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Termination of Black Men’s Gatherings

This page contains three letters: scroll down for the letter from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States to the American Bahá’í community, June 18, 2012, which implements the decision by the Universal House of Justice. At the bottom (no disrespect intended) is a letter from the Universal House of Justice (August 28, 2011) which provides a context for the letter of 4 December 2011. I have taken the liberty of putting the relevant line in bold type, here.

The Universal House of Justice
Department of the Secretariat
4 December 2011

Transmitted by email: WRoberts@usbnc.org

The participants of the Black Men’s Gathering
c/o Dr. William Roberts
U.S.A.

Dear Bahá’í Friends,

Recently, consultations were held at the Bahá’í World Centre with a few of the founders
and long standing participants of the Black Men’s Gathering to reflect upon its quarter century
of achievements and the future prospects for those who have benefited from the Gathering over
the years. The Universal House of Justice was pleased to observe the distance that has been
traversed since the first gathering in 1987, and to note the far reaching ramifications of the
interactions of so many men who have fanned the flames of their devotion to Bahá’u’lláh and
arisen to teach His Cause on the home front and in other lands. The sentiments expressed in
your letter of 16 July 2011 from the most recent Gathering reflect the depth of understanding
that animates your effort: “The Plan of God is our answer no matter the question”. And, again:

The vibration in our spirits arising from intense prayer and song, ardent study
and consultation on your guidance, intense love for the Bahá’í Institutions, for
the communities we serve and for one another, uplift our vision and renew our
determination. Our pledge is to, with prayerful hearts, take flight as active servants
of the Plan and to demonstrate in deeds our devotion to the framework you have
outlined.

In assessing the range of your achievements, the House of Justice has concluded that the
activities of the Black Men’s Gathering, which were conceived as an initiative of limited
duration, should now be brought to a close. This does not mean, of course, that all the
challenges which brought about the initiation of the gathering are overcome or the concerns it
addressed are completely allayed. It is, however, a recognition that new possibilities and new
spaces for thought and action have been created in the Bahá’í community in the United States
by the Divine Plan in these intervening years, and that your hopes and aspirations are best met
in future through possibilities discussed in the letter to you dated 28 August 2011, written on
behalf of the House of Justice.

As you are aware, in early 2012, a series of regional Black Men’s Gatherings will be held,
and the House of Justice encourages your participation. There, together with Dr. William
Roberts and others that have accompanied you in your journey over so many years, you can celebrate your achievements, reflect on the tasks ahead, and increase further your consecration to a Plan that opens the way to the fulfilment of the heartfelt longings of all peoples.

You are assured of the ardent prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines that you
may be ever surrounded by the tender mercies and strengthening grace of the Blessed Beauty.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat
cc: National Assembly of the United States

===
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States
June 18, 2012,

To the American Bahá’í community

Dearly loved Friends,

Of the many comments and observations offered from the floor of this year’s 104th Bahá’í National Convention, some of the most moving were the spontaneous and manifestly heartfelt tributes delegates paid to the power of the Black Men’s Gatherings (BMG)—to the fresh insights, deeper understandings, strengthened bonds of unity, and greatly renewed consecration to the Cause of God that were the rewards of the friends’ participation in them, fostering a legacy that will long endure.

These deserved accolades were framed by the delegates’ awareness that, in guidance received from the Universal House of Justice in December of last year, both the National Spiritual Assembly and certain of the friends who over time have been most closely identified with their planning and execution were asked to bring the Gatherings to a close and to assist their regular participants in making the transition to a new phase in their activities.

You are no doubt familiar with the origins of the Gatherings and the highly commendable record of achievements they have compiled over the course of nearly a quarter century of existence. Designed to address the special needs of African American men, a distinct social group still recovering from the grievous and slow-healing wounds of several hundred years of oppression, discrimination, and injustice, the Gatherings, from their modest beginnings in 1987, soon gained impressive momentum. Year after year, they have continued to attract large numbers of believers from the far corners of the nation to attend the annual conclaves and to support activities, some of which have involved travels to Africa and to the Caribbean to bring the unifying teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to people of color—a mission the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, especially encouraged African American Bahá’ís to undertake.

At every stage in their evolution, the Gatherings have enjoyed the warm encouragement of this Assembly and have been recipients of the loving guidance of the Faith’s Supreme Institution. In its December 4 letter to us, the House of Justice referred with pride to “the distinguished history” of the Gatherings and characterized them as “a vibrant and spirited enterprise, which has assisted contingents of African American men to deal with certain obstacles confronting them, to foster a sense of fellowship and kindle their faith and commitment to Bahá’u’lláh, and to encourage them to find an effective part to play within the recent series of Plans.”

Reminding us that at various times in the Faith’s continuing unfoldment its Head has found it necessary to introduce “temporary measures to address particular challenges” and that these were “not expected to be permanent elements of the Faith,” the House of Justice expresses its view “that it is now timely to bring the Black Men’s Gathering to a close.” In calling on the Gatherings’ leadership to effect it—in a letter addressed to them, likewise, on December 4—the Supreme Institution notes that this change should lead none to assume that “the challenges which brought about the initiation of the [G]athering are overcome or the concerns it addressed are completely allayed.” On the contrary, the House of Justice expresses its trust that the Gatherings’ participants will now, as a logical outgrowth of the BMG experience, transfer—with a greater sense of purpose and with enriched understanding—their enthusiasm and energy to the work of the Five Year Plan taking place at the cluster level, counseling them that “your hopes and aspirations are best met in future” through efforts in that arena of service.

In concluding its guidance to the National Spiritual Assembly on the matter, the Supreme Body expresses its fond hope that the direction it is encouraging the Gatherings’ participants to take will enable them to seek and discover new portals for “an unprecedented and systematic approach to reaching the African American population in the United States.” Placing its hope in the context of this year’s centennial of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sojourn in North America, the House of Justice further elaborates:

How fitting if an effort to embrace this [African American] population, which received the bounty of the Master’s loving attention, could be significantly advanced within the context of the Plan during the centennial of His visit to America.

Dear friends, nothing would gladden our hearts more than to see you joyously come to the aid of your beloved African American brothers in such an endeavor—showing your complete and wholehearted support by working side-by-side with them as you together cultivate, as never before, this vitally important territory; praying for and celebrating with them every harvest you can together proudly bring in, fulfilling the high expectations of the Universal House of Justice for our incomparably blessed community. You may be confident our best wishes and ardent prayers for your great success will accompany your every step.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Kenneth E. Bowers
Secretary

=====

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT
28 August 2011

Transmitted by email: WRoberts@usbnc.org
The participants of the Black Men’s Gathering
c/o Dr. William Roberts
U.S.A.

Dear Bahá’í Friends,

The letter from the participants of 2011 Black Men’s Gathering has been warmly received by the Universal House of Justice. It was pleased to note that a portion of the gathering was devoted to a study of the 28 December 2010 message concerning the new Five Year Plan, as well as the letters dated 1 April 1996, 3 June 2007, and 10 April 2011, which have particular relevance to African American believers.

A quarter century ago, the Black Men’s Gathering was established with the aim of soothing hearts that had sustained slow-healing wounds and cultivating capacity for participation in a world-embracing mission. The approach involved drawing together a small number of participants from across the country with a capable facilitator. As you well know, in the Bahá’í Faith, the watchword of which is the oneness of humanity, it is no small exception to make arrangements for an assemblage that excludes others by race and gender. Yet, acknowledging the uncommon circumstances, the House of Justice lent its support to your endeavor with high hopes and expectations. For these many years, the Gathering has served its members as a bulwark against the forces of racial prejudice afflicting your nation, and, indeed, attacking the Bahá’í community itself, creating an environment in which injuries could be tended, bonds of unity strengthened, sparks of spirituality fanned into flames, and the capacity for assuming the responsibility for the work of the Cause gradually developed through experience in the field of action. The House of Justice hopes that, from the various communications you have studied, you have perceived that the time has now come for the friends who have benefited from the Gathering to raise their sights to new horizons.

The impact of the unfoldment of the Divine Plan is making itself felt in all continents of the world. The result is not only demonstrated in the growth in numbers and the invigoration of community life, but also in the stirrings of the society-building power of the Faith, as discussed in the 28 December message. During the last Plan, Africa particularly distinguished itself through its achievements. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 90 intensive programs of growth emerged. In the single cluster of Tiriki West in Kenya, more than 500 empowered individuals established a pattern of community life that embraced some 5,000 souls. Reports received from junior youth groups made it evident that thousands of young minds and spirits were galvanized and transformed as young people displayed a new attitude toward their communities, their families, and their education, determined to resist and cast aside the burdensome yoke of social ills such as tribalism. And in the establishment of hundreds of community schools across a dozen countries, the friends demonstrated their ability to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to an embryonic educational network that made its mark on the spiritual, social, and material education of children, in many instances surpassing the performance of government schools.

The experience of the last five years and the recent guidance of the House of Justice should make it evident that in the instruments of the Plan you now have within your grasp everything that is necessary to raise up a new people and eliminate racial prejudice as a force within your society, though the path ahead remains long and arduous. The institute process is the primary vehicle by which you can transform and empower your people, indeed all the peoples of your nation. You have the capacity to serve as, and to prepare others to be, educators of children, animators of junior youth, teachers of the Faith, tutors of study circles, participants in elevated discourse, and initiators of social action. Let the well-prepared army you have assembled advance from its secure fortress to conquer the hearts of your fellow citizens. What is needed is concerted, persistent, sacrificial action, cycle after cycle, in cluster after cluster, by an ever-swelling number of consecrated individuals.

In the next year you will observe the centenary of the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to your shores and will recall His tireless and heroic exertions to quicken the peoples of America—in particular His fearless assault on racial barriers. Follow in His noble path, so that by the end of this new Plan and the one to follow, you will have an abundant harvest of victories to offer in His name by the centenary of His passing in 2021.

Rest assured of the supplications of the House of Justice at the Sacred Threshold that the Almighty will confirm and reinforce your devoted efforts to bring the light of Bahá’u’lláh’s Message to an ever-increasing number of receptive souls.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

========
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