Joyous variety describes this religious community--diversity of language, culture, nationality, skin color and religious background--the whole flower garden of humanity learning to live together in harmony. Everyone is welcomed, but the virtues of courtesy, compassion and acceptance are prerequisites.
There are no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith, and because it is such a young movement, few edifices. Its followers are divided into community groups, largely based upon civil boundaries here in the US, and administered by elected institutions. These local groups operate as independent entities within regions and countries, but are part of one universal whole, whose world center and governing body is based on Mount Carmel in Israel. Bahá'ís in Ohio, or Argentina, or Timbuktu, follow the same laws, are part of the same religious family and function within the same institutional framework. So far, it is the first and only form of world governance that is entirely grassroots democracy.
Bahá'í meetings--which include devotional services, study classes, social events and observation of Holy Days--are planned by local communities according to the Bahá'í Calendar. This is a solar calendar of nineteen months with nineteen days each--with a few left over, called The Intercalary Days, that are celebrated before the last month of the year, which is given over to fasting.
The purpose of human life for Bahá'ís is to know and to worship God, develop virtues. and carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Bahá'ís are working to bring about planetary unity, world peace, and world order. To achieve those goals, the Bahá'í communities are involved in:
* Developing spiritual qualities such as honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, and justice. Prayer, meditation, and work done in the spirit of service are expressions of worship.
* Eradicating prejudices of race, creed, class, nationality, and sex. Racism retards the potential growth of its victims and perpetrators, and blights human progress. Recognition that humanity is one family must be universally upheld to achieve this goal.
* Integrating the spiritual and the practical requirements of life. Bahá'ís believe there are spiritual principles by which solutions can be found for every social problem.
* Developing the unique talents and abilities of each individual. Through the pursuit of knowledge, the acquisition of skills of a trade or profession, and participation in community life, both the individual and society as a whole are enriched. This positive outcome is especially true for people who have traditionally been excluded from their cultural decision making process.
* Insuring equal opportunities for women and men. The Bahá'í Writings go so far as to promise that peace in the world will not be attained unless and until women take their rightful place in it. Towards that end, education of women and girls is of paramount importance--so much so that if a man cannot afford to educate all his children, preference must be given to the females, who are the first educators of future children.
* Promoting the establishment of universal education. Ignorance has proven to be the downfall of civilization throughout history, and perpetuates prejudices and bigotry of all kinds. Basic literacy and the education of children, especially girls, are common socio-economic projects.
What all these goals mean in practice is that within a Bahá'í community anywhere in the world, you will find people open to ideas that may not match local traditional norms, who are learning to be accepting and even appreciative of differences, and who are supportive of change in attitudes and behaviors to help build a better world. It can be like "coming home to a place you've never been before," to quote singer John Denver.
I'm not saying that Bahá'ís are perfect or even close to it, however. We haven't attained God's Kingdom on Earth, but we believe its advent is possible and inevitable. The changes required to make a better world are simply not possible without a support network--a community of likeminded people equally committed to the same goals. Bahá'ís are working to build such community.