By Michelle Murphy
In many ways, the Bahá’í community of Vancouver was prepared when the pandemic earlier this year required faith communities to transition their worship and activities online.
B.C. provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, recently made the following statement: “Faith is not a building. It's not about Sunday mornings, but it's about every day, and how we connect with each other and how we support each other. It's not about rights."
The Bahá’ís around the world have held this view for years in their community activities and in their approach to faith and service.
Vancouver Bahá’ís historically gathered at the Bahá’í Centre on Main Street, but over 10 years ago decided to divide up into smaller neighbourhood groups. There is no clergy or ritual in the Bahá’í Faith, but rather an elected Local Spiritual Assembly that oversees the affairs of the community.
The community could therefore be decentralized with the intention of fostering greater participation in community-building activities and social action at a neighbourhood level, as well as to encourage regular prayer and devotion in homes among family and friends.
The transition to the online format has not been easy for all, however. Some socioeconomic groups have had difficulty accessing technology, such as Junior Youth groups on the Downtown Eastside, as well as seniors in care homes or living on their own.
The Bahá’í community realized early on that it needed to find creative ways to include as many people as possible in this transition to online devotion. Neighbourhood Care Task Forces were formed to ensure community members had their essential needs met, and regular emails with links to online prayers gatherings, study groups, spiritual education classes for children, and youth groups have been shared with the community and open to all to attend, Bahá’í or otherwise.
However, when members switched to the online platform, they didn’t forget about people in the neighbourhood who didn’t have easy online access.
One neighbourhood group made sure elderly neighbours felt included by sliding notes and Bahá’í prayers under their doors, while others continue making regular phone calls to seniors living alone or unable to receive visitors in care homes. Another delivered homemade soap and uplifting quotes, and one neighbourhood made sure an elderly Iranian lady with no internet connection received printed materials in Persian, keeping her up to date on the latest news.
Those in the Commercial Drive area delivered potted flowers and hopeful quotes to remind people they are still connected and cared for even if they can’t meet in person.
Through the summer, the Yaletown neighbourhood held regular, physically distanced, devotionals in a local shop whose owner is a Bahá’í. Other neighbourhoods frequently met in small groups in parks to share prayers and inspirational readings about the oneness of humankind.
These activities have had to stop given the tighter restrictions on group gatherings, but the Bahá’ís look forward to a time when they can gather in person again. For now, they plan to follow the province’s public health order and keep all activities online.
The Bahá’í community of Vancouver hosts devotional gatherings, morning prayer meetings, study circles, English-language conversation classes, and moral and spiritual education classes for youth and children that are open to everyone, all online.