Bahá’ís celebrate 200th anniversary

The First Local Spiritual Assembly of Ottawa 1949 (second from right, seated, is Winnifred Harvey).

The First Local Spiritual Assembly of Ottawa 1949 (second from right, seated, is Winnifred Harvey).

by Stephen Thirlwall

The year 2017 is an important one for all Canadians, being the year of Canada’s 150th anniversary. For the Bahá’ís of Ottawa and the worldwide Bahá’í community, it is also a special bicentennial celebration of the birth of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith.

Bahá’u’lláh was born in Persia in 1817. He revealed himself to the world as a manifestation (messenger or prophet) of God for a new spiritual age that would steadily unfold, leading to unity among all peoples of the Earth and a vast period of world peace and global civilization.

The Bahá’í community of Ottawa itself has existed for over 70 years, beginning during the 1940s when Winnifred Harvey settled in Ottawa in 1940, taking on a job with Statistics Canada. She was soon joined by others, most living in Centretown.

The first formal Bahá’í community formed in 1949 with the election of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Ottawa.

Over the next few decades, other Bahá’í communities formed in the separate municipalities around Ottawa: Vanier, Gloucester, Nepean, Cumberland, Kanata, Stittsville, etc.

With the amalgamation of the City of Ottawa, all Bahá’í communities inside the new municipal boundaries also amalgamated. Since then, the Bahá’í population has grown to well over a thousand in number.

Some of the fundamental principles of the Bahá’í Faith are as follows. World peace is not just possible, but inevitable.

Equality between the sexes is essential to world order, as is equality between people of all backgrounds. Much work has to be done to rid the world of deeply held prejudices of all kinds that hold back humanity. This will require immense effort and maturation of all peoples, but is possible to achieve. Science and religion, the two main human processes of understanding, must come together in harmony and assist one another. Likewise, the arts and sciences are equally important in the creative advancement of humanity.

Humanity has made great strides in material advancement, but without an accompanying understanding and development our full intellectual and spiritual capacities, humanity will stay in a state of immaturity.

Material advancement alone leads ultimately to limited benefits and much suffering. Unity of all peoples, the underlying principle of the Bahá’í faith, means not unity in conformity but rather unity in diversity.

While the peoples of the world need to gather around certain common spiritual and social laws, principles, and values, they also need to continue to develop the richness of their various positive cultural expressions, while shedding those outdated traditions that lead to conflict and separation.

The local Ottawa Bahá’í community, along with those around the world, has gone through many stages in its development. When smaller, a lot of time was spent on developing their own community activities (holy days, regular community “feast” gatherings) and building up their administration, as well as holding some public meetings and small “fireside” gatherings to which others were invited.

Mayor Watson 1st time around attends 50th anniversary of formal Baha'i community of Ottawa 1999

Mayor Jim Watson attends the 50th anniversary of the formal Baha’i community of Ottawa in 1999.

Increasingly, the Bahá’ís have become more involved, both as individuals and collectively as a community, with the wider population. For example, they have been part of the citywide and regional interfaith activities of Ottawa and Ontario for over 30 years.

Currently, they are focused on a few important endeavours: improving the devotional and social life of the community, providing spiritual and moral education at all ages, and building up the character and capacity of individuals toward service in the community, for both the Bahá’ís and others in the general community of Ottawa. In the process, organizational capabilities continue to be developed by a growing number of people.

The Bahá’í community is not congregational. There is no clergy. Everyone must play their part in the advancement and activities of the community. Administration of the Bahá’í community is based on the election of individuals from the generality of the adult Bahá’í population without nominations or campaigning. The elected assemblies and appointed committees make decisions based on a system of spiritual consultation guided by the Bahá’í teachings. The Bahá’í community functions on voluntary service of its members. All funding of community activities is based on donations from only the believers themselves.

Throughout 2017, the Bahá’í community will hold various special celebrations. March 20-21 marks their New Year’s (Nawruz) celebration.

In 2019, the Bahá’ís will again hold special commemorations for the birth of The Báb, an intimately related Manifestation of God, who prepared the way for Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation.