Saw an Opening, Walked Through, Started a Bahá’í Roundtable in a Bookstore

Lory Darnell GustafsonWhen Lory Darnell-Gustafson was taking a three-month Wilmette Institute course on the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in the spring, she shared the following with her fellow learners: “I begin a unique opportunity next week hosting a weekly “Bahá’í Roundtable” discussion/prayer meeting at a popular bookstore. All of my studying with the Wilmette Institute over the last couple of years gives me a small amount of confidence that I will be ready to lead this endeavor.” As mid-summer approached, we wrote to ask for an update on the project. Lory shared the following about her project. 

“Around The Block Books is a new, independent bookstore run by a mother/daughter team, Alice and Laura, whom I have known for a number of years. To support the bookstore, I have purchased books, attended a book signing, and told my book club about the new business.

“Then the weather intervened. On a windy, rainy April morning, when power to the town of Purcilleville, Virginia, was down, I literally blew into their downtown location looking for the latest book-club pick. We were all happy to see each other (Laura and I have a mutual-admiration thing) and chatted with much energy. I do not remember how it started, but I was able to bring up the Bahá’í Faith and had a captive audience of three since the power was out, and all the computers were down. Each Bahá’í principle I laid out was met with ‘Oh, I think the same thing!’ or ‘That makes complete sense.’ Laura mentioned that a group gathered each week for Bible study in the store’s adjacent upstairs, and almost simultaneously we said, ‘Oh, maybe the Bahá’ís could meet as well.’

“I returned home rather excited by this development and proceeded to order books and little prayer pamphlets from Bahá’í Distribution Service (from which I had not ordered for a decade or more). I did not know when or if a Bahá’í class would pan out, but I ordered materials as if it would.

“The background for my excitement over the possibility for a class is that I had taken steps in February 2014 to reactivate Bahá’í activities in the western part of Loudoun County. I wrote the Local Spiritual Assembly and asked if the western part of the county could be designated a neighborhood so that we could begin having Feasts closer to where we live and also develop an identity representative of the area and its cluster. The Spiritual Assembly approved my suggestion and appointed me secretary/coordinator.

“In March I began meeting with Sarah Hampton to start planning for building our Bahá’í community (again after twenty years) in the western part of Loudoun County. Sarah’s health is very compromised, but together we have put one foot in front of the other with the belief that now is the time to rebuild the Bahá’í community in the part of our county that has so much potential for growth.

“After returning to Around The Block Bookstore and confirming with the owners that ‘Yes, they were serious’ and would be more than happy to invite the Bahá’ís to hold weekly prayer/discussion groups at their store, we began our first Bahá’í Roundtable on April 23, 2014, the same month that I was able to tell them about Bahá’u’lláh. Sarah joined me that first time, and since then my husband Grant has also come, as well as another Bahá’í, Bernie, who is French and married to a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly.

“To date we have studied Bahá’u’lláh’s Ridván tablet and His Glad Tidings. I make copies of selected prayers so that we can share them with anyone interested. We spend time reading several paragraphs in the tablets and then meditating on the words and the many possible meanings. Bernie is handy at looking up definitions (perspicuous: transparently clear, crystal clear, easily understood). Sarah shows great faith when I get discouraged: ‘never underestimate small initiatives.’ I keep the study class going each Wednesday from 12:30–1:30 p.m., no matter what, even if I am alone.

“As far as the numbers attending our event, we have taken the approach of a ‘soft-opening,’ in restaurant terms. Wanting to know that the owners of the bookstore are truly comfortable with the Bahá’í classes, I hesitated to advertise them publicly. However, in September we will advertise the Roundtable in the local papers and on Facebook and will also create a permanent poster that we can put on an easel when the Roundtable is in session to invite bookstore customers to join us.”

Lory saw an opening, walked through it, and, armed with the information and confidence she has gained through Wilmette Institute courses, has begun an effort to share her Faith with the citizens of Purcilleville, Virginia. As Lory’s fellow Bahá’í says: “Never underestimate small initiatives.” And never underestimate what confidence you can gain from taking Wilmette Institute courses.

But the Wilmette Institute cannot take all the credit for inspiring Lory to act so decisively. In a journal entry written on the day of the third prayer/discussion roundtable Lory recorded that over a several-day period, she had a good discussion with a co-owner of the bookstore about the Faith; told a man selling his house about the Bahá’í Faith, gave him a prayer book, and invited him to the prayer/discussion group at the bookstore; told another couple about a number of Bahá’í principles; and gave someone working in a grocery store his third Bahá’í book, receiving a hug in return. How do you spell “determination” in sharing Bahá’u’lláh’s message?

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