. Just a few more yards and I would be there. The moment I had dreamt about for twenty years was about to materialise.
When I found the gate locked I shook it in disbelief, and tried it again and again. Thinking that maybe I had perhaps come the wrong way I looked around for some instructions on how to enter the Shrine but there were none. Turning around, I walked a little way back down the path looking for someone who could tell me why the gates were locked and when they would be opened. Apart from two youths walking towards me, the gardens and surrounding area were deserted. The two youths were security personnel. I had arrived unannounced, I had no Bahá’í ID and I did not know anyone working at the centre who could identify me. They asked me some questions, and were joined by another security person who did the same. I was then told to come back the following day when the Shrine would be open. I tried explaining that my time in Haifa was limited and that my ship was sailing that evening. They shrugged their shoulders, apologised and walked away.
I sat on a step and took out my prayer book. How could this be, I had travelled a fair distance round the world, only to be stopped a few yards from my destination. My joyous feelings had now taken a plunge. I still could not believe that I could come this far only to be stopped a mere twenty yards short of my destination. It was then during my first prayer that the tears started. I have no idea how long I was there, but I do remember the two security guards approaching me, and talking to each other and to someone at the end of their walkie-talkie. They retreated to somewhere out of site but returned again. This happened a few times but they never actually spoke to me again, and all the time I was crying and trying to read my prayers. I remember also looking down onto the step which I believe to be about three or four feet long and about three feet wide and thinking that even in this heat, my tears had completely covered the entire step and were just starting to soak the step below it. I also remembered a story that was told to me about how a woman had washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, which at the time I thought was not possible, but looking down at the step in front of me and the wetness of my T-shirt, I now knew that it was.
Eventually a slim gentleman in a dark suit approached and asked me what I was doing there.
My speech had now become very difficult. I could hardly say a word without a stream of tears flowing, so keeping the sentence as short as possible I simply answered that I had wanted to pray in the Shrine but it was locked. Without asking anymore questions he then said “Come with me. I will find the key.” He then took me into the pilgrim house, saying “’Abdu’l-Bahá built this for the Pilgrims.”
Inside, the lady sitting at the desk informed me that the gentleman was a Hand of the Cause. She did tell me his name but in my state nothing was registering. When the Hand of the Cause returned, he was accompanied by a young lady. He said she would open up the Shrine for me, and when I had finished she would bring me back.
Walking back towards the Shrine I felt very little emotion apart from the tears still flowing. The events of the last few hours with their highs and lows had left a strange, empty feeling within me. After removing my shoes, I first entered the resting place of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The peace and tranquillity within was something to be felt. I read a few prayers then moved into the resting place of the Báb where I said more prayers; I continually moved between both resting places. I tried numerous times to read the Tablet of Visitation that was hanging on the wall in the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and each time my tears prevented me from even seeing the writing.
I eventually, if this is the correct way to describe it, felt full, and I was unable to absorb any more of the sprit that was emanating around me. Having had the Shrine all to myself it was time for me to leave. The young lady locked up and returned me to the pilgrim house. There I was again met by the Hand of the Cause who gave me a bag of dried flowers that had once graced the Shrine. To me this was a gift of all gifts and was the greatest treasure I have ever received. To this day, 25 years later, it still graces the shelf on my bookcase, although after all this time the leaves have slowly crumbled and its volume is substantially diminished, but the memory of that wonderful day with its highs and lows will remain with me forever.
Many eventful years have passed which have seen me working in many places across the UK. As my time in each of these places was short, I failed to make contact with the Bahá’ís in each area, so like my time in Middle Eastern countries where I said prayers in all the places I visited including Mecca, I said prayers in all the places in the UK where I worked. Some of the places I went through or visited, I knew for a fact had no Bahá’ís, but looking back I take a little comfort in seeing that they now have thriving Bahá’í communities. I like to think that maybe, just maybe, my prayers could have had a helping hand in their development.
I am now divorced and have moved back to Wales and the house where I grew up. With the moving of county boundaries I find myself living as an isolated Bahá’í but I have attached myself to the Swansea community, attending their Nineteen Day Feasts whenever possible.
My friends of old have either passed on or become inactive, but I do have a dog, a giant St Bernard, weighing in at over 14 stone (89 kilograms) without an ounce of fat on him. The smile he puts on strangers’ faces is heart-warming, and sometimes I take him to places where people, especially children, can come and stroke him. I used to take him around the hospitals and the old people’s homes so that they too could see him, whereupon instead of just sitting in a corner staring into space, they start talking, telling each other about the time they had their own pets. Although I do very little Faith teaching, seeing smiling happy faces is the next best thing.
We are coming to the end of year 2015 and I am seventy years of age, which has brought me some health issues. To address them I have written the following small lines of poetry which I hope one of my sons will read out at the appropriate time.
I have been active
And I have been happy
But now they are memories
Of a time in distance past.
Life goes on
And I knew it would not last.
For today I stand at heaven’s door.
Let me in, or let me go.
Inside my friends of old; are happy and smiling
Outside, behind me; my other friends are crying.
I am now old and helpless,
And I do not want to struggle any more
What am I to do, and where do I go?
For today I stand at heaven’s door
I see the light, warm and inviting
Do I have a choice, as this seems to be exciting?
There is no illness, or sadness in there.
No hunger or pain,
Just peacefulness and a sense of belonging
And happiness galore
For today I am standing at heaven’s door
My body is frail and weak
And my soul is laid open and bare.
My friends are calling me in,
Whilst others are pulling me back.
But I have decided
Standing here at heaven’s door
So please let me in, because
I really do not want to struggle any more.
So my friends; I am moving on
Through heaven’s door.
South Wales, October 2015
Glen passed away on 12 February 2017.