Posts Tagged ‘ Baha’i Faith ’

Baha’i Faith of Rock Hill, Part II – Visited on 10/9 and 10/14

After months working on Churchspotting I must confess I’d fallen into a certain pattern: attend each week’s church; observe the service; interview the pastor after.  Working with the Baha’i Faith of Rock Hill forced me to break that pattern, in ways that I believe will benefit this project in the long run.

Usually Churchspotting features a visit to a full gathering of the week’s subject community, but for the Baha’i this was not the case.  Rock Hill’s Baha’is do not have a large gathering each week; their closest equivalent to the typical Christian church services that fill the preceding pages of Churchspotting is a meeting called a ‘feast’ held at the start of each of the 19 months in the Baha’i Faith’s calendar, where local Baha’is gather to worship, decide on their group’s current affairs, and break bread together.  Unfortunately outsiders are not allowed in these meetings due to the second of those three activities–they prefer not to have guests at what amounts to an administrative meeting.

Instead I attended a smaller regular gathering.  Each week some Baha’is of Rock Hill gather at a member’s home as an informal reading circle, where they study texts from a variety of sources and religious traditions.  It was for one of these that I arrived at the suburban home of Doug and Willie Phillips, two senior members of Rock Hill’s Baha’i community, on the evening of October 14th.

I’d visited the Phillips family before on the preceding Sunday, 10/9.  That time I’d come to interview Doug, who serves as treasurer for the Rock Hill Baha’is, in lieu of the now-traditional interview with a pastor or priest.  As related in Baha’i Faith Rock Hill, Part I (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-2l), the Baha’i Faith has no priestly class.  Doug is instead a part of the 9-member spiritual assembly elected by his fellow Rock Hill Baha’is, and a former delegate to one of the US’s three Baha’i national assemblies.

Seated in the Phillips’ living room behind a coffee-table laid with Baha’i Faith texts, Doug and Willie Phillips gave me what amounted to a guided primer in the structure and beliefs of the Baha’i Faith.  The Phillips’ are an older couple, fifteen year residents of Rock Hill.  From my experience their home is a regular hub for Baha’i activity in Rock Hill, and symbols of their faith hang from the walls alongside photos of their children.  Together they were able to give me some details on the local Baha’i congregation.

The eldest Baha’i in Rock Hill, a woman named Helen, moved to the area approximately 40 years ago, and thereby established the first Baha’i household there.  Since then around one hundred Baha’is have either moved to Rock Hill or converted to the faith, with about twenty of those taking an active part in the Faith’s regular gatherings.  Rock Hill’s Baha’is have no temple or other permanent facility in the area, so Faith functions take place either in members’ homes or rented spaces for larger gatherings.

The Faith has no active charitable projects in Rock Hill, but Willie and Doug participate in local municipal councils.  On the subject of Church and State, Willie and Doug said that there is not an official Baha’i stance on the issue.  They themselves had not considered the relationship before, but they cited discrimination against Baha’is in modern Iran under that nation’s theocratic government as an example of unhealthy collusion between religion and political power.

I met a few more of Rock Hill’s Baha’is in the scripture study group at the Phillips’ on the 14th.  Helen, the community elder, attended along with two other women who seemed regular attendees, Sabah and Galen.  A fourth visitor brought the gathering to six, excluding my presence as an observer; Angie, Galen’s Christian neighbor, there to learn a bit about the Baha’i Faith.  Willie, who took a leading role in the proceedings, explained how these reading groups serve an introductory purpose for the Rock Hill Baha’is.  Journalists, students from nearby Winthrop University, and simply curious citizens like Angie, all attend these meetings to discover a bit about the Baha’i Faith, whether for their own edification or for some professional purpose.

That night the group opened with a round-robin of payers from Willie, Helen and Sabah, then progressed to the evening’s reading.  That night the text up for study was not an actual holy text.  Instead the reading was from Forces of our Time by Hooper C. Dunbar, a Baha’i writer who, though not a prophet himself, quotes extensively from Baha’i religious texts in his work.  The group went round its small circle, each attendee reading a paragraph or two at a time before stopping to discuss its contents.  The night’s topics of discussion varied from the historical underpinnings of the Baha’i Faith to the ultimate destination to souls after death.  The meeting, which began around 7pm that night, concluded an hour and a half later after finishing the second chapter of Forces.