Bahá’í Institutions, the Community, and the Individual: “I Am No Longer a Purely Social Bahá’í”

Bahá’í Institutions, the Community, and the Individual: Challenges and Changes 2018
Faculty: Barney Leith, Wendi Momen

A Bahá’í for forty-six years, an assistant to an Auxiliary Board member for protection, and a veteran of sixteen Wilmette Institute courses, Judy Russell from Prescott, Arizona, USA, has found that the course Bahá’í Institutions, the Community, and the Individual 2018 is an ongoing learning experience. She is a part-time writing tutor at Yavapai Community College in Prescott and teaches a children’s class at her apartment complex. Her interests include working with youth to “carry forward an ever-advancing civilization”; studying the Bahá’í Faith with the Wilmette Institute; subjects related to the Five Year Plan; climate change (the course on that topic is one of her sixteen courses); and racial justice. But what about the ongoing-ness of her learning experience? In May 2018, when Judy finished the course on Bahá’í Institutions, the Community, and the Individual, she posted a Learning Self-Assessment. Then In July she sent additional comments. Read on to see what she has written about her learnings in the course.—THE EDITORS

Judy RussellJudy’s May 2018 Learning Self-Assessment. In May, as she was finishing the course, Judy wrote this: “I know this class has enriched my service as an assistant. It has been valuable for understanding the current [Five Year] Plan and materials at a deep level. I still plan to write an essay about concepts in the course, based on several of the questions.” As for some of new understandings and insights, she had this to say: “I gained many insights from reading Paul Lample’s work, Janet Khan’s book, and the outside reading materials. I really liked the readings about community.”

Judy’s new skills are more than the faculty could have hoped for: “My ability to read abstruse writings, like the philosophy and sociology in the selections, has greatly improved. My concentration and desire to explore ideas about the three protagonists [institutions, the community, and the individual] has grown. I can speak more fluently about the Faith.” Her new feelings and attitudes are equally impressive:

My reverence for the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has grown and my love for solitude spent reading intellectual and spiritual subjects related to the Faith has grown. I feel more like my old self, when I studied in school, rather than being a purely social Bahá’í. I feel a great appreciation for the teachers of this course—Wendi Momen and Barney Leith—whom I have admired from a distance during my four and a half decades as a Bahá’í and who gave me, especially Barney, a true understanding of the meaning of the Bahá’í concept of the independent investigation of truth, both in the readings they chose for the course and in the kindness with which they accepted my comments. It was a milestone in my life.

As for Judy’s new values and beliefs, she has come to value her individual deepening:

My value regarding scholarship has deepened. I truly appreciate intellectual/spiritual highly complex thoughts more. I feel I have been “dumbed down” by the same thoughts about the Faith that everyone says, lo these past forty-six years, and I am thrilled to value higher ground. I intend to continue to read and appreciate the solitude.

Now that the course has ended, how is Judy applying what she has learned? She wrote this: “I can definitely use what I have learned. It may not be a direct use, but the concepts will be reviewed and hopefully will permeate my tasks as an assistant [to an Auxiliary Board member for protection] and in my teaching work with youth. I foresee having deep conversations and reviewing course readings to help me be relevant to the current processes of thought.

Judy’s Re-Evaluation of Her Learnings in July 2018. When Wilmette Institute staff asked Judy in July 2018 how Bahá’í Institutions, the Community, and the Individual has affected her life, she explained the changes this way:

  • The readings were excellent and gave me a firm basis for action, as well as pure pleasure in deepening my knowledge. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed and was challenged by the coursework.
  • As an assistant to an Auxiliary Board member, I was frequently, at least weekly, in conversation with other assistants statewide in order to further the expansion of the Faith to youth and junior youth in Milestone 1 clusters. I was able to apply my knowledge in this situation. I read a compilation of writings about The Institution of the Counsellors, and I really understood it! I don’t know how to quantify my learning in this instance, but the course helped.
  • When doing my own teaching work in the neighborhood, as I discussed with [faculty member] Barney Leith, I was quite inspired to do more by the class.
  • Our Spiritual Assembly [in Prescott, Arizona] recently asked me to be their representative to an intercommunity Bicentenary Committee. Without the background in this class, I would have hesitated. I have much greater respect for our Spiritual Assembly now, and I am clear on how to act as an individual in this situation.
  • All in all, I found a lot of joy in studying.

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