Next up in the series of profiles of houses of worship are the Bahai’s of Greenbelt, whom we see every year at the Labor Day Festival and tabling at other events, but I bet very few residents know anything about the religion. Though I’ve never practiced the religion myself, my former tenant/housemate of 6 years is a devout Baha’i and worship services were regularly held in my home, so I can count many Baha’is as friends and acquaintances and they’re the nicest bunch of young adults I’ve ever met, bar none. So with that positive exposure under my belt, I interviewed Jim Fischer while he was covering the Baha’i Labor Day Booth, and followed up with him via email.
History and Spread
The religion was founded in the mid-19th Century in Persia by Baha’u’llah, who was then exiled for his teachings. It spread to Europe and America and was consolidated in Iran, where it suffers intense persecution – which led to its world headquarters being established not there but in Israel, where the grounds are famous for their extensive gardens. I’m told that all eight Baha’i houses of worship around the world have beautiful gardens around them, and gardens are considered important for helping worshipers enter sacred spaces.
Baha’is accept the teachings of the major prophets of major Western and Eastern religions (Moses, Jesus, Buddha, etc.) Baha’is consider their founder the next in that line of prophets or divine messengers. The religion is monotheistic and emphasizes peace and unity of all humankind – that all are created equal, and that we should appreciate our diversity. Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty is an important goal of followers. Elimination of prejudice is also stressed, and interestingly, interracial marriage is encouraged! Service to others is also of prime importance. Socially, marriage is highly emphasized, as is chastity outside of marriage, and abstinence from alcohol and drugs.
Internationally, there are 7 million+ Baha’is in 240+ countries and territories around the world and it’s growing fast. Second only to Christianity, it’s the most widespread religion in the world. The largest Baha’i community is in India, with 2.2 million. About 150,000 in the U.S.
There is no clergy, and devotional gatherings take place locally in members’ homes. Other core activities that take place in members’ homes are classes for children, junior youth empowerment groups, study circles for youth and adults.
Greenbelt Bahá’ís hold monthly devotional gatherings open to all in several homes. Many members volunteer their services with Baha’i community-building activities in various Prince George’s neighborhoods, including a Spanish language outreach team, and the group anticipates having a full program of Bahá’í-sponsored activities for children, youth and adults in Greenbelt in the future.
Many Greenbelters stop by for a chat at the Bahá’í “Button-Making” booth at the Labor Day Festival. The Greenbelt Baha’is also sponsored a “Bikes for the World” collection during Peace Month to recycle used bicycles for developing countries. When Eric Zhang photographed and blogged about one such event, he reported that 44 bikes were collected that morning by the Baha’i Community of Greenbelt.
Greenbelt Bahai’s also coordinate the Eleanor Roosevelt HS Baccalaureate Celebration for GILA (Greenbelt Interfaith Leadership Association), of which they have been an active member for almost 40 years.