Using three venues in downtown Vancouver, more than 2,500 Baha’is came from across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon and Northwest Territories for the second regional conference in two weeks to be held in Canada. The previous week, the conference in Toronto drew some 4,000 participants.
After anticipated attendance in Vancouver outgrew the original venue, planners added a second site, then a third. Actual talks and performances occurred at two of the venues, with each having a video link to the other. People choosing to stay at the third site – used mainly for extra space for breakout sessions – saw everything via video. All three venues were in hotels.
The two representatives of the Universal House of Justice, Ms. Uransaikhan Baatar and Mr. Stephen Birkland, took turns at the two live venues, as did Counselors Ann Boyles and Dan Scott and members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada.
“The feeling I will take home with me is gratitude to the House of Justice for enabling us to get together like this.”
Michele McIsaacs - Saskatchewan
After opening prayers, welcoming remarks, and introductions, the letter from the House of Justice addressed to the two Canadian conferences was read in both English and French. The message was later studied by participants in a workshop session along with the 20 October letter to the Baha’is of the world announcing the series of 41 conferences.
Ms. Baatar gave the opening address, noting that the conferences are “sweeping the world like a mighty wind.” This weekend alone there were simultaneous gatherings in Canada, Nicaragua, and Papua New Guinea. She reflected on the history of Baha’i activity in recent decades, explaining how different components have been gradually developed and now were being woven into a tapestry. The purpose of our activities, she said, is not just to multiply the number of people and programs, but to increase our capacity to act and have an impact on society.
Reports from two regional councils, Alberta and British Columbia, followed, with the representatives from Alberta describing how they had sent people to Toronto to learn from experiences with the activities there; based on this, they had later refined their own approaches.
The afternoon session included a talk by Mr. Birkland, who explained that the activities at the center of the Baha’i community – studying together, praying together, educating children, and empowering junior youth – are essentially spiritual and are open to all of humanity. The purpose of all of them, he said, is to connect the word of God with the hearts and minds of the people of the world.
The afternoon also included short presentations by a number of Baha’is – many of them young people – who had been asked to share experiences from their home communities.
One young couple stepped to the stage with their baby and told how they had left a comfortable home to move to a neighborhood where they could establish the junior youth program and engage in related community-building activities.
An Iranian woman described how she had been able to complete the sequence of training institute courses and was now tutoring several study circles as well as teaching children’s classes.
Others recounted experiences of being introduced to the Baha’i Faith through study circles or devotional gatherings, in some cases feeling an immediate connection when they joined the activities.
“We are weaving threads devoid of ego and pride, creating a system that propagates through teaching and service. We are weaving a carpet that is the base upon which everything will be built in the future.”
Anthony Jjumba - British Columbia
At the cultural program on Saturday evening, musical presentations were interspersed with humorous skits depicting scenes of people overcoming their fears in sharing their faith with others, and in receiving divine confirmations beyond their expectations.
Participants learned to sing a song in three languages, and did so simultaneously at the three venues (which actually included auxiliary rooms in addition to the main halls, giving a total of six locations). “I am a voice singing out the praise of God from the city and country, from the mountains and valleys, for all to hear,” said the words.
The second day
The program on Sunday involved the participants splitting into 31 breakout groups for consultation on upcoming activities in the various communities, a time when individuals not only had an opportunity to discuss plans but also were invited to fill out pledge forms with a short list of service they felt they could provide. Afterwards, more than 800 forms were turned in.
During the planning, it was decided that nine different clusters of communities would plan to launch intensive programs of growth by April of this year – the same number that was decided at the Toronto conference for eastern Canada.
Michele McIsaacs, Saskatchewan: “The feeling I will take home with me is gratitude to the House of Justice for enabling us to get together like this.”
Anthony Jjumba, British Columbia: “We are weaving threads devoid of ego and pride, creating a system that propagates through teaching and service. We are weaving a carpet that is the base upon which everything will be built in the future.”
Baxter Huston, British Columbia: “Living in an isolated Baha’i community way up in the north, sometimes the (larger) Baha’i community seems invisible and ephemeral. Coming to a conference like this, I feel so inspired to see that the great big world-embracing Baha’i community really exists. It is not just a theory or an idea.”
Herman Dan, 70, British Columbia: “I started coming to Baha’i events one year ago.… I went to the meeting, and I never quit coming.”
Megan Jensen, 13, Yukon: “I am just inspired. I want to learn more about the Baha’i Faith, even though I am already a Baha’i. I want to start reading all about it.”
Galen Humber, 18, British Columbia: “The most inspiring part of the conference was the stories. To see that others are doing the same thing and learn from them.”
Rocky Boshman, British Columbia: “I found it very inspiring. I almost felt like running out and doing something, but I’ll wait until I get back to my community tomorrow.”
Video: Sites and sounds from the Vancouver conference.
Mark Wedge offers an opening prayer for one of the sessions. This is the Fairmont venue.
More than 2,300 people from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon and Northwest Territories came to the gathering.
Jelana Bighorn tells her family's experience working with junior youth. With her is her husband, Simon Grandy, holding their son, Ohiyesa.
Participants said the video links between venues worked very well.
A workshop group at the Fairmont Hotel studies messages from the Universal House of Justice. At left is Elda De Paschoal.
Sepehr Rahmany performs a skit during the Saturday evening program at the Sheraton.
This workshop is at the Fairmont venue. Splitting the conference among three hotels posed an unusual challenge to organizers.
More than 6,000 people participated in the two conferences in Canada.
Participants fill out personal planning forms. This workshop is at the Sheraton.
Shelly Grandy facilitates one of the breakout groups.
Alana Bergstrome reacts with enthusiasm as she assists with the report-back near the end of the conference. Mr. Birkland is at left.
Karen McKye watches the Saturday evening program at the Sheraton venue.
Cultural presentations and skits entertained particpants on Saturday night.
This is the live venue at the Fairmont Hotel.