25-27 February 2022 | Lae, Papua New Guinea
A distinctive feature of the Baha’i Administrative Order, as divinely ordained by its Prophet-Founder, is that no individual holds any rank or power within the Baha’i Community regardless of age, gender, experience or social status. Indeed, there is no clergy.
Instead, all authoritative guidance and decisions are made at the level of the Institutions, which includes local and national councils called “Spiritual Assemblies” made up of nine (9) elected individuals. In our country, we have more than 220 Local Spiritual Assemblies and 1 National Spiritual Assembly. The Institutions are vested with the responsibility and authority to consult on various matters and make official decisions for the welfare of all who reside within their locality, whilst also eschewing partisanship and the contest of worldly power.
Elections are a sanctified process that are held annually with no electioneering. Notably, any adult in good standing within the Baha’i Community is eligible for election. Individuals who serve these institutions of the Faith are reverently elected by secret ballot based on their character and experience. As individual power has been stripped away from the Faith’s governance structure, it is common to observe individuals rendering these roles with the spirit of self-sacrifice and upholding the priority of the whole community’s well-being.
“…consider without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience….”Baha’i Writings
Over a historic three (3) day Institutional Meeting hosted both online and in-person, the Baha’i Community’s Institutions and Agencies were represented by almost four hundred (400) participants. They gathered from Milne Bay, New Guinea Islands, Momase, Southern Region, Highlands, Western Region, Bougainville and Sepik, with the main conference venue based in Lae and included colleagues online from our sister-countries of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands.
Across various settings, from village huts and hauswins to homes and community halls, representatives shared experiences and learnings and consulted about the outlook of the next nine (9) years of ongoing efforts to render service initiatives for the spiritual and material betterment of their local societies.
Representatives from two of the Faith’s International Agencies and Institutions – the Baha’i International Development Office and the International Teaching Centre, both based at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa Israel, were also present in Lae and online to participate in the consultations and learn from the extensive experiences shared by Baha’i Communities across our region.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains that the more the qualities of cooperation and mutual assistance are manifested by a people, “the more will human society advance in progress and prosperity”; in the Faith, this principle distinguishes and shapes the interactions of individuals, institutions, and communities, and it endows the body of the Cause with moral vigour and spiritual health.Baha’i Writings
As Baha’is collaborate with their friends to render service initiatives for the well-being of their villages and neighbourhoods, these efforts – which range from humble acts of service to sustained social action projects, in turn progress the collective learning on how to build vibrant communities that create conditions for inclusive prosperity and peace.
“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”Baha’i Holy Writings
Themes discussed in both plenary and break-out sessions included:
- The essential universal participation of individuals, communities and institutions in order to advance the well-being of society as a whole
- Continuing the advancement of local capacity in individuals and institutions and how these efforts translate to building vibrant communities – both materially and spiritually
- The nature of sustainable social transformation
- The consolidation of educational and training endeavours
Whilst the Baha’i Community does not claim to have all the answers – it is a community that fosters a culture of action, reflection, consultation and study. Its distinct governance structure and consultative spaces such as this Institutional Meeting and the collaborative spirit with which they are run, allow for grass roots insights and learning to be shared. Therefore, systematically nurturing sincere efforts to work towards the betterment of society.
At the heart of this knowledge sharing and approach is a fundamental belief and conviction of the Oneness of Humanity expressed through an all-embracing love for people regardless of ethnicity, creed, faith, gender or status. Indeed, recognising the nobility of each contributor, taking care to listen to those indigenous to the locality, and acknowledging the importance of universal participation in contributing to the betterment of society allows these consultations to unfold with a concerted spirit of collaboration.
At the conclusion of the Institutional Meeting, the necessary intensity of commitment and work that lay ahead in these endeavours was collectively acknowledged. Moreover, Institutional representatives expressed a sincere sense of joy and clear-minded hope for the common vision and cohesive efforts Baha’is and their friends are making across villages and neighbourhoods within our country and region – where together, all are striving and contributing towards a peaceful and prosperous society for all.