I joined the Bahá’í Faith in 1974, aged 35, while I was at Central School of Speech and Drama, studying Speech and Language Therapy.
I had been interested in the Faith for many years before that, however, and especially in the idea that Christ had returned. I was very unhappy at boarding school in my teens, and it so happened that my mother was friendly with Lisbeth Greaves. Lisbeth was a Baha’i, originally from Australia, who lived in Belfast. Lisbeth had been born with the gift of healing, and though my mother was a dedicated member of the Church of Ireland, Lisbeth asked her to accompany her at times, when someone needed healing. I was at that time in a bad state, and so my mother took me to see Lisbeth. This ignited my interest in the spiritual, and the idea of Christ’s return. My mother at that time was completely uninterested in the Bahá’í Faith, so when Lisbeth gave her two books, she passed them on to me! ‘Thief in the Night’ and ‘God loves Laughter’ by William Sears. I was fascinated, but went no further.
I then went to London in my early 20s, trained in cookery and secretarial work, and also joined the congregation of Holy Trinity Brompton. I still felt it was possible Christ had returned, but I became more of an evangelical Christian – ‘Liberal Evangelicals’ was what the young clergyman whom we were all following, called us. He was interested in healing too, and was somewhat charismatic. I followed the Church’s ministry of healing whilst there. Also, I was very involved in London life, a little bit scared of “unorthodox beliefs” and knew my mother in particular, would not be keen on my studying the Bahá’í Faith, so I went no further.
I then spent 14 wonderful months, mainly in Australia, then in New Zealand, and didn’t really think about the Faith for quite a few years. In my late 20s, I realised that most of my friends were married, and I hadn’t met the right person, but that secretarial was not enough for me, so I spent two years with the Cheshire Foundation, working with people who were physically handicapped or suffering long-term illness such as multiple sclerosis. Many people working there were into spiritual ideas and though it was very hard work, I began to regain my interest in the spiritual. My interest in the Bahá’í teachings was still very much there, and when I told one young man about my feelings that Christ had returned, he, a strong Christian, told me “the Devil is like an angel of light”, and it was obvious he did not approve!
This was the very early 70s, and I was still searching for a worthwhile career, so I took myself off to vocational guidance, a very useful and helpful experience. At the finish, I and the gentleman interviewing me came to the same conclusion – speech therapy! I duly applied to three colleges and was accepted by them all, but finally chose Central School in London. However, I had to wait a year. So, in 1972, I took myself back to Northern Ireland, where my family are from, and got a job for a year in the Skin Department of The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, and that is really where my Bahá’í adventure began! I reconnected with Lisbeth, and she, realising I was interested, started up a small fireside. At first, I asked for books to read on healing, and as unbeknown to me, Lisbeth had promised my mother she would not teach me the Bahá’í Faith, she would say – “a book on healing dear?” and I would say, a Bahá’í book please! I finally got to Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. What Lisbeth had actually said to my mother was that she would only teach me if I sincerely wanted to know. I asked her once “How did you know”? Her reply, “Oh I knew, dear!” The firesides went ahead really well for a wonderful year, with Lisbeth and some very dear friends, Marie and Eddie Whiteside and Amy and Alec Shields. These lovely meetings went on during 1972 – 1973. Then in the Summer of 1973, just before I started my speech therapy training in London, I went to Portugal for a holiday in September.
Lisbeth advised me to “drink the gentle wines of Portugal and not worry about it”. Giving up alcohol was a problem for me as my family couldn’t, and still don’t, understand someone not drinking, unless they are an alcoholic! It is very much a part of their culture. Anyhow, in September 1973 I went off to London and started my training. I wished to keep on studying the Bahá’í Faith, but there were tests ahead! In those days the London Bahá’í Centre at 27 Rutland Gate, was not as organised as it became later. I found it hard to get to know people, as no one paid much attention to someone they didn’t know. Luckily, I gradually got to know some others, among them Virginia Barnes (née Villiers-Stuart) and Vida Taherzadeh. Vida was the same year as me, studying speech therapy, but at a different college. It also got to Lisbeth’s ears that I knew nobody! She quickly contacted a lovely Persian Bahá’í couple (I think the wife, Mary Kouchekzadeh, was an auxiliary Board Member at the time). She and her lovely husband made me very welcome, and finally it was arranged that I could attend a fireside on Friday evenings in Ealing! Firesides, I think and believe, will go down in history, with Earl and Audrey Cameron, who taught me so much, and for which I have very, very special memories. I attended them for a year or more, and was privileged to get to know the wonderful Cameron family very well. Recently I caught up with Earl and Audrey’s son Simon on Facebook, which was lovely. He currently lives in the Solomon Islands.
1973-1974 was busy, and tests came along! When do they not, but I couldn’t let the Bahá’í faith go. Then in August 1974 I went out to Australia in the summer holidays. I arrived in Sydney – knowing no Bahá’ís. I rang up the Bahá’í Centre there and asked if there were any firesides happening. I was told “Not at the moment”. Oh dear! However, half an hour later, they rang back saying: “Yes actually we do have one tonight!” I think they arranged that pretty fast!
In Sydney I met a beautiful couple called Freddy and Christina and visited them several times, with Freddy teaching me from the copious notes he had made. I also visited the beautiful, calm and serene Bahá’í House of Worship just outside Sydney. On another occasion, again, someone who was not a Bahá’í had a go at me about being antisocial by not drinking, and I decided to write a letter to the Australian National Spiritual Assembly. I received a beautiful and very helpful letter in return.
After three months, I returned to Northern Ireland, and tried to persuade myself that Lisbeth was just an old lady, rather mistaken in her beliefs! That lasted an hour! I spent one evening with her and there I was back and very close to believing. It may seem strange that I struggled so much, but I had been a very confirmed Christian, as was my mother, and for her, even though she loved Lisbeth and sometimes helped with her healing work, she did not really approve of the Bahá’í Faith. None of my friends were in the least interested, and I preferred to conform. There were tests too for me – usually when Bahá’ís made remarks which were, shall we say – a little incorrect, or even plain wrong! I remember saying to Marie Whiteside “I don’t want to deny Christ”. Marie replied, “And what about denying Bahá’u’lláh?” That made me think! I returned to London for my second year at the college. I was lodging with a friend, but by October I moved into my own flat and I began to feel an inner pressure to join the Faith. I went to a party on the 5th October 1974, and had one glass of wine! I had a feeling this would be my last! The next morning, once up, I couldn’t sit down! I was pacing! I had actually already signed my declaration card. I phoned Audrey Cameron, saying “I have something for you. Can I come over?” Audrey responded, “Well, I just have to take Philippa to her ballet class, could you come later?” “It’s my declaration card” I said! “Come at once!” said Audrey, so off I went, from Shepherds Bush to Ealing, praying to God that He would place a red bus in my path if I was doing the wrong thing! No red bus materialised and I was a Bahá’í! I phoned Lisbeth, and she cried. She asked if she could tell the others, i.e. Marie and Eddie Whiteside and Alec and Amy Shields. So that was that, and I became an official member of the London Borough of Hammersmith Bahá’í Community on the 6th October 1974.
Months of settling in followed, and I received a sad letter from the vicar at home in Northern Ireland. He blamed himself and felt that he had taught me wrongly. However, Hammersmith was a young community, on the whole, in the early 70s. Though Mrs Ala’ee “mothered us”, which was good, Philip Hainsworth, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’s of the United Kingdom, monitored us and sent us off on missions, mainly visiting places near London. Unfortunately, we got lost on occasion and couldn’t find a venue, much to Philip’s disgust!
London was fun in the early 70s. I finished my training, and after putting a pin on the map, ended up in Dumfries, south west Scotland. I phoned the Bahá’í Community there, and was answered by one Pat Morrissey, then a young man of about 19. He is now married to Parvin (née Afnan) and is a friend on Facebook, an internet forum. Richard (Dickie) Fusco was also there, and Jackie and Daryoush Mehrabi came down from Orkney and joined us. Jackie taught the Faith to Marlyn Groves (as mentioned in Marlyn’s Bahá’í History) and much later, Venus and Ken Carew came, and many others. At that time, late 70s/80s, we had communities in Stewartry (an Assembly). Also there was an Assembly in Dumfries, and a community in Annandale. The Dumfries and Galloway area are also a very active, lovely Bahá’í community. Sandie Humphries, who died in the Western Isles very recently, was also there for a while. I lived there for 19 years, working as a Speech and Language Therapist.
Then came the dream! I was about 55, and dreamt that I and another person would return to Northern Ireland to live. The ‘other person’ lived in Australia.
A day or two after the dream, I met this lady and she said “I’ve decided to come back and live in Northern Ireland!” We both had elderly parents. I thought, “this must be meant!”. Then in 1995 I moved back home! It was a really good idea. My parents were ageing and my dear mother was losing her memory, so it was the right time to return home I found a job in Speech and Language Therapy, which was a blessing, as it meant I got to know people who were in the same line of work. I found a house in the Newtownards area, which pleased me enormously as it meant I was in the same Bahá’í Community as my dear friends Marie and Eddie Whiteside.
This worked really well for a few years – however, the best laid plans! So, looking forward several years, the Government altered the boundaries and since then I have remained an ‘isolated believer’ ever since. It is lovely country in the Killinchy area on the Shores of Strangford Lough. I was feeling this is where I was meant to be. Although 14 miles away, I would always join the Newtownards friends for feasts, and they treated me as one of their own. So many lovely Bahá’ís, none to be forgotten, including Qudrat and Yvonne Jamshidi and Qudrat’s niece Shahla Ghustasbi, and Simin Djalili. Also nearby are Hushang and Patricia Jamshidi. But during the last few five years and through the recent Covid crisis, things have changed quite a lot. Sadly, within the last five years the Bahá’í Community has lost both very dear friends Eddie and Marie Whiteside, who passed away through separate medical conditions.
For myself, I have developed macular degeneration and can no longer drive. So, with that and the Covid crisis, it is very difficult for me to get to Newtownards or Belfast and see the Bahá’í friends. However, I have received some lovely visits on occasion from Barbara Boyle and Kerry Whiteside. Now, at the age of 82, I am becoming deeply immersed in the Zoom internet video service as a new sort of way of finding Bahá’í companionship. Thanks to Covid? Who knows? I am studying various Ruhi Books and learning a lot. However, as summer approached this year (2022) and understandably, Zoom has been decreasing, it is harder for me now to attend as many Bahá’í events.
Finally – and this is a time for a pause – a year has now passed since I began to write my story at long last! I am now 83! I have just had an excellent 83rd birthday and been given two beautiful new seats by family. Unfortunately I have developed a serious eye condition, no doubt age related, and I am not finding old age easy!
However, I recently attended one of the Conferences called for by the Universal House of Justice. Some wonderful souls looked after me – Qudrat Jamshidi who was my taxi driver, and Marion Khosravi. It was so lovely to see so many friends – Kirsten and Danny O’Brien, Patricia and Hushang Jamshidi, and friends from Bangor, Viny and Steve Robinson, from Coleraine, John Giffen, and many many others. The whole theme of these Conferences is about community building. I have to say there is a wonderful Bahá’í community growing in the small housing estate where I live – Ganaway, on the shores of beautiful Strangford Lough. My neighbours are wonderful to me, and recently a nephew and his young family moved close by. Unfortunately, I am 15 miles away from the nearest Bahá’ís. I do miss Bahá’í fellowship, there are no buses nearby, and taxis are very expensive! Nowadays people are beginning to meet face to face again, which is good. At times I phone Jackie Mehrabi in Scotland to keep me going. Jackie is a wonderful and comforting soul, not too well herself. A friend of my mother’s said “Old age is the pits!”! Life is very testing!
I am going to stop writing my story now, though two things I have forgotten to mention. One was that in the last five years Marion Khosravi mentioned how, pre-Covid, we worked hard together on children’s classes at the home of Marie Bailey. Also, in the last few years I studied a lot of the Ruhi books. Both new Books 1 and 2 are excellent and a great improvement in my humble opinion. I also worked on some of the later Ruhi books (9 – 12) and learnt a lot.
Now – one final addition to the Dumfries period. I just must mention the beautiful Sabet family. Goli Sabet became a dear friend, and also her wonderful father Mr Hormuz Sabet. Her brother was Nuri Sabet. Hormuz (or was it Nuri?) told Jackie Mehrabi, “Dear I am a little tired today, I usually say the short prayer ‘Is there any Removers of Difficulties’ 1,000 times but today I said it 2,000 times!” (I hope this is accurate – but it is near it). Now I really am signing off! God bless you all.
Northern Ireland, August 2022