Central and Southwest Ohio Zoom gathering initiates “Grassroots” teaching conferences
Conferences have played a wonderful part in the history of our beloved Faith. In 1975, the Universal House of Justice wrote a letter to all National Spiritual Assemblies highlighting the critical role conferences play in the life of our communities:
“Teaching Conferences can have a great value for the advance of the Faith. Their aim is to strengthen the bonds of unity and fellowship among the friends, to increase their involvement in the teaching work and their interest in its progress, and to serve as magnets to attract divine confirmation. They are also rallying points for the believers, evidence of the vitality of their love for Bahá’u’lláh, and potent instruments for generating enthusiasm and spiritual drive for advancing the interests of the Faith.”
“Teaching conferences are being arranged in cluster groupings in all 21 regions of North America. They are being seen as one element of the strategy to assist in the movement of every cluster to the next stage in its development: Milestone 1 clusters to Milestone 2, Milestone 2 to Milestone 3, and Milestone 3 to the frontiers of learning.
In addition to an opportunity to think about and plan how each cluster might reach the next stage in its development, the teaching conference also will be a wonderful space for the friends throughout the region and all of those who are alive to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a New World Order, to spend a day together in prayer, fellowship, and giving serious consideration to winning the goals of the current Five Year Plan.”
In response, the teaching conference for central Ohio was originally planned for the first weekend after Naw-Rúz, to take place in a conference space that would cost about $8,000. However, because of Covid-19, it was decided to have a virtual conference on a Zoom call. A conference had been held virtually somewhere in the Northwest, so we were encouraged to attempt to have one here. The purpose was to study the recently released “grassroots materials” and to provide a space for the friends to make personal action plans that would increase the number of activities in their cluster.
After consultation with three other Area Teaching Committees in central and southern Ohio, invitations were sent out to all the Baha’is in those areas to the conference, which took place April 18-19. This was to become a collaborative effort on the part of the Area Teaching Committees of Montgomery, Hamilton, Franklin and Greene counties. The loving, tireless accompaniment of the associated Auxiliary Board members was crucial throughout the planning and implementation of the conference.
Several invitations were sent by email over a period of time, and several friends were asked to call others in their community to personally invite them to the conference. The registration took place online so the study materials and the Zoom link could be sent out to everyone.
To facilitate the study of the materials, friends were trained as facilitators for the study of the materials with their friends in small groups. These small groups were seen as becoming a possible nucleus of friends that would plan and carry out activities together. Online trainings were held to familiarize the small group facilitators with the materials and goals of the conference. There were about 40 facilitators for 17 groups.
An interesting side occurrence was that Regional Council invited ATC members and others from the whole region to attend the conference in order to learn from the experience since they also were planning teaching conferences in their clusters. As a result, the total number of attendees was over 150.
Karen Beck, ATC OH-03
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Northern Ohio, Michigan, Indiana start series of Grassroots teaching conferences
On May 2, 63 Bahá’ís from across northern Ohio, Michigan and Indiana met on a four-hour Zoom call to study a document from the International Teaching Centre with the goal of accelerating activities during the remaining months of the Five Year Plan. We were joined by two Auxiliary Board members, a quorum of the Regional Bahá’í Council, and a few members of Area Teaching Committees from around the Region.
The meeting began with prayers, a short talk by ABM Billy Silva, and the reading by one of the Council members of a beautiful letter from the Regional Bahá’í Council. The meeting was then broken up into several smaller meetings so the friends could consult with Bahá’ís living in their cluster or neighborhood. During those break-out meetings, the friends studied the first section of the document known as the “Grassroots Materials.” For the next three weeks, ending May 24, the remaining pages were studied in a series of neighborhood meetings. Some who could not participate in the large group session engaged with the materials and started making specific plans within their respective localities to carry out the recommendations contained in the document.
A May 31 follow-up meeting was planned for facilitators to reflect together on the experience of the conference and make plans sustain the new network of friends in our neighboring clusters.
This series of meetings has done much to bring the subregion closer to a unified vision of the future of Bahá’í activities in northeast Ohio. Within the meetings during May, there seems to be a new spirit and a stronger sense of community.
Ron Frazer and Ban Twaddell, ATC OH-01
Western and Northern Virtual Michigan Teaching Conference
Approximately 70 people attended the June 6 virtual Teaching Conference and worked as teams to think about the way forward for the Midwest region in the context of the Final Year of the Plan. Counsellor Heern joined from her home in Oregon, reminding us all of the importance of carrying out the work of the Cause in creative ways in light of the pandemic.
A Regional Council member read a letter from the Council, which highlighted critical elements for action and reflection during the coming months. Dr. Ramin Rahimi quoted the Universal House of Justice extensively about the current series of plans and the importance of our work during the remaining months of the current Plan.
The National Virtual Race Amity conference was mentioned as one way of participating in a national conversation on Race Unity that focuses on applying the teachings of Baha’u’llah in the context of the current concern about racial justice. A link to the registration site can be found here Race Amity.
The conference concluded by encouraging each of the 11 teams to meet at least twice before they again for the second half of the virtual teaching conference on July 12. At that gathering the teams will finalize their plans for the next three to six months.