A Wilmette Institute Learner Shares Her Thoughts About Her First Webinar—and About Her Experiences in the Residential Program

Patricia Haynie, a learner in the Wilmette Institute’s 1997–2000 four-year residential program (plus a fifth year as an assistant to the program) in Wilmette, Illinois, shared the following about how the residential classes changed her life and about her discovery of the Institute’s webinars. The webinar that prompted Patricia’s comments was the one given by Shahrokh Monjazeb on July 15, 2015, on the topic of “Gems of Divine Mysteries.” Mr Monjazeb is the lead faculty of the Wilmette Institute course of the same name. You can listen to the webinar on the Wilmette Institute YouTube; click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhVzDJGsLNg. You can also sign up for a second talk by Mr. Monjazeb on August on “Shikar Shikan Shavand: New Insights and Historical Contextualization.” Here are Patricia’s comments on the webinar:

PatriciaHaynieI listened (video did not stream) to the Gems of Divine Mysteries webinar given by Shahrokh Monjazeb, lead faculty for the course by the same name. Here are my thoughts. This was the first time I watched a video from Wilmette Institute and now will have to go back and catch up on all of them. My first experience with the Wilmette Institute was twenty years ago as a residential student. It changed my Bahá’í life in so many ways. There will never be adequate words to express my gratitude for that experience. In many ways it has made it difficult for me to take the online courses, no small part due to my hesitation about posting, and that is my challenge. It is such a different learning mode. The video portion makes a huge difference: something so simple as listening to a tablet being read in the original language with such love and eloquence impacted my appreciation of it tremendously. The ability to listen to a great deal of information in a short time is wonderful beyond words. Big thumbs up! I send my gratitude for everyone who works so hard on behalf of the Wilmette Institute.

Here is how the Wilmette Institute’s residential program affected Patricia’s life:

The first time I heard about the Wilmette Institute in 1996 I wanted so much to participate, but there were plenty of obstacles for a working wife and mother of two middle-school-age kids. With a great deal of support from a terrific husband, I joined the residential program in 1997 in its second year, attended as a student for the next four years, and then had the privilege of returning in 2001 as an assistant to the program for an additional year.

It is hard to put into words how extraordinary the experience was. It impacted many students, who then went back into their communities inspired and better equipped to serve the Faith

Going to the bookshelf that holds all my Wilmette Institute materials—binders, notebooks, and audiotapes from every session—I see a remarkable diversity of topics. I have used this wealth of material many times during the past eighteen years.

What did we study? The first thought that comes to mind is “What didn’t we study!” Each year a section of Bahá’í history was covered: the lives and history of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi through the present time. Corresponding to each period, we studied the major Bahá’í writings. We learned the history of the Faith and its development in this country and around the world. We also covered special topics, including Science and Religion; Economics; Nature and the Environment; and Theology and Philosophy.

We were given guidance about developing skills such as teaching the Faith, public speaking, storytelling, and how to serve in our communities.

Service was always a component of each year. My favorite was serving as a guide at the House of Worship.

The curriculum was terrific, but the faculty was beyond description. A retired member of the Universal House of Justice; current, past, and future members of the National Spiritual Assembly; Auxiliary Board Members; authors of books on various Bahá’í topics; faculty members from universities and colleges around the country; professionals from various disciplines; individuals who served at the Bahá’í International Community or the Bahá’í World Center; and many more remarkable people.

We had opportunities to interact with many people who worked at the National Bahá’í Center, giving us models of service and dedication. We had the sweetest evening with Sylvia Parmelee, a lovely woman who met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when she was a child.

The curriculum was broad in scope, the faculty was impressive, but the setting was unique since we were at the heart of the American Bahá’í community. We could walk to the House of Worship and begin our day with prayers. The greater Chicago area held a rich diversity of religious worship sites. There are not many places where one could you go on field trips to visit Sikhs (a wedding was in process), Hindus (babies were being dedicated to Kali), Buddhist (we learned walking meditation), Jains, and Zoroastrians.

On top of the amazing curriculum, faculty, and special opportunities, we lived as a Bahá’í community. We lived in dormitories on a local college campus. For some of us who had never experienced dorm life, that alone provided some rich memories! It was both challenging and hilarious.

When people hear about the Wilmette Institute, they often think about acquiring knowledge: history, scripture, and understanding the structure of the Faith. The most valuable lessons for me were the ones about the Covenant and the example of how to try to live the life as a Bahá’í as illustrated by members of the Holy Family and exemplary early believers. Sometimes our daily life as Bahá’ís is challenging both outside and inside the community. Having the confidence that the Covenant protects all of us, understanding why we are to be obedient to the Universal House of Justice, and learning how to redirect our behavior and attitudes was absolutely the greatest gift I received during my time with the Wilmette Institute’s residential program.

Last month all my Wilmette Institute training converged in a special weekend session for junior youth. I was asked to teach the early history of the Faith. Drawing inspiration from something we did during one year during the residential program, I decided that part of the class would be lecture and part, activity. We would discuss an event and then go into a room set up to look like where the event happened (the Declaration of the Báb, Mákú, Badasht). For Badasht we dressed some of the students in period clothing, and they acted out the story as other students read the story. Everyone had a lot of fun. The best comment was when a young man who had very recently come from Iran asked me if I was Persian (a first) because I knew the stories so well and pronounced the names properly—not capacities I would have ever been able to acquire from reading. Saba and Lily Ayman would have been proud!

It is sad that for now that the opportunity of the residential Wilmette Institute is not still available. But I wonder what Bahá’í education will look like as the Faith grows. We are already learning in ways—online courses and video lectures—that the early believers in this country could not have imagined.

My gratitude to the Wilmette Institute is immeasurable, and I wish there was some way to go back and thank every single person who was part of those amazing summers when I was a learner in the residential program.

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