How does one reflect on one’s life? I have lived over 74 years, and was born in Berkeley, California, on 8 June 1941, a city visited by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá many years before. My wonderful parents, Lawrence and Harriet Collins gave me a very happy start to my life. They were people who believed in freedom of religion. Many of their ancestors had left Europe for just such freedom of worship. They were born into Methodist families. My father became a Unitarian and later on so did my mother. When I was 15 years old I felt the need to join the Unitarian church in Berkeley. Later when I became a Bahá’í, I understood why becoming 15 had felt so significant, as that was the age you could declare your faith in Bahá’u’lláh.
My first consciousness of the Bahá’í Faith was in Pocatello, Idaho when I went to a World Religion Day celebration at Idaho State College where I was in my third year of study. When I first heard of the Faith, my thoughts at the time were, “If I wasn’t a Unitarian, I could only be a Bahá’í”. As a Unitarian I had first-hand experience of not being accepted by many Christians, which only made me stronger in my beliefs.
My next encounter with the Faith was about six years later when I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I joined the United States Army as a result of my reaction to my Father’s death from Parkinson’s disease. I had felt so helpless during his illness and as I learned that I could get medical training in the Army, I joined. I wanted to be able to help my mother if she needed me in the future. I was attracted to the Faith as it spoke of Faith as being a way of living life. I was given the books Prescription for Living and The Divine Art of Living. I felt the Faith was getting back to the early teachings of Jesus, a simpler way of living. Believe it or not, I was happy to learn that chastity was important and not something to be ridiculed. Much as I loved what I learned about the Faith, I was happy in my religion. It took another year and a half before I became a Bahá’í, after which there was no turning back. I had made a pledge and commitment to Bahá’u’lláh. He has given me guidance, direction and hope for my future, but more than that He has given it to all mankind. As the years have passed I have received many blessings, but I have become more aware that more important than anything is the golden future of the people of this earth.
I became a Bahá’í on the 20th of July, 1969, signing my card on the military base where I had once been stationed. It was a joyful day. I had woken that morning planning to go to church, but as usual I was late. Oh, well, I thought I would go next week. At least, I could go to the Bahá’í fireside at 1 pm. Listening to the television reporting the progress of the first lunar landing I kept hearing Walter Cronkite saying, “This is the beginning of a new era for mankind.” Smiling to myself, I thought, “If he only knew?” I had just read ‘Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era’ by John Esslemont. I knew that the Bahá’ís were working for the real new era when all the peoples of the world would realise they were one – one race, one family and living on one planet.
I arrived at my Bahá’í friend’s house only to find she was really upset because some people had misused her hospitality. She was saying, “After all I did for them. They could at least have said thank you, don’t you agree, Catherine”.
“Yes”, I said, “but I want to talk to you, Nezzie.”
“Forget about them. I really want to talk to you!” I insisted.
“You are probably right,” replied Nezzie. “Come into the kitchen. I’ll make us some coffee. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“I want to sign the card.”
“What did you say?” I want to sign the CARD!”
“I WANT TO SIGN THE CARD!”
“One Small Step for Man! One Giant Leap for Mankind!” As those words were being heard around the world from Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, I was making the biggest decision of my life – my first step, my giant leap in my spiritual journey.
Nezzie started to scream and hug me. We began to jump up and down. The card was found and with trembling hand I read it and then signed it knowing that I had made a pact with God and a commitment to serve His Cause to the best of my ability. I could not pronounce Bahá’u’lláh’s name, as for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, well, that was beyond me, but I knew that this Faith was from God and I had pledged to obey the laws and ordinances and “by gum” I was going to try hard. I was now a member of the Bahá’í Faith, had taken up the torch to help build God’s ‘Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven’, and I now had a purpose. My ‘eagle’ had landed.
My first Bahá’í community was San Antonio, Texas. In October of that year I was first elected in a bi-election to the Local Spiritual Assembly. I remember saying to one of the long established members of the community that I would be seeking his guidance. He said, “No, you were elected for your spiritual qualities. You are to seek guidance from Bahá’u’lláh and speak from your heart only. Listen and consult with the other members so that the truth can be revealed”. I really took that on board. It served me well in the communities I went on to serve: Albany, California; Skokie, Illinois; Stanley, Falkland Islands; Hove, and Wealden, England. In total, I have served as an Assembly member in six different locations over a period of 26 years. It instilled in me a deep love for the Bahá’í administration and the need for it to help build the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.
While living in San Antonio, I received word from my brother Fred that our Mother was ill. I learned that she had cancer of the liver and was not expected to live more than six months. I left Texas and returned to California where I spent the following 5 months with her while working in San Francisco. My wish to be with her in her final days was fulfilled. On my return to California I once again saw my brother and his wife Sherry and their three wonderful children, Linda, Larry and Lorna. I used to take them with me to Bahá’í parties. It was a lovely time.
Mother had visited me in San Antonio during my second fast period. We had had a wonderful time together saying the beautiful prayers. She got up each morning so that we could eat and pray together. In the evenings she prepared lovely meals for me, when I got home from working as a nurse. During the time of fasting with my mother, I learned that I had been given a date for pilgrimage in June. Needless to say I was very excited, so in June 1971 I flew out to the Holy Land.
What an experience! I spent my 30th birthday at the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, and passed through the Collins Gate. While I was praying at the sacred threshold, two jasmine blossoms stuck to my forehead. Later when I backed away and sat down to pray, they fell into my prayer book. I still have one but the other one is buried with my daughter Harriet near the grave of Shoghi Effendi. Later one of the ladies gave me some attar of roses and some rose petals from the shrine. I had wanted some but didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask for them so you can imagine my joy when she handed me the packet as I was the last one to leave the room in which we had been served tea. I cried.
Later that day our group met with the Universal House of Justice in the Western Pilgrim House which was the Seat of the House at that time. The members filed in and sat opposite us. One of the members stood up and welcomed us. I can’t remember what was said but I felt the power of the institution. Once he had stopped speaking, we all stood up and with smiles on their faces and hands extended to shake our hands, they came to meet us, the pilgrims. They were now Bahá’ís speaking to their fellow Bahá’ís. An unasked question was answered. I knew that the Universal House of Justice was infallible, but I had not realised that I was questioning that tenet of our Faith. Since then I look forward to their messages and instructions. Later that day I again visited the Shrine of the Báb for prayers. Afterwards I walked around the Shrine and stood by the ring of cypresses where Bahá’u’lláh had pitched His tent and had told ‘Abdu’l-Bahá where to build the Shrine of the Báb. What a day! On another day we visited the Mansion of Bahji where Bahá’u’lláh ascended.
In the archives building I saw the paintings of the Báb, and the photograph of Bahá’u’lláh, which reminded me of my father. I also saw the beautiful displays that Rúhíyyih Khánum, widow of the late Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, had decorated with special artefacts: a lock of Bahá’u’lláh’s hair; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s robe, and Shoghi Effendi’s well-worn shirt, and Writings in the hand of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi framed and displayed on the walls. Praying in the cell in Akka where Bahá’u’lláh was imprisoned was a unique experience, and standing at the window where He had stood waving His handkerchief to the early pilgrims who had walked from Persia just to see His wave. Then we went to the roof where Mirza Mihdi had fallen through a skylight while praying. He asked Bahá’u’lláh to allow his death to be a ransom for those who were prevented from obtaining Bahá’u’lláh’s presence. He granted his son’s wish, so that God’s servants could be quickened and the people could dwell on earth united.
The visit to the Houses of ‘Abbud and ‘Udi Khammar was another new experience for me. In the House of ‘Abbud we were served tea and were able to look out at the Mediterranean and watch the waves breaking against the shore. There was a lovely open garden between the two connected houses. In the House of ‘Udi Khammar there was a wood panelled room in which Bahá’u’lláh revealed the Most Holy Book, the “Kitab-i-Aqdas”. To sit quietly in that small simple room and think about what was revealed there was very inspiring. At the time I was there, the book had not been translated into English so you can imagine my joy when some years later I was able to read it for the first time. Being in the House of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Haifa was special. It was there that you could feel the presence of the Holy Family going about their daily lives. From there ‘Abdu’l Bahá ascended to the Abha Kingdom with his loved ones around him. The election of the Universal House of Justice was held in the large central room, a place of happiness for me.
I remembered a question to Hand of the Cause Mr Khadem about whether it would be better to take the money that was saved for pilgrimage and give it to the Cause. He said that you would give more if you went on pilgrimage, not only in money but service. Through the years I have found that this is the case.
After my mother’s death I flew from California to Panama for the dedication of the Temple in 1972. It was over a weekend. What an experience. While praying in the Temple there was a light rainfall. As the Temple was open to the air at the time, the clouds came through with a little mist falling on us. Rúhíyyih Khánum was there. She anointed us with attar of roses as we passed by the copies of the pictures of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. When I heard Mr Khadem speaking at the Thanksgiving weekend at Camp Carter, Texas, years before, he had said that if you could go to the dedication for the Panama Temple, you should. I took it to heart, so I went.
While living in California, I heard that a lady was meeting people at the San Francisco Bahá’í Centre who wanted to serve at the National Bahá’í Centre in Wilmette, Illinois. I applied. I didn’t get the job because I didn’t have the typing skills that were needed. She liked me and said that if I could learn to type there might be a place for me in the future so I started taking a typing class at night school. When I had learnt to type, I wrote to her and I got a job in the mailroom at the National Centre. I gave my notice in at work and a month later I was driving across the United States to take up my post.
I arrived there in September 1974, living with a friend in Wilmette at first, but quickly got an apartment in Skokie which had a vibrant community. We hosted an Ayyam-i-Ha Party each year for 500 people. It was a major event in that area. People came from miles around. While there I served on the regional teaching committee and was involved with the formation of the first Spiritual Assembly of Cicero, Illinois.
Due to an injury I had received while serving in the army, my back gave out one day and I was taken to the hospital. I couldn’t do the heavy lifting required in the Mail Room so I was moved to the Records Office. There I could use my typing skills. One of my jobs was to send out welcome cards signed by the National Secretary to all new believers. One day I got a card from the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The local dentist had become a believer. I sent him the card.
The Falklands had interested me since I became a Bahá’í as the San Antonio community had received a letter from their assembly inviting us to a world-wide conference being held there. What caught my interest was a footnote saying “Please let us know if you can come as we only have accommodation for 6”! As the United States was their National Assembly they had sent a letter to all the Spiritual Assemblies in the USA. After that, whenever my local community said that they could not do something, I would say “Remember the Falklands”. While I was in California I attended a gathering in Marin County where I met two couples, the Sheridans and the Mabeys, who were going pioneering to the Falklands. A few years later I served with them on the Spiritual Assembly of Stanley.
I loved working for the National Spiritual Assembly of the USA. I met so many more wonderful people there and learned a lot. My understanding of the organic nature of our Faith came to me while attending a deepening session which Glenford Mitchell held for all the workers at the National Centre. At the time he was the Secretary of the NSA. He always met with the staff following each NSA meeting in Foundation Hall. He would tell us the plans and what we would be doing in the future. He was a wonderful speaker and a truly hard working dedicated soul.
My life was truly blessed. It was so special to drive to work in all seasons and see the House of Worship beckoning me. I sang in the choir for the 3 o’clock service. In those days the choir was never seen as we climbed up to a balcony and sang from there. Our choir leader was a lovely man, Mr Fountain who taught at Northwestern University. He bought with him some of his music students who sang with us. We met at 1pm to practise before going up the stairs. A few times I was one of the readers. During the 200th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, I was asked to read a prayer during a 24 hour period. I was given the time slot of 12 noon on the day. It was such an emotional moment; I thought I might not be able to read the prayer without my voice breaking. Fortunately I didn’t break down.
My office was in the basement of the house that had been built for the caretaker of the grounds during the building of the House of Worship. Although we worked underground we did have light from small windows at ground level. For many years the National Secretaries had their offices there. The rooms for the Records and Files were in the basement. The upper floor housed the Secretaries and the workers for the Secretariat as well as the Mail Room. It was a very small structure.
At the urging of some friends in Haifa, I applied to go to work in the Holy Land. I heard nothing, so I started to think again about pioneering. I had always wanted to go pioneering, but while my mother was alive I didn’t feel I could leave her. I looked at the goal areas; I knew I really didn’t function very well in hot climates having lived in Texas and Virginia. I saw that there was a need in Argentina. As there was an International Conference being held in Brazil, I thought I would go there as it was nearby.
At a monthly meeting just before I went, Glenford Mitchell, who also was going, mentioned that he would be meeting the dentist from the Falkland Islands. On the way out of Foundation Hall I was joking with my friends saying “Wouldn’t it be funny if I met the dentist from the Falklands and fell in love.” We all laughed as I didn’t know anything about him. I did meet him and did fall in love with him. As it turned out, I went to the Falklands. Our courtship was by letters, each one of which took six weeks to arrive. My future husband’s name was Robert Muir Watson. His father, John, was a dentist and his mother, Mary Murch, was the daughter of two dentists. Her mother was one of the first female dentists in the country. Robert trained at Guy’s Hospital, London. After qualifying, he chose to work in the Falklands, where he became a Bahá’í after reading Dr. Esslemont’s book Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.
To pioneer there I needed many documents and permits, and I flew to the Falklands in the following February. I got a job in the hospital as a nurse and Robert and I became formally engaged. His parents gave their consent and we flew to England to meet them and get married, which happened in their garden on the 10th of May 1978, after a civil ceremony in Daventry. It was the same day as the first legal Bahá’í wedding in Scotland. On the way back to the Falklands we stopped off in America for Robert to meet some of my family and friends.
The next eight years flew by. During that time, I travelled with Robert to most of the settlements in the Falklands when he did his winter tour of the camp. Camp was the name for all the area outside Stanley, which is the only city in the Islands. It is a city as it has a cathedral. At the time the population of Stanley was about 900. The other 900 people were scattered all around the islands. In those early days we travelled by a red five-seater Beaver sea plane. Once we reached our destination the plane either went to the jetty or a boat would come out to meet the plane and we would be off loaded from the floats of the plane onto a small boat and taken to the jetty. When we travelled between settlements on the main islands we would go halfway in some sort of conveyance and be met by someone from the next settlement and then be taken on. As there were no roads, it was very bumpy crossing the countryside avoiding peat bogs, streams and large rocks.
One memorable trip from Goose Green to San Carlos, we were put in a box on the back of a tractor on top of the dental gear. As it was winter it was very cold. We bumped along until we were met on the top of a hill by a man driving a tractor and trailer. They put some sheep skins on the base of the trailer and a tarpaulin was put on top of the trailer to protect us in case it snowed. We could see out the back, but the mud from the wheels hit us in the face. We had to laugh. By the time we reached San Carlos, we were cold. We had hot drinks and a bath, which restored our spirits.
When Robert became a Bahá’í at Fox Bay East, he immediately bought books and several films which he took around with him to show the people in the settlements. One was Rúhíyyih Khánum’s “The Green Light Expedition”. Every settlement had a Social Hall and a projector so when Robert arrived with his film everyone was happy to go and see the films. He was also welcomed by the women in the settlements, as his coming complete with a generator bought them electricity during the day, so they could listen to their music, do the ironing, and vacuum the floor. The generator was only on for the men. When they were away working it was turned off. As a result, women had to use a goose wing for sweeping the floors and an iron heated up on the peat-burning stove. On dark days their only source of light was candles. Life for women was much harder than for the men but in spite of the differences they were warm-hearted and happy people. It was a beautiful place. When I think of the Falklands I think of wide open spaces and the blue of the sky and water and yellow brown countryside. At the time the only major problem was drink. However, one felt safe there. It was a peaceful place. Then on the 1st of April 1982 the Argentinean army, navy and air force decided to attack.
Life changed. We were given edicts, one being that we could only leave our homes between 8am and 4pm. Many adjustments had to be made to our daily routines. The Bahá’í community continued to hold 19 Day Feasts and Holy Day Celebrations during the permitted hours. One change was that each Sunday at 10 o’clock we would meet for prayers. In fact the churches all held their services at the same time. I really felt connected with all the Falkland Islanders.
We were somewhat safe, as none of us was killed on the day of the invasion, but that didn’t mean that we were treated nicely. Robert and I had several encounters where guns were pointed at us. I thought we would be killed, but Robert thought we were going to be all right. I would say “Hold that thought”. I was supposed to be going to England to have my baby at Guy’s Hospital. Needless to say, I didn’t go to England. When the British shelling of Stanley began, Robert made a place under the house where we could go to be relatively safe. He dug an escape hole so if our house caught fire, we could get out. The hole was big as I was pregnant with Mary at the time. We only spent one night there. The next day the windows in the sitting room were blown in. I had just been looking out wondering why the Argentine soldiers were running around. Robert was on the phone to the hospital to see what was happening. He was told that the stone house, which was to be our ‘safe’ house, had been hit. Several of our friends had been killed and one was in the hospital dying. A few had been safe as they were in a peat constructed shelter in the sitting room. We then took refuge in the hospital.
We survived. Once the British flag was flying over Government House, Robert started his dental trip in the camp, postponed due to the war. We went to Hill Cove in one of the helicopters. We continued to move around camp until it was time for me to leave to go to England for the birth of our baby. When the Governor heard that Robert was going to stay behind, he ordered him to go with me. We left on the troop ship Kiernan, which had been a channel ferry before the attack.
Mary was safely born on 26 August in Guy’s Hospital. Our first daughter, Harriet, had died there two years before, in the second day of her life, and was buried near the Guardian’s Resting Place. So you can imagine our joy when Mary arrived safely after what she had gone through during the conflict. When she was eight weeks old, we returned to the island on the cable-laying ship Iris, which had been called into service during the crisis and commissioned as a prisoner of war ship. Fortunately, it never had to be used for that purpose. First we flew to Ascension Island in a Hercules aircraft with fresh vegetables and fruit for the troops. Mary was in a hammock swinging back and forth. We then caught a helicopter from Ascension airport and landed on the boat. Things had changed in the Falklands, but it was great to be back with our friends in the islands again.
There was a lot of building work going on as the result of the war. New houses in Stanley, an airport at Mount Pleasant and roads were being built in the camp. Bahá’ís continued with their teaching work and holding 19 Day Feasts, Holy Day celebrations, prayer sessions and deepening. During this time, Philip Hainsworth came as a travel teacher from England. It was great to have him with us. As we all wanted him to stay with us, it was decided to have him spend a few days with each family. It worked out very well. This gave him a chance to meet everyone so that he could get a feel for the community. We were sad when he left.
We had returned after Mary’s birth in time to plant the garden so that we would have vegetables for the next year. When I say we, it was Robert who was the gardener and supplier of food, which he did along with his dentistry. In March he was back on the winter tour of all the settlements and this time Mary went with us. The islanders loved her. She was a special guest at a wedding in North Arm (Falklands). When she was getting close to school age, Robert wanted her to be educated in England. He didn’t feel that the educational system there was enough and we didn’t want to send her away. Also we were a family. Robert and I had waited a long time before we met and married.
We had lost Harriet and two more children who were buried in our garden. We both had wanted four children but for three of them, life was tragically very brief. They were not old enough to know if they were John/Lawrence or Alice/Louise. Mary was number three. To say that she was precious to us is an understatement. She was Daddy’s girl.
So with mixed feelings we left the Falkland Islands in February 1986. It was eight years for me and seventeen years for Robert. Back in England we rented a house in Hamble, Hampshire. Robert immediately looked for a dental practice somewhere in the south, and in June we moved into our home/dental practice in Hove. There was a very special Bahá’í community there so we fitted right in at once. Each year we would go to Summer Schools, National Conventions and anything else that needed our help. Twice I was a delegate at National Convention. Robert and Mary only went with me once as Robert died in March 1990 and the Convention was in April.
His death was a shock to all of us. His parents were devastated. My concern was for Mary. I was so glad that they had had a special bond. I lost my own father when I was 23 and I really missed him. With the loss of Robert I knew I must go on as he would have wanted me to do. Also, Mary needed as happy a childhood as possible. At the time of Robert’s death I was doing volunteer work at Esslemont House, the National sub-office in Uckfield, Sussex. I needed to find work, as our source of income stopped with him. Fortunately I was offered a part time job at the sub-office working for Philip Hainsworth, who always referred to me as his secretary. I could not have had a better boss and I loved working for him and the National Spiritual Assembly. Except for the time when I worked at the National Assembly in Wilmette, I was usually only able to give my tired hours to the Faith. Now I could once more give my non-tired hours to the Faith.
Robert and I had been part of the group of parents in Sussex and Surrey that had started a Thomas Breakwell School which began in Crawley and later moved to Horsham. Thomas Breakwell was the first English Bahá’í (1872–1902). I was a teacher at first, and Robert assisted me until his death three months later. For a number of years I continued teaching, then became a facilitator for the parents’ discussion and deepening programme. We went there for 11 years until it closed. It was quite a commitment for the parents as it was 30 Sundays a year in blocks of 5. Most of us who took our children there drove one hour there and another hour back. Somehow I found if I thought of it as 5 weeks on and then a few weeks off, it was do-able. On Sunday mornings when I went to wake Mary, I would say, “We are off to Thomas Breakwell”. In a sense his name began to represent an Institution for me. During those years I served as an Assistant to four different Auxiliary Board members. I facilitated some study groups while being part of my local community life. Mary and I continued to go to some summer schools and also attended the Bahá’í Academy for the Arts.
Robert and I had planned to go to the World Congress in New York in 1992 with Mary. After his death I was still going ahead with my plans when I learned that children under the age of 12 were not allowed into the Congress. When I discovered that a small group of United Kingdom believers were going to the satellite conference in Moscow and that there would be children’s classes, I decided to go as part of that group with Philip and Lois Hainsworth. Mary could attend the children’s classes. What a joy! I never in my life time thought I would be allowed to go to Russia. I was alive when the ‘Iron Curtain’ closed off the USSR to the rest of the world. Going to a Bahá’í conference in the Soviet Union had been unthinkable. The satellite link with the friends in New York was wonderful. History was made as the first address to Bahá’ís of the World by the Universal House of Justice took place simultaneously around the world. What a moment! Mary, 10, sat with me during this momentous moment in time. She was the only child from the UK attending the conference. During the link up with the World Congress a gentleman there stood up to say an opening prayer at the start of the Moscow conference. The people in the auditorium began to cheer and then all at once they stopped. Later I learned that the reader was a member of their National Assembly. They were so excited to see him, but then realised he was praying so they went quiet.
Following the conference we travelled by night train to St Petersburg. There we met the Bahá’ís and attended many gatherings with them. As a result of a talk that Philip gave in a school, Mary and I were invited to dinner at the home of a Russian family who were not Bahá’ís. While in an open-air market we had many talks about our belief that the world is one country. I was wearing a badge of the world which was a picture of the earth taken by an astronaut on the moon. Many Russian market stall owners asked if I really believed the world was one country. “Yes”, I said. It was quite an experience to be an American standing in St Petersburg talking about the Bahá’í vision of the world as one country.
In December 1994 Mary and I went back to the Falklands to visit our friends. We stayed with Sharon and Dennis Middleton and their daughter Kerry. I was with Sharon in Goose Green when she became a Bahá’í and our friendship grew. When I left the island, she was living in Port Howard, and after I waved goodbye to her I cried all the way to Stanley.
We were there during the Christmas holiday as I knew we would see more of our friends. Many people from the camp come into Stanley for the Sports Days which are held each year at that time. Some of our friends living in the West Falklands weren’t coming to Stanley, so we flew on a FIGAS (Falkland Islands Government Air Service) plane to both Hill Cove and Port Stephens. As the Beavers had been destroyed by the Argentines in the war, they had been replaced by an Islander plane, able to land on beaches and grass strips.
It was lovely for Mary to be in the islands as she was not even 4 when we had left in 1986. One very special place we visited was the museum which had a setup of Robert’s equipment. Even the bottles he used still had his handwriting on them. Some years ago, one of his cousins visited the islands on a trip to the Antarctic and was surprised to see his picture and his equipment in the museum. They found out that he is still remembered with appreciation and love.
As we had been on pilgrimage together in 1979, I wanted to go again with Mary, so we went in February 1997 when she was fourteen. Each time I have been on pilgrimage there have been new developments at the World Centre. When I first went, there were two groups of twenty. One group was from Persia and the other group had people from the rest of the world. When I was there with Robert there were about eighty people in the two groups. As the persecutions of the Bahá’ís in Iran were serious, no one was able to be there from Iran. The Persian group were made up of Persian friends who had pioneered all around the world. The Western group were Bahá’ís from all the other countries.
During this 1979 pilgrimage, the number of friends attending was many more. The persecutions in Iran were still bad, so again the Persian friends came from other parts of the world. Also some of the friends who were serving at the World Centre could be part of both groups.
It was wonderful to have been on these three pilgrimages. On my first I prayed that I would meet someone to marry. On the second visit, I prayed that Robert and I could have children. On my third visit, I prayed that my daughter would declare her belief in Bahá’u’lláh and serve the Faith. Her 15th birthday was in the August of that year. I was so happy when she became a Bahá’í in her own right.
When Mary finished her ‘A’ level studies before going to university, she went to Australia for her Year of Service. It was there that I feel her faith was confirmed. In the mid-way period of her time there, I visited her and volunteered in the Secretariat. It was a lovely experience to work there and meet the friends. She was no longer ‘Catherine’s daughter’; I had become ‘Mary’s mother’.
Due to some financial cutbacks in 1995, I was made redundant and had to find a new job. Although I understood why, it still was a loss for me as I loved working for the National Assembly. Eight months later I started to work for the National Health Service at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton. I worked there for four years in the Cardiac Department. One day I had a phone call asking me if I would like to work for the NSA again. Iain Palin would be my new boss. I was delighted at once again being able to serve the Faith. I loved my job and working with Iain was wonderful. We communicated by e-mail as he lived and worked in Northern Ireland. That was a very happy period in my life. After four years, I was again made redundant and once again was looking for a job. I worked for a local job agency and got an assignment at the Horder Centre, Crowborough where I worked in the catering department until my retirement in August 2007.
I have tried during these last forty-six years to live a Bahá’í life. When I knew about the Ruhi book series I wanted to take part in the group studies. I embraced this study programme. I wished that it had been around when I became a Bahá’í. It is wonderful to think of the people all over the world studying the books. I feel that the world is united in this process and I like being part of it.
When I look back over my life I feel that I have been truly blessed, and that I must still teach either directly or indirectly until the end of my life. Since my retirement I have come to know many people in my town of Uckfield and throughout Sussex, where I am active in the Women’s Institute (WI), also the University of the Third Age (U3A). Further afield I am a founding member of the Sussex branch of WIN (Women’s Interfaith Network). Also I attend a weekly Chinese Brush Painting class in Hellingly. My teacher is Chinese. In my childhood and teen years, my parents were active in the Berkeley China Club which helped Chinese students. With this interest in China I joined the class about seven years ago. It fulfils a creative desire as well as feeling connected with China and my parents.
During my life as a Bahá’í I have had many opportunities to attend different gatherings throughout the world where I have encountered twelve Hands of the Cause of God who have given wonderful inspiring talks. They were all so different but the love they had for our Faith was inspirational. The Covenant united them in their love for the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. They truly gave their lives for our Faith. I saw, heard and chatted with Dhikru’llah Khadem, William Sears, Paul Haney, ‘Ali Akbar Furútan, Collis Featherstone, John Robarts, Amatu’l-Baha Rúhíyyih Khánum (Mary Maxwell), ‘Abu’l-Qasim Faizi, Rahmatu’llah Muhajir, Ugo Giachery, Ali Muhammad Varqa and Enoch Olinga.
I have completed all the Ruhi books up to Book 8 section 2 and I am hoping to do Book 8 section 3 and Book 9. Through the years, I have tutored several of the books. I am currently supporting the Haywards Heath community by accompanying a Book 1.
Since the revision of the boundaries, I have become a home front pioneer without the hassle of moving. My retirement made it possible for me to get to know my local community.
Each Ridván, I look forward to the message of the Universal House of Justice so that I can get inspiration and guidance on how to move our Faith to the next level. I have found it hard to write something about my life and past experiences. What we did in the past is great, but Bahá’ís are urged to continue living the life and teaching until the end of this life.
I love this quote of Shoghi Effendi, written in December 1943 to an individual believer.
“If only the friends could realize it, the glory of our Faith is not that people with unique abilities do the work of the Cause, but that it is done by the sacrifice of loving and devoted souls who arise selflessly to undertake work they feel themselves incompetent, sometimes, to achieve. God works through them and endows them with gifts they did not dream they could ever possess.”
Sussex, June 2016