Case Study in Social and Economic
at the Local Level: Pershore Baha'i Community, UK
Adam and Lindsay Thorne
Paper presented at the 3rd Conference of the International
Forum, organized jointly with
the Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development - United Kingdom (BASED-UK)
15-18 August 1999, Sidcot, United Kingdom
[This paper is as presented at the Conference, and has not been subject to editorial review by the IEF]
The story starts in 1989 with a community six adults, on good terms, making efforts to join in with local community action. It was a collection of nice people with busy lives making sporadic teaching efforts and sometimes feeling discouraged. The community gained one or two people and there was a general feeling that we all wanted to be a loving family. We all desired to do something for Bahá'u'lláh.
'Abdu'l Bahá's words "Unity, Unity, Love, Love" echoed in our hearts - but there was not much to be seen on the outside. Quite a few didn't like one another! If we hadn't been Bahá'ís we probably wouldn't have been friends. We were a mixture of old and new Bahá'ís. We took the Ridvan Message and looked at what we had been asked to do.
There were three families with two batches of children about the same age (six to eight) and babies. The Ridvan Message said that every man, woman and child could teach. We did a brainstorm around this theme. Everyone joined in and everything was put down. These idea were then consulted about and considered over a period of a couple of months, in the Feasts, when we got together socially, on Holy Days. There was no pressure to decide quickly what was to be done, there was a slow process of sifting of ideas. (This brainstorming has now become an annual event)
First we decided to concentrate on teaching. We decided to pick one group of people and concentrate. Three women were not in full time employment and had small children, and it was decided that they would go into Evesham and concentrate on other women with children. We prayed together for 30 minutes one evening once a week. We then went round Evesham looking around and talking to people.
On one occasion we went into a cheap and dirty cafe. Not having much money they were on the look out for somewhere cheap to eat. It turned out to be a community run group for single mothers with a creche and a coffee bar. We asked the community worker what we could do to assist. She suggested that the Bahá'ís help with the coffee bar. We decided that we wanted to offer something good by the standards of Bahá'u'lláh and follow the example of 'Abdu'l Bahá. (In the future whenever we were unsure what to do, this is what we tried to do.) So we made inexpensive but tasty food, had a clean tablecloth, and offered friendly service. But what to do with the profits? We were told that there was a group in Evesham who were trying to start a project for the homeless. So we decided to raise money for this. We did this for two/three years; cooking increasingly complex food and raising money. We were asked if we would like to be on the board of the local charity for the homeless, but we said no. We explained that we would like to offer the seed corn and would be available for consultation. The result of this was that it was made clear that the Bahá'ís were not there to advertise themselves but only to support the local community. The coffee morning did become a teaching event because there were numerous requests to explain who and what we were.
The Bahá'í community gained its internal strength from the knowledge that it was serving the community. Everyone contributed. The coffee shop project started small and as it grew the members developed lots of skills. During this time we did not think about the community itself. The local politicians were intrigued by people who gave money but did not want power. Although we didn't know it at the time, the Bahá'ís gained a reputation for being reliable and humanitarian.
Then Agenda 21 came along. The Bahá'ís studied the Rio Agreement and went along to the community forum and joined in the consultation with vigour. One of the Bahá'ís was invited to be the coordinator of the SED committee and three other Bahá'ís were on other committees. Within six months we had attained our objectives. In general we felt that one of the secrets of our success has been setting goals and planning, planning, planning.
Each year we celebrated the Birthday of Bahá'u'lláh. It became a big event, that eventually came to be on the diary of the town councils of Pershore and Evesham. Each year we took a particular group and invited them: charity workers, health care workers, different groups which work for the community.
The Bahá'ís identified the two power bases in Pershore. The Church and the Town Council and set about setting up links with them. With the churches we got involved with the One World week organisation - moving it onto a larger level. We also worked with the local music festival, the Peace Group and the group helping the Chernobyl children.
We wanted to find ways of helping the poor in a rural area. We were involved in the launch of the local LETTs scheme (for bartering skills and services). Most of the Bahá'ís joined. We also helped set up a local Credit Union. Each year we have a car boot sale and raise £500 for the national fund.
There is a constant making and reviewing of plans. A great effort is made to make sure that everyone in the community has a part to play. In meetings there is a careful minuting of who has been given tasks, and people are expected to report back on progress. For example, one child is in charge of checking that there are sufficient pamphlets. Everybody always has some sort of project on the go. We always try to look at the whole community and the whole person. We also always try to make sure that people are not expected to take on too much and to maintain a balance between Bahá'í, family and work commitments. The community tries to recognise and acknowledge work done by members, even the routine and usually unnoticed jobs. Flowers or boxes of chocolates are sometimes sent.
The Local Spiritual Assembly meets once a week. Tasks are shared out to different officers. Routine tasks are handled by these groups and officers so that the LSA can concentrate on the most important matters. The Auxiliary Board member forms a very important part of the consultation.
During question time the example was given of a similar community who had also been very active in local affairs, and then ran out of steam. The question was asked why didn't this happen in Pershore. The reason given was that the community had looked at themselves and the discipline of their Bahá'í life. Regular deepenings and prayer meetings had been arranged. They had tough discussions about hurt feelings, and why they sometimes feel unappreciated. Some meetings were very emotional but at the same time they felt that it was very necessary to be honest and straightforward with one another. Before getting involved in community projects, the Bahá'ís also always say that they are interested in being the seed corn to help projects and programmes get going, but that they will not always be involved, sometimes they put a time limit on their involvement.
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Last updated 18 October 1999