KENT: Who are the Baha’is?
That is the question that Barbara and James Geisey will provide answers to during the Kent Community Dinner at 5:30 p.m. next Saturday at the United Methodist Church of Kent, 1435 E. Main St.
“The Baha’i faith is inclusive. It’s a world religion,” said Barbara Geisey, 70. “We believe that everyone makes up one family.”
The Baha’i faith is the world’s youngest monotheistic religion and the world’s second most widely dispersed religion (Christianity is first). Its more than five million believers practice in more than 200 countries. There are about 160,000 Baha’is in the United States.
Like the global community, the local group is small in numbers. The Geiseys of Kent estimate that there are about 450 Baha’is in the area bordered by Lake Erie, Warren, Akron and Oberlin. Most local Baha’is gather in homes for worship every 19 days. Baha’is are required to pray daily, reciting one of three obligatory prayers from their prayer book.
“As the body needs food, the soul needs prayer,” said James Geisey, 74. “We believe that everyday you should pray and meditate.”
James Geisey became a Baha’i in 1966, after attending a service with an Army buddy in Honolulu. While at the service, Geisey discovered that the Baha’i faith confirmed many of his beliefs as a Christian and began to study more about the faith. He was particularly impacted by the Baha’i belief that there is more than one path to God.
“I never believed that Christ was the only way because I believed God was too vast for that,” James Geisey said. “The thing that surprised me was why I had never heard about the Baha’is because the religion has been around since 1844.”
The Baha’i faith originated in Persia, now Iran. It is estimated that about 300,000 Baha’is currently live in Iran, making them the country’s largest minority religion — despite that standing, the Baha’is have been persecuted in Iran for various political and religious reasons, since the religion’s founding.
The Baha’i faithful believe that God has sent divine messengers throughout history to reveal divine will. Those messengers include Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and Baha’u’llah, the founder of their faith.
Core beliefs of the faith include that God’s message for modern times is global unity and that humanity is a single race. Because of that, Baha’is tend to emphasize racial unity, gender equality and dialogue among different faiths and are typically committed to universal human rights, women’s rights and education.
The Baha’i calendar includes 19 months with 19 days each. Each Baha’i community gathers for a formal meeting at the beginning of each month. Larger communities meet at centers. Because the local community is small, followers gather in homes, where they pray and recite or chant from the Baha’i sacred writings.
The religion has no clergy or sacraments. Simple rituals are used for marriages and burials. During the last month on the Baha’i calendar, March 2 to 20, the faithful fast from dawn to dusk as a method of introspection and spiritual purification.
A Baha’i House of Worship exists on each continent. In North America, it is located in Wilmette, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
A nine-member Universal House of Justice is the international governing body of the faith group, whose world headquarters is in Haifa, Israel. More than 11,000 elected local councils and 182 national spiritual assemblies are responsible for business and administration.
“We are all responsible for answering questions about the faith,” Barbara Geisey said. “We believe in each age, there is a new prophet for that time. But there are always constants — love your neighbor, be kind, follow the golden rule.”
Although Barbara Geisey grew up in a home with Baha’i parents, she made a conscious decision to become a Baha’i when she was 16 years old.
“The Baha’i faith calls for independent investigation of truth. It’s not something you’re born into. You have to decide for yourself whether you want to be part of the faith,” Barbara Geisey said. “It just made sense to me that we are all one people and that living as a Baha’i means you’re always trying to improve yourself.”
More information about the Baha’i faith can be found at www.bahai.org or www.bahai.us. Those attending the local dinner are asked to bring an appetizer, side dish or main dish to share. Beverages and desserts will be provided. The local dinner is coordinated by the Kent nonprofit, All Together Inc. For more information, call 330-678-8760.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com.