Local Spiritual Assemblies

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The Local Spiritual Assembly A Compilation Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice August 1970 Revised September 2017.

A Local Spiritual Assembly is a nine-member administrative and spiritual body tasked with overseeing the affairs of the Bahá’í community of a particular locality. Local Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually on the first day of the Ridván Festival, the 13th day of the month of Glory (Jalál), which is usually on April 20 or April 21.

Establishment and Station…The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice be established wherein shall gather counsellors to the number of Bahá, and should it exceed this number it does not matter. It behoveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth….(Bahá’u’lláh, cited in a letter dated 5 March 1922 written by Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932 [re v. ed.] (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980, 1998 printing), p. 21) [1 ]Addressing the nations, the Ancient Beauty ordaineth that in every city in the world a house be established in the name of justice wherein shall gather pure and steadfast souls to the number of the Most Great Name.

At this meeting they should feel as if they were entering the Presence of God, inasmuch as this binding command hath flowed from the Pen of Him Who is the Ancient of Days. The glances of God are directed towards this Assembly.(From a Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh—translated from the Persian and Arabic)[2 ] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is constantly engaged in ideal communication with any Spiritual Assembly which is instituted through the divine bounty, and the members of which, in the utmost devotion, turn to the divine Kingdom and are firm in the Covenant.

To them he is whole-heartedly attached and with them he is linked by everlasting ties….(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, [rev. ed.] (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1982, 2009 printing), no. 46.1) [3 ]These Spiritual Assemblies are aided by the Spirit of God. Their defender is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Over them He spreadeth His Wings. What bounty is there greater than this? These Spiritual Assemblies are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction.

They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, [rev. ed.] (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1987, 2012 printing), p. 526. Also published in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, no. 38.5)[4 ] …it is of the utmost importance that in accordance with the explicit text of the “Kitáb-i -Aqdas”, the Most Holy Book, in every locality, be it city or hamlet, where the number of adult (21 years and above) declared believers exceeds nine,1 a local “Spiritual Assembly” be forthwith established.

To it all local matters pertaining to the Cause must be directly and immediately referred for full consultation and decision. The importance, nay the absolute necessity of these local Assemblies is manifest when we realize that in the days to come they will evolve into the local Houses of Justice…. (From a letter dated 12 March 1923 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of America, Australasia, France, Germany, British Isles, Italy, Japan and Switzerland, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, p. 37) [5 ]

Let us recall His explicit and often repeated assurances that every Assembly elected in that rarefied atmosphere of selflessness and detachment is in truth appointed of God, that its verdict is truly inspired, that one and all should submit to its decision unreservedly and with cheerfulness.(From a letter dated 23 February 1924 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of America, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, p. 65) [6 ]

Designated as “Spiritual Assemblies”—an appellation that must in the course of time be replaced by their permanent and more descriptive title of “Houses of Justice,” bestowed upon them by the Author of the Bahá’í Revelation; instituted, without any exception, in every city, town and village where nine or more adult believers are resident; annually and directly elected, on the first day of the greatest Bahá’í Festival by all adult believers, men and women alike; invested with an authority rendering them unanswerable for their acts and decisions to those who elect them; solemnly pledged to follow, under all conditions, the dictates of the “Most Great Justice” that can alone usher in the reign of the “Most Great Peace” which Bahá’u’lláh has proclaimed and must ultimately establish; charged with the responsibility of promoting at all times the best interests of the communities within their jurisdiction, of familiarizing them with their plans and activities and of inviting them to offer any recommendations they might wish to make; cognizant of their no less vital task of demonstrating, through association with all liberal and humanitarian movements, the universality and comprehensiveness of their Faith; dissociated entirely from all sectarian organizations, whether religious or secular; assisted by committees annually appointed by, and directly responsible to, them, to each of which a particular branch of Bahá’í activity is assigned for study and action; supported by local funds to which all believers voluntarily contribute; these Assemblies, the representatives and custodians of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, numbering at the present time, several hundred, and whose membership is drawn from the diversified races, creeds and classes constituting the world-wide Bahá’í community, have, in the course of the last two decades, abundantly demonstrated, by virtue of their achievements, their right to be regarded as the chief sinews of Bahá’í society, as well as the ultimate foundation of its administrative structure.(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 524–525) [7 ]

1 When the number of believers is exactly nine, they constitute themselves as the Local Spiritual Assembly by joint declaration.That the Spiritual Assemblies of today will be placed in time by the Houses of Justice, and are to all intents and purposes identical and not separate bodies, is abundantly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself.

He has in fact in a Tablet addressed to the members of the first Chicago Spiritual Assembly, the first elected Bahá’í body instituted in the United States, referred to them as the members of the “House of Justice” for that city, and has thus with His own pen established beyond any doubt the identity of the present Bahá’í Spiritual Assemblies with the Houses of Justice referred to by Bahá’u’lláh.

For reasons which are not difficult to discover, it has been found advisable to bestow upon the elected representatives of Bahá’í communities throughout the world the temporary appellation of Spiritual Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the Bahá’í Faith are better understood and more fully recognized, will gradually be superseded by the permanent and more appropriate designation of House of Justice….(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: Selected Letters, [2 nd re v. ed.] (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982, 2012 printing) p. 6) [8 ]II.Membership—Qualifications and ElectionIf we but turn our gaze to the high qualifications of the members of Bahá’í Assemblies … we are filled with feelings of unworthiness and dismay, and would feel truly disheartened but for the comforting thought that if we rise to play nobly our part every deficiency in our lives will be more than compensated by the all-conquering spirit of His grace and power.

Hence it is incumbent upon the chosen delegates to 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….(From a letter dated 3 June 1925 written by Shoghi Effendi to the delegates and visitors at the convention of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, p. 88) [9 ]With reference to your next question concerning the qualifications of the members of the Spiritual Assembly: there is a distinction of fundamental importance which should be always remembered in this connection, and this is between the Spiritual Assembly as an institution, and the persons who compose it.

These are by no means supposed to be perfect, nor can they be considered as being inherently superior to the rest of their fellow-believers. It is precisely because they are subject to the same human limitations that characterize the other members of the community that they have to be elected every year. The existence of elections is a sufficient indication that Assembly members, though forming part of an institution that is divine and perfect, are nevertheless themselves imperfect. But this does not necessarily imply that their judgement is defective.

For as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has repeatedly emphasized Bahá’í Assemblies are under the guidance and protection of God. The elections, especially when annual, give the community a good opportunity to remedy any defect or imperfection from which the Assembly may suffer as a result of the actions of its members. Thus a safe method has been established whereby the quality of membership in Bahá’í Assemblies can be continually raised and improved. But, as already stated, the institution of the Spiritual Assembly should under no circumstances be identified with, or be estimated merely through, the personal qualifications of the members that compose it.

(From a letter dated 15 November 1935 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to two believers)[10]…I feel that reference to personalities before the election would give rise to misunderstanding and differences. What the friends should do is to get thoroughly acquainted with one another, to exchange views, to mix freely and discuss among themselves the requirements and qualifications for such a membership without reference or application, however indirect, to particular individuals. We should refrain from influencing the opinion of others, of canvassing for any particular individual, but should stress the necessity of getting fully acquainted with the qualifications of membership referred to in our Beloved’s Tablets and of learning more about one another through direct, personal experience rather than through the reports and opinions of our friends.(From a letter dated 14 May 1927 written by Shoghi Effendi to a Local Spiritual Assembly, published in Bahá’í News ( 18 June 1927), p. 9)

[11]These local Spiritual Assemblies will have to be elected directly by the friends, and every declared believer of 21 years and above, far from standing aloof and assuming an indifferent or independent attitude, should regard it his sacred duty to take part, conscientiously and diligently, in the election, the consolidation, and the efficient working of his own local Assembly.(From a letter dated 12 March 1923 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of America, Australasia, France, Germany, British Isles, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, p. 39) [12]…the elector … is called upon to vote for none but those whom prayer and reflection have inspired him to uphold. …the practice of nomination, so detrimental to the atmosphere of a silent and prayerful election, is viewed with mistrust inasmuch as it gives the right to the majority of a body that, in itself, under the present circumstances, often constitutes a minority of all the elected delegates, to deny that God-given right of every elector to vote only in favour of those whom he is conscientiously convinced are the most worthy candidates….(From a letter dated 27 May 1927 written by Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, p. 136)

[13]III.Taking Counsel Together—FunctionsIt is incumbent upon them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. Thus hath the Lord your God … commanded you. Beware lest ye put away that which is clearly revealed in His Tablet. Fear God, O ye that perceive!(Bahá’u’lláh, cited in a letter dated 5 March 1922 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, p. 21) [14]

Once in session, it behoveth them to converse, on behalf of God’s servants, upon the affairs and interests of all. They should, for instance, accord precedence to the teaching of the Cause, inasmuch as it is a matter of supreme importance, so that all people, even as a single soul, may enter within the Tabernacle of divine Unity, and all humanity may become even as a single body. In like manner, they should consider such matters as the refinement of manners, the preservation of human dignity, the development of cities, and the polity which God hath made a bulwark for His lands and a fortress for His people.

The teaching of the Cause of God should be considered with a view to what, in the particular conditions of each time and age, is most conducive to its advancement and, similarly, other matters; whatever is then decided upon should be carried into effect. Care, however, should be taken lest aught be implemented contrary to that which hath been sent down in the divine verses in this Revelation of imperishable glory.

For whatsoever the one true God—exalted be His glory!—hath prescribed unto His servants, the same is to their best advantage. He, verily, is kinder to you than ye are to yourselves; He, verily, is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.Should these souls comply with the prescribed conditions, they shall assuredly be aided through His invisible bestowals. This, truly, is an undertaking whose benefit embraceth all.

(From a Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh—translated from the Persian and Arabic)[15]The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. In this day, assemblies of consultation are of the greatest importance and a vital necessity.

Obedience unto them is essential and obligatory. The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed.

The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in a letter dated 5 March 1922 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, pp. 21–22. Also published in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, nos. 43.1 and 44.1)[16]…Whenever ye enter the council-chamber, recite this prayer with a heart throbbing with the love of God and a tongue purified from all but His remembrance, that the All-Powerful may graciously aid you to achieve supreme victory:

“O God, my God! We are servants of Thine that have turned with devotion to Thy Holy Face, that have detached ourselves from all beside Thee in this glorious Day. We have gathered in this spiritual assembly, united in our views and thoughts, with our purposes harmonized to exalt Thy Word amidst mankind. O Lord, our God! Make us the signs of Thy divine Guidance, the Standards of Thy exalted Faith amongst men, servants to Thy mighty Covenant, O Thou our Lord Most High! Manifestations of Thy Divine Unity in Thine Abhá Kingdom, and resplendent stars shining upon all regions. Lord! Aid us to become seas surging with the billows of Thy wondrous Grace, streams flowing from Thy all-glorious Heights, goodly fruits upon the Tree of Thy heavenly Cause, trees waving through the breezes of Thy Bounty in Thy celestial Vineyard. O God! Make our souls dependent upon the Verses of Thy Divine Unity, our hearts cheered with the outpourings of Thy Grace, that we may unite even as the waves of one sea and become merged together as the rays of Thine effulgent Light; that our thoughts, our views, our feelings may become as one reality, manifesting the spirit of union throughout the world.

Thou art the Gracious, the Bountiful, the Bestower, the Almighty, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in a letter dated 5 March 1922 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, pp. 20–21. Also published in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, nos. 42.4 and 42.5)[17]…The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the assembly. They must be wholly freed from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God, for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden. Should harmony of thought and absolute unity be non-existent, that gathering shall be dispersed and that assembly be brought to naught.

The second condition: They must when coming together turn their faces to the Kingdom on High and ask aid from the Realm of Glory. They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views. They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden.

The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority.

It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…. If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One….(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in a letter dated 5 March 1922 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, p. 22.) [18]Discussions must all be confined to spiritual matters that pertain to the training of souls, the instruction of children, the relief of the poor, the help of the feeble throughout all classes in the world, kindness to all peoples, the diffusion of the fragrances of God and the exaltation of His Holy Word.

Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit.(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in a letter dated 5 March 1922 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, published in Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages 1922–1932, pp. 22–23) [19]A perusal of some of the words of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the duties and functions of the Spiritual Assemblies in every land (later to be designated as the local Houses of

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