As the close of the 2011-2016 Five Year Plan approaches, Bahá’u’lláh has given the Atlantic Region a distinct gift – three clusters in which more than 100 core activities are happening, with a hundred co-workers serving upwards of a thousand participants in each.
The Triangle cluster in North Carolina has been a Learning Site for the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program. In July 2015 we reported that 179 individuals were serving about a thousand participants in more than a hundred core activities. The Triangle Cluster, with eleven Spiritual Assemblies, a vibrant Junior Youth Program, active children’s classes, study circles, and devotionals taking place in focus neighborhoods and throughout the cluster, led the way for the region in learning about the process of community building.
In November 2015, the Washington DC cluster, with one Spiritual Assembly and some 350 Baha’i youth and adults, achieved one hundred core activities – 23 study circles, 18 children’s classes, 11 junior youth groups, and 48 devotional gatherings. Some 100 individuals were at that time facilitating the participation of over 700 participants, over half of whom are from the wider community.
Although there is one specific focus neighborhood, eight neighborhoods in DC have grown and received attention and encouragement from the cluster agencies. With the guidance and assistance of the institutions and cluster agencies, Washington DC has not experienced dichotomous thinking (such as Bahá’í center classes vs. neighborhood children’s classes, focus neighborhoods vs. generality of the friends, firesides vs. core activities, etc). All efforts have been encouraged. The responsibility of the institutions has been to connect the efforts as part of one enterprise for building a growing and dynamic community.
There have been many reflection and planning spaces beyond the Reflection Meeting, including neighborhood feasts, to allow for wide participation. Anyone is welcome to attend any space whether they are engaged in that activity or not, ly nurturing a welcoming environment of inclusiveness.
The eight communities of the Fairfax Cluster learned they reached the milestone of 100 core activities at their January 10, 2016 Reflection Meeting. “In 2011, we had 109 people serving 335 in 73 core activities,” says Farzaneh Rasooly. The culmination of these areas of growth, she announced with joy, was the achievement of 116 friends serving 828 in 100 core activities, making Fairfax the 3rd cluster in the Atlantic region and the 8th cluster in the nation to reach 100 core activities. As junior youth Kimia unfurled large papers taped to the wall reading “100,” the announcement was met with thunderous applause. “We were even getting news of new study circles starting this morning, which we chose not to include in the final number,” said Rasooly to laughter. “The number of people serving hasn’t changed that much, but the achievement is so different,” noted one of the local youth. “By the end of the next Plan, I hope for 200 serving 2000!” Junior youth Kimia and Kevin proceeded to hand out small bags containing rock candy from the Holy Land and rose petals from the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, each tied to a medallion reading “100” on one side and “Thank you” on the other; a token of gratitude and appreciation on behalf of the Area Teaching Committee to each of the friends.
The friends continued the celebration by sharing stories that exemplified the signs of an advancing community detailed in the Universal House of Justice’s letter dated December 29, 2015. As an example of transformation as a result of the Word of God, a university student described how two friends he had started a study circle with were surprised by the focus on talking about the kind of world we want to create. “It wasn’t something they expected to come from a religion. Over time, you could see that they really got better at expressing their ideas about what a better world would look like, and one of those friends became a co-animator in our new junior youth group,” said the youth. As an example of a growing culture of conversations of significance, the friends recounted the community-wide unity that characterized the initiative to increase devotional gatherings, and a children’s class teacher noted a growing practice of her students to present what they had learned to their parents. As an example of teaching the Faith assuming a more prominent place in the lives of the friends, a youth shared how the increasing confidence of the friends in the McNair Farms focus neighborhood to talk about Bahá’u’lláh to their neighbors has opened the door to study circles, children’s classes, and a future devotional. Another friend shared that a 15-year-old in her Book 2 started a conversation with a friend at school about the Eternal Covenant as part of the book’s practice. As she began to speak, the classmate closed her laptop, put away her homework, and started to ask many questions. The long conversation ended in a discussion about the suffering of Bahá’u’lláh. “I didn’t know my friend would be so interested and wanting to know more,” the youth said..