In one sense I suppose things that happened before one encountered the Faith are not very relevant but I first heard of the Faith around June 1976 at age 23 and became a Baha’i six months later.
I was born in Darlington, Co. Durham but only lived there briefly as my mother died when I was a baby. Dad had been a Methodist at one time but when she died he mostly lost his faith. My stepmother was nominally an Anglican. Religion was not much a part of our home life at all. Dad lived by a tough East-Ender sort of moral code, being one of seven siblings from Rotherhithe and, like most of his generation, his outlook on life was strongly affected by the war and its privations.
As young boys, my brother (John, who declared in 1995) and I were sent to church every Sunday, primarily to get us out of the house. There I sang in choirs and attended Sunday Schools. Hardly any of it meant anything to me then. Obviously the beautiful words of Christ were imbibed subconsciously but of all the vicar’s studied sermons I can hardly remember a word.
At age 15 or so I stopped attending church. It was the sixties; lots of people ‘dropped out’, which seemed attractive to me, so in 1969 that’s what I did. It was the tail end of the hippie era, and many were into unorthodox spiritual movements, like the Hindu cults that had arrived from India via the Beatles. I and my friends mostly just listened to alternative music all day and took drugs – pot and LSD – and lived a hedonistic lifestyle ‘off the grid’ but with an interest in spiritual things, love, peace and inner truth-seeking.
The last year of that lifestyle was 1973, and after a spell on the Isle of Islay and a week at the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Scotland, I went to stay with my parents in Carlisle, and pretty much disillusioned with everything, worked in the Kangol car seat belt factory as a labourer. About that time I met some born-again Christians who were lovely people. I nearly joined up with them but in August 1975 had an amazing spiritual experience. I’d been made redundant from the factory job and all the stress of unemployment and accumulated inner turmoil over some truly difficult years, reached a point where I went to my bedroom and knelt in prayer, asking for help. The Lord’s Prayer seemed the purest thing I knew, so I said that, earnestly.
At that moment I was transformed. God’s loving presence surrounded me and the reality of that presence was more concrete than any intellectual concept I had of His existence. I discovered that whenever I asked Him, humbly, any question, then knowledge and understanding would come. The sayings of Christ in the Bible became cosmic truths for the first time. I was beginning to experience the mystical phenomena spoken about in the religions, and that was a thrilling thing. I remember sitting by the River Eden in Carlisle, transfixed in wonder at God’s creation. It wasn’t delusion, drug-addled or otherwise, because in addition to the mystical truths, the mundane ones became clearer too. How people loved one another, what they were feeling and even thinking. I had new and revelatory insight into these things and was really in the Valley of Love, without knowing it.
In attempts to share these experiences I visited the born-again Christians but to my disappointment, realised they did not really appreciate mystical things at all. The people in the Anglican cathedral of Carlisle seemed to me the very antithesis of Christianity, lacking entirely and shockingly in love and kindness. After some months, frustration crept in, having these wonderful experiences with no-one to tell them to who could understand.
At that point I was somehow attracted to the local yoga classes. In those days yoga wasn’t just about ‘keep-fit’ but was taught, by some, with a deep attachment to the spiritual side of Hinduism. Anyway, I attended and met a Bahá’í there, Brian Parsons. Little did I know that I was being guided to the true source of knowledge! Brian mentioned the Teachings to me and my first reaction was that since they contained nothing that anyone could possibly disagree with, they must have been put together as a kind of mass-appeal spirituality. I was such a difficult student for Brian! I thought no more about it at the time, but Bahá’u’lláh wasn’t finished with me. Two weeks later, in a totally different setting, I met another Bahá’í, Trish Barry (whom I later married). She introduced me to the other Bahá’í friends in the Carlisle community and I began to attend meetings, and see the truth in the Faith. Lorna Silverstein (then Thompson), such a loving soul, was a great influence on me. She lived on a farm out in the wilds of the south bank of the Solway Firth. Bearing in mind I had never met Bahá’ís before, or even heard of the Faith, this was destiny, mingled with the teaching efforts of that wonderful community.
Gradually I began to see the Christ-like qualities of Bahá’u’lláh. It impressed me that He wrote personally to all the world’s leaders. So many movements exist with no plan, no programme to change anything. Also, in the Bahá’ís I saw and received the real love that the hippies had dreamed of, actually existing in human beings, ideally realised; in my opinion it exists in no other community and is the direct result of divine gifts, not any human agency.
After I formally declared my Faith I was, as is everyone, tested greatly, especially in the early years, through the opposition of friends and family and, perhaps worse, their indifference, but through every trial the teachings have never failed to bring me truth, light and peace. It is this enduring power which makes Bahá’u’lláh’s claim more and more true to me as life goes on. I suppose the process of recognition never ends, and through study of the writings the marvellous expositions of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, the Hands of the Cause, and the inspiration of the institutions of the Faith, I have learned to have some appreciation of the awesome future which will be founded on the Faith. Indeed, words fail me when describing any aspect of it. Truly “This is the Day that shall not be followed by night.”
In those wonderful days, I lived at a house called ‘Ridvan’ in Carlisle, which Penny Kemp refers to in her personal Baha’i History. Penny lived there too, along with Brian and Sue Parsons. Sadly, Brian died. Sue now lives in Shropshire.
Trish and I began our married life in the Carlisle area. We had two children, Margaret born in 1977, and Kenneth, born 1979, before unfortunately we separated in 1982. Ken later became a Baha’i in Dorset after hearing a talk given by Rob Weinberg.
We moved to Middlesbrough in 1979 and I attended Teesside Polytechnic until 1984, studying History of Ideas among other things. At one point I stayed in Harrogate to serve on the Local Spiritual Assembly. I was also on the Spiritual Assembly of Middlesbrough from approximately 1982 to 1987 and went on pilgrimage in February 1987, which was a totally life-changing experience. Shortly after returning, I married Kathy Marsh, a Bahá’í from the United States, who then moved to the UK with her two children, Amanda and Karina. Their own father had little contact with them, so in effect I brought them up with Kathy. We moved to Somerset and lived in Shepton Mallet, Glastonbury and Bruton. We both served on the Spiritual Assembly of Mendip for several years and I was an assistant to Auxiliary Board members Paul Bellamy and Viv Bartlett.
Sadly, in 2000 Kathy and I separated and I moved to Abingdon, serving on the Spiritual Assembly there until 2003, when I moved to the Isle of Wight and got married again, to Judy Dudhnath. Judy and I still live on the Island. We have been assistants here jointly and separately, for the Board members Ephrat Miller-Foroughi and Bahar Tahzib. We also served on the Spiritual Assembly of Ryde from 2003 until it lapsed in 2009. Most of the Bahá’ís in Ryde are advanced in years, two being in nursing homes, so we are not as dynamic as we would wish to be, but we hold occasional devotional meetings and are actively pursuing the sequence of Ruhi courses.
Conferences I have attended over the years have included several National Conventions, including as delegate for the Unit comprising the Southampton and Isle of Wight areas in 2004, 2005 and at least one other year.
I attended summer schools at Sidcot during the 1990s and, as a member of the Spiritual Assemblies of Mendip and Abingdon, was also involved in organising them. I taught a youth class at summer school in Reading in about 2005. Judy and I went to the Bahá’í Academy for the Arts at Wellington in 2008 – a wonderful experience.
I have been privileged to have served as a volunteer in the NSA Records Department, setting up a computerised burial register among other things. At the time of writing, the Five Year Plan draws near to a close and the exciting prospect of the next Plan is on the horizon. I pray that I shall be allowed to play a part in it.
Isle of Wight, January 2016