Helen Longmuir

Helen Longmuir

I was born in Fakenham, Norfolk, on 30th May 1958. When I was a baby we moved to Canterbury in Kent, my mother’s home town. My first school was Blean County Primary School, then I moved on to Barton Court School for girls.

As a child, I was brought up in the Church of England. My parents were not staunch believers but my mother felt we should know about Christianity so my sister and I went to Sunday School most weeks, and then later on to church sometimes. My sister and I then went to Confirmation classes and were confirmed around the age of 12 or 13. My mother made us each a white dress which we could use afterwards for playing tennis!

My memories of the church were pleasant enough although as I grew older, whilst my faith in God through Jesus grew, I became aware of a feeling of being closed off from other religions and faiths. Around the age of 15 or 16, although we did not really learn about other faiths in RE at school, I became more curious about them and started dipping into Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and generally other belief systems. Maybe it had something to do with the times…..after all, it was the 1970s! I even read about Existentialism through Jean-Paul Sartre as I was studying French ‘A’ level, which led me to feel quite depressed and lost for a while. I remember very clearly thinking, how could Christianity be the only way when there were so many other Faiths. How did it all fit together?

Soon after that, in 1976, I went to Stockwell College of Education, Bromley, Kent, to do a teaching degree in music and children’s education. Quite early on in the course, I met a young Iranian man who was doing a degree course in music, film and TV. We became friendly as we shared the music lectures and I soon discovered that he was a Bahá’í. I had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith before so I was very curious to know more. The first thing I noticed in my friend’s study room was a picture of Abdu’l-Bahá and some very interesting looking books with titles such as “Paris Talks”, “Hidden Words” and “God loves laughter”. Little by little I learned more about the Bahá’í Faith and my friend took me to meet some other Bahá’ís in nearby communities. In Bromley, we met Mandy Lloyd (Paul Booth’s sister), and there was also quite a large community in Croydon where we used to attend Firesides. Within the next few months, a gradual realisation came to me: the Bahá’í teachings, particularly that of Progressive Revelation and the unifying effect it can have on the rest of the world, made perfect sense and held the answers to many questions I had been dwelling on for some time.

On 2nd March, 1977, on the eve of the beginning of the Bahá’í Fast, I declared my belief in Bahá’u’lláh to one of the local Bahá’ís. I knew I would never regret it or look back as it was just like tuning in a radio….Everything was so much clearer!

The other Bahá’ís asked me why I didn’t wait until Naw-Ruz (Bahá’í New Year – and the end of the fasting season) to declare, as then I wouldn’t have to fast! But I said no, I was so excited about becoming a Bahá’í I just wanted to get on with it!

During the long summer holidays my Iranian friend and I went to stay with his parents, Mr Ata’o’llah and Mrs Jamileh Goharriz, in Hastings, where they had recently pioneered to from Sutton Coldfield. We attended all sorts of Bahá’í activities there including public meetings and firesides. We sometimes joined the Eastbourne and Brighton communities for 19 Day Feasts as there were quite a few Iranian families who lived there, and we gathered at the Brighton Bahá’í Centre. I really enjoyed these times and found it all so interesting. It was particularly exciting to be involved with some of the teaching activities in Hastings.

In July 1979, I married my friend, who had become my boyfriend then fiancé! We had a Bahá’í wedding which was a lovely mixture of Eastern and Western culture. It was so refreshing to be able to choose our own prayers and readings, and not to have any clergy to marry us! It was all very new to my side of the family, but they joined in and enjoyed the experience. We became Mr and Mrs Goharriz.

After that, we moved to Folkestone, Kent, as my then husband had finished his degree and wanted to start working. I still had one more year to study so I transferred my course to Christ Church College, Canterbury. We soon met up with some local Bahá’ís from Folkestone…..Janet and Joel Defremont, Lesley Downs and her mother Ena, a newly declared Bahá’í called Rosalind Smedley, Barney and Erica Leith, Sian Peckett, a Persian family by the name of Samdarin, and a Persian lady Zaman Eshtiaq who introduced us to Esperanto classes, and some other friends. We all worked hard to spread the message of the Bahá’í Faith and managed to form a Local Spiritual Assembly for Shepway. This was my first experience of serving on a local spiritual assembly.

We also sometimes went to Canterbury to join the community there for feasts and Holy Days, as I had grown up in Canterbury and my parents lived there. Some of the friends were Ann and Peter Kyne, Arthur and Marion Weinberg, Rob Weinberg (he was just a boy then), and Mr and Mrs Brian Giddings. There was a strange coincidence because as a teenager, I used to work side by side with Joan Giddings as a volunteer in the Canterbury Oxfam shop. I never knew at the time that she was a Bahá’í though until much later on. I loved the Canterbury community as their meetings were so interesting.

In 1988, we moved to Chester and received a very warm welcome by the Bahá’í Community of Chester – at that time, Mr and Mrs Adab, Margaret Lord, Joan and Eric Bowers. Sue Grimshaw (now Sue James) made up the stable pillar of the community. When my three children were born (Natalie, Hannah and Christopher junior), we realised that we would have to educate them in a way so as to embrace not only the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith but also to introduce them to other religions too. We took them to Bahá’í children’s classes in Wirral and Shrewsbury, to meet up with other children from Bahá’í families. Both Natalie and Hannah chose to become Bahá’ís when they were away at University, as it has to be the decision of the individual, not the parents, if and when they make that choice. Christopher passed away at the age of 14 and had said shortly beforehand that he considered himself to be a Bahá’í.

In 2004, I had the bounty of going on Pilgrimage with my daughter Hannah, to visit the Shrine of the Blessed Beauty Bahá’u’lláh and the other special places in the Bahá’í World Centre. This was such an amazing experience, especially as we were there during Naw-Rúz (Bahá’í New Year) and were honoured by being able to join in the circumambulating of the Shrine of the Báb and to be served tea by the nine members of the Universal House of Justice who showered us with love and humility. Such a wonderful, heavenly time! I think it really strengthened and confirmed my spirit, and prepared us for the sudden passing of young Christopher a few months later. His dear soul is on its journey through the infinite worlds of God.

Sadly, after 22 years of marriage, my first husband and I had reached a parting of the ways and so we separated.

When I married my second husband Andy, I was blessed with another opportunity to have a Bahá’í wedding. We chose passages and readings together which incorporated our beliefs, including some Buddhist scripture which Andy likes, and we were married in the heart of our Chester community. Although Andy is not a Bahá’í, he has used his wonderful artistic talents in producing ‘The Family’, a sculpture project in the Bahá’í Garden in Grosvenor Park, Chester, and to inscribe some of the Bahá’í teachings on wooden plaques and to generally lend a hand when needed.

The Bahá'í garden in Grosvenor Park

The Bahá’í garden in Grosvenor Park

Now in 2016, I am deeply thankful for coming across the Bahá’í Faith all those years ago as it has shaped my life and thinking in such a positive way. I have had the bounty of serving on the Spiritual Assembly of Chester over the years. Through daily prayer and reflection, we realise how imperfect we are as human beings and how fleeting and relatively insignificant this life is and how much we have to learn.

“So intense must be the spirit of love and loving-kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. For universality is of God and all limitations earthly.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá


Helen Longmuir

Chester, January 2017 

The sculpture placed in the Bahá'í garden

The sculpture placed in the Bahá’í garden