Roger Prentice | UK Baha’i Histories


Marion and Roger Prentice


Alan Watts said you can’t feel down in the dumps if you are singing!

A yiddish proverb says, ‘We plan. God Laughs.’

My life is a mixture of laughter and a thirst for deep spirituality

——————

I became a Bahá’í in the home of my spiritual father Abbas Mehrnoush in Watford at 00.30 hours on the 28th March 1963. His home was next to Mr Grillo’s ice cream shop.

The 1940s

My parents and I lived in North Watford. 

During the first 4 years of my life the German Nazi bombs and ‘doodlebugs’ fell all around.

I did take this personally because my parents and I lived with the damage that the bombs did to them, especially to my mother. The Universal House of Justice’s publication, The Promise of World Peace is of course the means to prevent the horrors and psychological damage of war. It is far more comprehensive than Churchill’s, “Jaw, jaw is better than war war.”  However the people of England including Watford in strategic places suffered intensely. These events are among my earliest memories.

My parents and I slept together on the floor under an oak table in the middle room of our terraced house. On one particular night, when I was 3 years old, I followed my parents to the front door and looked left down the road to see an enormous red glow where houses had been before a bomb had struck.

I recall my mother said to my father, “Don’t let him look,” but by then I had looked left and seen what is shown in this photograph from the Watford Observer, now on display in the Watford Museum:

A scene of devastation after a V1 struck homes in Sandringham Road, Watford, on Sunday, July 31, 1944, killing 37 men, women and children.    Picture: Watford Museum.

Another morning I awoke to find that the window of the middle room of our terraced house was swinging in the breeze on a single sash cord.

Through the bravery of the armed forces the war ended in 1945. Amongst those brave women and men there was UK NSA member Charles MacDonald. A man who was amongst the bravest of the brave.

The 1950s 

So the country struggled into the 1950s. My concerns at the time featured sweeties. They were heavily rationed. 

My parents, probably my mother, wanted to start my spiritual education. 

They found a woman to take me down the hill to the Railway mission which was a wooden and corrugated-roofed building for those who built the railway at Watford Junction. 

My children’s class included a lady on a self-pedalled harmonium leading us in a hymn about rain coming down and floods coming up. 

From this homely instruction I learned it was bad if you built your house on sand but how good it is if you built it on rock. 

I like most children just absorbed this metaphor and such metaphors lie nascent but slowly they effloresce into wisdom.

I still have my mother’s ration book. She ordered mostly the same things every week from the Co-op.

When were the co-op wholesale and retail branches started?  In 1844 and 1963!

It turns out that Marion had similar experiences with food rationing including Mars bars and the like.

Marion allows me to remain married to her on an annually-renewable contract! 

Please note that I have so far managed to collect sufficient ‘brownie points’ each year to get a contract renewal!

I followed my father in that I did a one-year pre-apprenticeship course but switched instead to two years as a police cadet. It taught me about leadership

Leadership in the Police & Square Bashing cysts on my neck

I found an outstanding leader when I became a police cadet from 16 to 18. I only mention it because of some hilarious and instructive experiences. 

Here is a photo of my cohort of cadets at their passing out parade.  The one right in the middle is me.

Once a month, we cadets went from all over Hertfordshire to Welwyn Garden City and in a single day did square-bashing, gym work, boxing etc – all in a short morning.  

The square-bashing was conducted by a Sergeant Cox, an ex-Coldstream guardsman. His idea of relaxation on a Friday night was to take on all-comers at wrestling, in London. 

He was actually a very kind person, a true leader.  

I had blind cysts on my neck. One blew up a bit like a red traffic light.

From Sergeant Cox, when we were square-bashing we all heard him roar; 

“Boil, get in step!”  

I was trying so hard that in marching, my two arms were going back and forth together.  

That constabulary, at that time, wasn’t organised enough to create regular exercise, so they made us do everything on one half-day each month. It was crippling. I was still living in my parents’ house and whenever I’d done one of these half days, I could only get down and up the stairs on my hands and knees.

After two and a half years as a police cadet, each one of us had an interview with the Chief Constable. In my case he said he was pleased with what I had done as a cadet and hoped that I would stay with Hertfordshire Constabulary. 

I said that I was interested but I wanted to see the world first. 

I’m still seeing it!

The 1960s

In 1963, in the weeks before the Bahá’í World Congress Centenary at the Royal Albert Hall, I pioneered to Inverness along with Heather Morfoot in her Austin A40 along with a young man called Graham. 

Initially I stayed with Betty and Harold Shepherd and family in their lovely house.

In Inverness, early one morning, I went for a walk by the River Ness and in glorious slow-motion a golden eagle rose up and flew along the river away from my walk. In my heart that eagle is linked to the one that is atop of the column at the resting place of the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith in the New Southgate Cemetery.

For a while my father helped in the practical care of the Guardian’s Resting Place and, by the Grace of God he and my mother are buried there.

Abbas made me stand up when the call came at the Royal Albert Hall for all the amazing people who had pioneered in the Guardian’s Ten Year Crusade. 

I had, unknowingly, snuck into the Crusade, by a few days, by going up to Inverness

At the Shepherds’ home I remember the bath water being brown from the peat through which it had travelled. With too many people in the house, I was moved elsewhere, to become a guest of an interesting couple. He was an ex-miner and a Marxist. His wife, as I recall, worked for Birds Eye Foods.

I’ve only met three Marxists, all were outstanding human beings.

Iona

The Inverness Spiritual Assembly also sent me on a wonderful adventure to Iona.

I hitch-hiked to attend the 1,400-year anniversary of the coming of Christianity to the Isle of Iona. On my first night I stayed at Black’s Croft bed and breakfast. 

The next day I presented myself to the leader’s deputy to say that I would like to stay at the abbey. He was a bit grumpy because Iona was very busy. 

Many people came from other countries including the USA for the fourteen-hundredth anniversary of the landing of St Columba on Iona. 

I slept on the floor of the crypt in my sleeping bag. It had a stone flag floor but I don’t remember being cold.

Here Iona Pilgrims (1963) is a short Pathe News video of Pilgrims to Iona in 1963.

I asked for a meeting with the Iona leader George MacCloud.

George MacCloud – courtesy of Wikipedia

George MacCloud

He is more correctly known as George Fielden MacLeod, Baron MacLeod of Fuinary, MC (17 June 1895 – 27 June 1991). He was a Scottish soldier and clergyman. He was the founder of the Iona Community.

He granted me an audience and, as much as an uneducated youth could, I presented to him the message of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. Thinking back, I was stupid not to give him a book.

George MacCloud’s kindly reply was to the effect that he had changed mid-stream twice and was now too set in his current roles to change again.

His two changes in life were firstly that he had been an outstanding soldier, awarded the MC, and secondly, he had later become an avowed pacifist. I also recall that at 70 he fathered a child for his wife who was younger than him.

He was a heroic figure. I will never forget my brief visit with him. In my mind he also was comparable to Charles Macdonald.

Such transformations in people bring great results. Look what God hath wrought!

Harold Shepherd encouraged me to return to the south to start to get an education. At least I think that’s what he was doing!

Before I left, my parents, Beatie and Artie, visited Inverness – the only time that they travelled outside of England.  

After my time in Inverness, I travelled back down to Watford.  

1963

I became a Bahá’í in 1963. It was a good year to take that step. Why? Because it was a holy year. In April there was a great celebration at the Royal Albert Hall in London marking the centenary since the declaration of Bahá’u’lláh.

Many other great things happened at the Centenary, including;

The arrival of dust-covered Fiat coaches that had driven from Iran to Russell Square.

A rich guy (Mr Sabet of Pepsi-cola I think) was giving out special oranges from the boot of his Mercedes.

There were also talks given and the announcement of the election of the first membership of the Universal House of Justice.

I set about improving my education as Harold Shepherd had suggested.

South West Herts College of Further Education is where I did my ‘O’ levels, and the following year, ‘A’ levels.

To earn some money whilst learning I had a few short stints 

(a) replacing a Woolworths lift that was being repaired, 

(b) working at cleaning filthy railway carriages and 

(c) crushing waste at a local department store.

The department store was where I first heard some Buddhist teachings from a fellow worker.

For me interspirituality, the teaching of all Manifestations of God such as Moses, Krishna, Christ, Mohammad as well as the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh has been the most exciting teaching throughout the 60 years that have followed.

To add to my modest earnings I heard that Leavesden Mental hospital, built as an asylum for the mentally ill, needed nursing assistants. So I got a job doing three twelve-hour night shifts. 

The much-loved Bahá’í Dr Firoozmand was the chief pharmacist in the hospital.

After my time at Leavesden hospital and South West Herts College of Education, I was fortunate enough to spend four years at a brilliant brand new College of Education called Bulmershe, close to Reading, Berkshire.  

It was Owen Battrick, who encouraged me to go to Bulmershe college of Education. He later became a Counsellor for Australasia.

He had been a tank commander in battles against Rommel’s forces in World War 2.

Owen Battrick

When Owen was on pilgrimage, the Guardian told him that he had someone for him to meet in the next room. That man was the driver of Rommel’s tank. Were the two tank men Bahá’ís? I assume they were, since Rommel’s driver was visiting Shoghí Effendi.  

Owen’s IN MEMORIAM is HERE

At an International Convention in Haifa I recorded a conversation with Owen but the tapes were lost in major house moves.

Bulmershe were encouraging people who had some experience of life, compared with the usual ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels required for university entrance, which was just as well, since I had two ‘A’ and four ‘O’ levels following my two years at college.

I remember studying Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, and Social and Economic History. Somehow I used set books in English to pass the history A level and vice versa.

I still do not have one of the pre-requisites – ‘O’ level Maths. 

Bulmershe took a bet on me.

By the Grace of God I delivered and was the top student of my year.  

Many Bahá’ís can say as I do, “Look what God hath wrought via Bahá’u’lláh”. 

At Bulmershe there were several dedicated Bahá’ís including Irene Taafaki (née Jones) and Lindsay Thorne (née Rutherford).

Martin Cortazzi arrived at Bulmershe a year after me, just as Owen Battrick was in the year before me.  When I arrived, much of the furniture was still wrapped or packed.

Martin points out that having attained full professorship he was the most successful Bulmershe student ever. He was such a help to me that I can’t praise him enough. 

Many years later Martin also enabled me to complete my PhD after two universities had let me down in various ways. I reckon he must be the best PhD supervisor in the UK. Around 50% of PhD students don’t complete. With Martin 100% succeeded.

Years later, my wife Marion and I had the privilege of travelling to China with Martin and his wife, Lixian. We were treated like royalty simply because we were with them. They gave enormous help to universities in the fields of learning English and applied linguistics.

Bulmershe was the dream college for anyone who wanted to be a teacher. 

After one year it received more first-place applications than Goldsmiths College. For the first year, I lived in one of the purpose-built on-campus halls of residence. 

In lectures and in college societies I sat next to Dave Austin the cartoonist for The Guardian newspaper and Private Eye magazine. He drew two cartoons for my B. Ed long essay – a frontispiece and an end piece. My essay was about irony. 

What does the frontispiece say?  “How can you be in this education system and not appreciate irony?”  Not much has changed.

Bulmershe was a hot spot for people becoming Bahá’ís. Most students and staff knew about Bahá’í. ‘Friends of the Faith’ are always vital. 

Dave Austin was one. So was the late Roger Watkins, who was one of my tutors for English. 

He was an atheist and a humanist. He read my little book, Daily Soul Food: Mindfulness ways for knowing your true self  twice, so he told me. It is centred around Rumi. I still have copies which I am happy to provide free of charge.

He said it was the absolute opposite of the truth.

I intended to show, with special reference to Rumi, the mystical oneness of all religions (before any man-created impurification). 

Bahá’u’lláh quotes Rumi a number of times. Imagine that, the degree of esteem in which Rumi was held by the Lord of the Age.

How practical are all of the great sages and mystics. 

In recent years, I have studied in some depth more than 70 such teachers, looking for inner consistency among them and the degrees to which they are in tune with the Bahá’í teachings. Surprise, surprise the Baha’i Faith teaches inter-spirituality at the heart of which is the Golden Rule, shown here:

“Lay not on any soul a load which ye would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for any one the things ye would not desire for yourselves. This is My best counsel unto you, did ye but observe it.” – Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 127

Keep in touch with all people important in your life

I had lost touch a little with Roger Watkins when he died. We had reached about the halfway point in a dialogue about spirituality as the mystical heart of all of the great traditions. 

With Roger Watkins I failed at a principle that I learned from Gloria Faizi which says ‘keep in touch with all people important in your life’.

I failed with several other people as well including Professor Suheil Bushrui.

Bushrui’s inaugural presentation when taking the seat as Professor of Conflict Resolution is a masterpiece and is essential reading for all Baha’is.

Living in Winnershe

At Bulmershe I met Diana Segal and we got married. Owen Battrick found a house for us in Winnersh, where we had a wonderful community and local Spiritual Assembly.

Hands of the Cause

In Winnersh I cherish having seen Hand of the Cause William Sears marching into our lounge with a length of wood upon which were mounted nine lightbulbs. Remove one light bulb and the other eight cease to glow. I think his talk title was The Majesty and Greatness of the Local Spiritual Assembly.

We also had tea with Hand of the Cause John Ferraby at the home of Robin Maule and his wife. Robin asked John if he would like to say grace and I recall that John said something to the effect that saying grace “wasn’t a Bahá’í thing”. 

John Ferraby taught me something that I have cherished all my life. I asked him what was his definition of justice;

His reply was, “Justice is the state of being that prevails when due weight is given to every influence that bears upon a situation (or event)”  

A simple example would be a parent, whose children were starving, who steals some food compared to a person who shoplifts ‘professionally’.

My spiritual father, Abbas Mehrnoush, also introduced me to the Hand of The Cause Tarazullah Samandarí. To shake hands with Mr Samandarí, who had been in the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, was momentous.

I also had the bounty of being with Hand of the Cause Abu’l-Qásim Faizi at Pete and May Faizi-Moore’s home in Cyprus. Much laughter ensued.

I know many people curl up at the mention of ‘education’ but the Faith led me to life-long dedication to learning and teaching – and to my first real job.

My first teaching post was as a Teacher of English, at Theale Grammar School, Berks, 1969 – 1971. Following graduation, Diana, because of her brilliant work as a drama student, was headhunted to work on a very exciting new project in Hampshire. 

The Head Teacher at Theale was kind and deeply-principled. I thought of him as a Christian ‘pink-socialist’. He was another exemplary leader. 

Real human-to-human affirmations for teachers are few during their teaching career. 

At Theale the head-teacher commented, in the men’s room; “Roger thanks for doing something that no other teacher has done – you have got my son (a pupil) interested in English.”

Few young teachers are as lucky as me in the schools in which I have taught. I have 

I met many wonderful teachers and to this day I love battalions of pupils, none more than those I taught in two Roman Catholic middle schools, Holy Cross and Notre Dame Holy Cross put me in charge of R E!

The 1970s

In 1973 Diana and I pioneered to Cyprus where I became Head of GCE Studies, at The English College, Cyprus.

After the first year we returned to the UK. I returned to Cyprus for a second year but Diana decided one year was enough. Eventually we went our separate ways.

Returning to the UK was a ‘reverse culture-shock’ 

I then became Head of English, at Tomlinscote School, Surrey, for two years, 1973 – 1975.

From 1975 until 1980 I was Founder and Principal of Sherbourne House EFL School. 

There I interviewed Marion and appointed her as our Families and Social Secretary.  

Later we married and she has never stopped telling people that I did so because it was cheaper than employing her!  

What calumny are we made to bear from such slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…….  (joke)

The 1980s

I served as a member of the the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom for 11 years 1981 – 1992. 

During that time the BBC transmitted a film about the Bahá’í Faith in its Everyman series. It is to be found on YouTube here:

The Quiet Revolution BBC Everyman Series February 1985

The section involving my family starts just after the 21 minute mark.

By this film my parents, though humble, became part of an international proclamation whilst sitting in the garden of the Azordegan family.

The National Spiritual Assembly felt the film might be deliberately anti-Baha’i but Doug Martin comforted the NSA on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, consoled the NSA by saying, “All such publicity is good proclamation.”

In 1987 the National Assembly asked me to travel to as many places as possible in the UK – in my much-loved second-hand Alfa Romeo AlphaSud.

All members of an NSA have stories. Much can be said by all or about all. I want to point to just one achievement by one member, Peter Hulme, whose service, in part, overlapped with mine, that is his magnificent writing on his WordPress blog named Everybody Means Something.

The 1990s

From 1996 until 2006 I was a Teacher-Educator, Educational Consultant and Phd researcher, starting at the University of Surrey and then transferring to Sunderland 

which was easy to get to whilst we were living at Burnlaw, the community created by Angie and John Jameson and Rosie and Garry Villiers-Stewart. 

Gorgeous though Northumberland is (England’s best kept secret – an AONB (Area of Outstansing Natural Beauty), sledging groceries in snow down a quarter mile lane became too much. 

I didn’t know it but for about three years I already had Pulmonary Fibrosis, probably caused by asbestos. That I’m alive now, 14 years later, is a miracle, since the prognosis then was plus or minus 30 months. Look what God hath wrought!

Marion and I went south to Seaford where our son was living.

The two joys of Marion’s life are art and playing in a ukulele band.

On the very day she became sixty Marion gave in her notice to John Jameson, Principal of the Mencap residential college and studied two A levels over two years. 

The Art Department also made her an Assistant, unpaid.

Marion triumphantly completed her first degree, but was robbed of a first-class honours.

I know about that because I was told that I had been robbed of a first because of a professor who didn’t think an oik should get one. Ah the sense of injustice.

Marion was an outstanding artist before leaving college. You can see her online art gallery  HERE 

Look what God hath wrought!

During the last seven years Marion has been devoted to playing in a ukulele band. 

As a service activity the band goes to care homes and nursing homes to bring cheer, provide a sing-song and raise money for a charity.  They do more than 50 gigs a year.

The 2000s

Up to the present date, Marion and I have lived in Eastbourne, Polegate, Horsham, Burnlaw (1996), Seaford (2010), and now Brighton (2017).

Through being a Bahá’í, education became my very breath. I focus on what the Bahá’í Faith, and all of the great wisdom traditions, teach particularly about three foci;

  • inter-spirituality
  • non-duality
  • mystical experience

So many teachings have brought me joy over the decades including; One must, then, read the book of his own self, rather than some treatise on rhetoric. Wherefore He hath said, “Read thy Book: There needeth none but thyself to make out an account against thee this day.” 6 – from the First Valley – The Seven Valleys 

Such teachings stand against any drift into mindlessness or worse still fundamentalism.

Of the greatest bounty of all for me, having been on a spiritual quest for 82 years, is having come to the realization that the ultimate goal for all of us, if we awaken sufficiently, is; 

‘I = Awareness’. 

What’s that?  Some use consciousness as a synonym but either it is that Whole in which we have no self-sustainable separate reality as demonstrated by the last word of the short obligatory prayer – the ‘Self-subsisting’ as a Name of God. As I see it, God is “self-subsisting” – but we aren’t!

A good place to start is the stunning compilation issued by the Universal House of Justice;

The Call of the Divine Beloved – selected mystical works of Bahá’u’lláhHERE

A professor of psychiatry, and a Buddhist, Arthur Deikman taught the same thing – see HERE

It is unendingly thrilling that the spirit of Baha raises up so many from other spiritual cultures that also express the spirit of Baha  

Look what God hath wrought!


My father

He was a pure, quiet and unsophisticated man. We had during my childhood just 3 books in the family book case. 

At the end of his working life he was working as the caretaker at North Watford Library. As with all libraries they periodically culled books that had been less frequently borrowed. Such books were thrown in a bin.  

One day he came home with a copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. I still have that book. It was published in 1954 and acquired by the library in 1958 and discarded in 1964. When he gave it to me, I flicked through it and laid it aside for half a century, after which it came back into my awareness.

It also teaches ‘I = Awareness’ – see HERE

Somehow my father knew, intuitively, deep in his soul, that the book would one day flower in my consciousness & transform my life as Bahá’í teachings have nurtured me. 

I pray for my father and mother because I didn’t have the capabilities to ease their burdens more during our life on this earth. The photo of my mother is when she was beautiful and radiant – before the war.

Roger’s parents

My father’s unspoken soul-gift of the book shakes me every time I think of it, or hold the book in my hand.

This is an ongoing mystical experience for me.

God moves in mysterious ways.

Look what God hath wrought!

_____________________

Roger & Marion Prentice

Brighton, Sussex

September 2023



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