My father was a steelworker and my mother worked in an electronics factory. I was born in Newport and raised along with my sister in the small village of Caldicot in Monmouthshire a few miles from the Severn Estuary. I have happy memories of walking in the shady grounds of Caldicot Castle and browsing in rock pools along the River Severn. My upbringing was quite secular in an easy-going British way and although familiar with Christianity from my occasional school visits to the local church, I would not have described myself as a Christian. However my scripture lessons at school provided me with a good working knowledge of both the Old and New Testaments, and the moral dialogue between God, the Prophets, and the Nation of Israel made a particular impression on me.
I was something of a philosophical youth and I recall being exercised by such questions as how a just God could allow suffering, and conversely how to behave ethically in the universe if it has no intrinsic moral order. At the age of thirteen or fourteen I remember gazing at an especially pellucid evening sky and being put in mind of an illuminated lampshade – suggesting a source of light beyond this sensible world.
As a young man I had a great love of reading and literature (in particular J.R.R. Tolkien, W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot) and in 1982 I went on to study English Literature and the History of Ideas at Huddersfield Polytechnic in the post-industrial grandeur of West Yorkshire. The dominant academic paradigm at that time was postmodernism and cultural relativism. I found these schools of thought profoundly unsatisfactory, as they deny any common morality or even meaningful discussion, and as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wisely remarked “Being one, truth cannot be divided”. Looking back I realise I was searching for spiritual unity. As part of my quest I read widely including the Bible, the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita and one day came upon a number of Bahá’í books in the university library. Over the next few months I read voraciously and was inspired by principles of the Faith such as the Oneness of Humanity – beautifully enunciated in such works as Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era by J. E. Esslemont. l also learned about the nature of the Soul and the Love of God from Some Answered Questions (a compilation of explanations given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá).
Having learned about the Faith in theory, I became enamoured of the teachings but wanted to experience the Faith in practice. I wrote to the Bahá’í Publishing Trust who put me in touch with the local community in the village of Meltham, West Yorkshire, where I was living at the time. If I remember correctly, the first Bahá’ís I met were Patsy and Graham Jenkins and their family and I was touched by their kindness and hospitality, and that of the rest of the Kirklees community, including the Lambert and Deihim families. Within a few weeks of attending various meetings and events I decided that I wanted to formally declare my faith in Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this age, and did so just before Naw-Rúz 1984.
After graduating, I had the privilege of serving as a volunteer at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, between 1986 and 1988. I recall praying in the Shrine of the Báb in the cool of the evening and watching the lights play on the harbour waters from the gardens on Mount Carmel. I remember fondly the friendship and camaraderie of that unique place.
Shortly after my return from Haifa I met my dear wife Minoo at a Nineteen Day Feast in Luton. We were married in 1989 and have two daughters. Over the years I have been fortunate to have served on the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Luton and been active in the area of interfaith activities as a founding trustee of Luton Council of Faiths. In 2008, in the company of my family, I returned to Haifa once more on Pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines.
I find this verse from Bahá’u’lláh’s The Hidden Words to be a particularly salutary admonition.
“O BEFRIENDED STRANGER!
The candle of thine heart is lighted by the hand of My power, quench it not with the contrary winds of self and passion. The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not. Make My love thy treasure and cherish it even as thy very sight and life”.
Bedfordshire, February 2016