Geoff with his wife Stella

I was born in Southampton in 1954. My mum and dad were ordinary working class parents, dad a coppersmith working in the docks and mum a school meals dinner lady. They called themselves Church of England but did not go to church. They were honest and very hard working people. My dad was a shop steward in his union and he fought for the rights of all the workers. I had two older brothers, one of whom was killed in an accident when I was just a year old. I have no memory of him at all. We lived for most of my childhood in an area of Southampton called Thornhill.

My first religious memory was Sunday School. I remember a little green card with ticks and tiny silver stars which marked my attendance, and I also remember one Sunday not wanting to go, hiding behind the settee and crying! Eventually I no longer attended. As a child I was obsessed with aeroplanes and read as much as I could about them and about science in general. As the school ‘fatty’ I had fewer friends than most and spent a lot of time in my own company – ‘I was no trouble’ said my mum. In my adult years I found out that I’m just on the autistic spectrum, which may have added to my reticence in forming relationships. I managed to pass my 11+ exam, ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels and so I went to university. I had two talents – art, particularly photography and graphic design, and biology. Still having my obsession for flying, I wanted to join the RAF but not to kill people so I chose to study Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

In the first year I was in residences at Fifers Lane (ex RAF ‘H’ blocks) near Norwich Airport. There I experienced freedom, independent thought, and intensity of relationships with others. Friendships were made and finished in weeks or months, as was the norm at university. It was a great time but I did have a deep fundamental unsettling thought nagging inside me fuelled by stories of a coven and black magic which upset me. I looked for the positive opposite, meeting some very nice, caring people who were ‘born again’ Christians. I also met a rather spooky lady who claimed to be a white witch. Last of all I met Steve Thompson who was a Bahá’í. As a result of meeting all these different people, deep discussions ensued and I decided that I did believe in God. I liked the ‘safety’ of an established religion but Christians could not answer fundamental questions such as ‘What is the Trinity?’ and ‘Why are there other religions?’

My Bahá’í friend had answers to many more of these fundamental questions but Persian names and culture were difficult for me to be comfortable with. I came to the Faith with a logical understanding of the principles but the ‘love in my heart’ that many profess to having was not me at the time. One evening I was in Steve Thompson’s room listening to him talk about the Faith. I fell asleep, awoke in the small hours with him still talking to his other friends and I knew I was a Bahá’í. I think it was subliminal indoctrination! I then met the Norwich Community who were very kind to me, and I attended deepenings, firesides and Feasts with Steve and his girlfriend Julie. I remember being very quiet in the deepenings and hoping that no questions would be asked of me! Evelyn Bowman led these sessions in a loving and calm manner. Norwich also provided the amazing knowledge of Bob Cheek who occasionally would drive us in his Bedford van. He could discuss matters with Christians just by quoting chapter and verse. He was a great man. There were public meetings where very few of the public attended, and the melodies of Richard Morgan on his flute filled the evening hours.

Back in university life, Steve eventually succumbed to the charms of his girlfriend Julie Wingar and they have now been married for over 40 years. I spent all my grant money on gliding and lived in a very cheap and run down flat. After university I got a job at Norwich Airport, had nowhere to live, and Tony and Annie McCarthy allowed me to stay in a loft above their garage until I found a rented room. The job only lasted for about 8 months, after which I was dismissed for bad time-keeping. I had been required to work shifts and the early mornings were my downfall – they are still difficult! A temporary job making plastic packaging led me to meet Carol who eventually became my wife. She found the Bahá’í Faith answered her questions of life and she declared in Norwich.

Searching for jobs took me temporarily to Coventry and Stoneleigh before renting a flat in Leamington Spa which I shared with Rocky Grove until I married in 1978. The community I joined were lovely – Steve Vickers and Becky, Paddy Vickers and Ann, and Rocky. All the young men, including me, had beards. The LSA was very active and Rocky, as secretary, used a Roneo mimeograph printer to make the minutes, turning the machine by hand and filling the flat with its fumes. We had great fun supporting community activities such as public meetings and the annual Leamington Spa Peace Festival. Carol and I were married in Liverpool in a registry office opposite a bombed out derelict site. We had our Bahá’í marriage but there were a few problems. Our only way to contact the Liverpool Spiritual Assembly was by public phone so we could not give them (or they us) enough details for good planning. It was upsetting for us and them. Carol’s mum had a ‘turn’, needing urgent medication just as the Baha’i wedding service started, and all our relatives were very unsure about this strange religion!

We had nowhere to live and I had just got a job at East Midlands Airport (shifts again!). We spent a wet two weeks looking for somewhere to rent in North West Leicestershire – a goal area at the time. I only had a motorbike so the wet August was memorable! We stayed in Loughborough in Les and Jean Woodfield’s home whilst they were away on holiday. We soon found a place to rent in Loughborough and so became part of the Charnwood community. Life at this stage was about settling in to a new home, developing work and home. The airport job only lasted a year and I soon started working in Leicester with the Council. Carol worked in a care home and she saw some lovely people suffer and die – she could not answer how a caring God could allow this to happen and she withdrew from the Faith. We moved again for me to try to get a better job with more money, this time in Stevenage. By then we had two children and they started to go to the Thomas Breakwell School in Stevenage. A little boy was unpleasant to Amy, my elder daughter, and stole her favourite cuddly animal. Understandably, she did not want to return. Both Amy and my younger daughter Ginny have not become Bahá’ís but have been clearly influenced as they both have a strong social conscience. In Stevenage our community did some great things – a float at the Carnival, public meetings, deepenings and devotionals. Central to these activities were Oliver and KariAnna Christopherson – very committed and loving people. Another job move put us in a village in North Hertfordshire, the only other Bahá’í in the area being Marcia Coburn in Hitchin. My wife needed my support at home so my Bahá’í activities virtually ceased at that time. I consoled myself with the knowledge that building unity in the family is a primary responsibility.

Years later a further chapter of my life commenced with ‘the world’s slowest divorce’, moving to rented accommodation, and then becoming ‘young, free and single’ in Luton. Once again I was welcomed by a new Bahá’í community and we were very active. I did what I could to support the activities during my time there. I had been to a number of Bahá’í summer schools during this time and met lots of new people. One day one of these people, Stella, asked to be a friend on Facebook. Of course I said yes, it’s what we are meant to do isn’t it? Stella sent me messages on Facebook but I could not cope with these little snippets of conversation so I suggested we phone each other to talk instead. Well, the result was a romance followed by a beautiful Bahá’í wedding and a new life for us in Kent.

We are enjoying partial retirement developing our home and garden making it a beautiful venue for many teaching and outreach activities, and feeding ourselves and neighbours with produce from the vegetable garden. We are an eternal teaching team. The passion for flying continues and Stella and I share our life with my aeroplane!

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Geoff Collins

Kent, November 2017

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