The first Bahá’í organization in Boston was founded in 1899. Over the past 100 years, the Baha’i community has expanded to include a dedicated religious center in the South End, several smaller groups throughout Greater Boston, and Bahá’í student clubs at local colleges and universities. The Bahá’í faith, guided by the writings of Baha’u’llah (1817-1892), centers on the unity and dignity of mankind across religious, social, ethnic, and geographic borders. In addition to regular devotional gatherings, Bahá’í practitioners regularly participate in educational outreach, social advocacy, and community building efforts to serve the entire Greater Boston community.
History of the Boston Bahá’í Community
The first Bahá’í in Boston, Mrs. Kate C. Ives, arrived to the city from Chicago in 1899. By 1905, the small band of Bahá’ís in Boston was holding regular meetings, and in 1908 the first Bahá’í governing board was elected. During His visit to the United States in 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, visited Boston and gave a series of addresses on various themes of spiritual import. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit provided a powerful impulse to the growth and activities of the burgeoning Bahá’í community in Greater Boston.
During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the activities of the Boston Bahá’í community largely consisted of individuals hosting informational and study meetings in their homes. It was also common for the Boston community to welcome distinguished Bahá’ís from around the world to offer public addresses in municipal halls and at hotels, such as the Kensington on Boylston Street and the Victoria on Dartmouth Street. Several of these addresses were organized in collaboration with other religious organizations and societies, including the Tremont TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... BaptistThe Baptist tradition includes a variety of Christian churches which trace their beginnings to the Anabaptist reform movement that rejected infant baptism insisting on the importance of baptizing only those who are able to profess the faith as believers. ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... in Boston and the St. PaulPaul, an early Jewish convert to the way of Christ (about 33 CE), became the Apostle to the Gentiles, preaching the Gospel and establishing churches in Greece, Asia Minor, and Rome. Some thirteen letters of Paul to these early churches have become part of... AME Church in Cambridge.
A community-wide Bahá’í Center was established in Boston in 1950 at 116 Commonwealth Avenue and was used to host weekly public meetings and youth gatherings. Since that time the Boston Bahá’í Center has moved to several other locations in Boston and is now located at 495 Albany Street. Today the Center serves the devotional, social, and administrative needs of the community. It is also the seat of the Local Spiritual AssemblyThe spiritual assembly is the basic organizational structure of the Bahá’í Faith. Local spiritual assemblies may be formed anywhere that nine or more Bahá’ís live, and national spiritual assemblies are created at the national or regions level when... of the Bahá’ís of Boston.
There are Bahá’í student groups at several local colleges and universities, including Berklee College of Music, Boston University, Brandeis, Harvard-Radcliffe, M.I.T., Northeastern, Tufts, and Wellesley.
Local Spiritual AssembliesThe spiritual assembly is the basic organizational structure of the Bahá’í Faith. Local spiritual assemblies may be formed anywhere that nine or more Bahá’ís live, and national spiritual assemblies are created at the national or regions level when...
Local Spiritual Assemblies, which are nine-member bodies elected annually from among the adult believers in every locality where at least nine Baha’is reside, serve as the governing bodies of all local Bahá’í communities and are a cornerstone of the Bahá’í Administrative Order. In Boston, the governing board established in 1908 was a precursor to the Local Spiritual Assembly, which was incorporated in 1940. In addition to Boston, today there are Local Spiritual Assemblies serving the Bahá’í communities in Brookline, Cambridge, Malden, Medford, Newton, Somerville, Waltham, and Watertown.
Bahá’í Spiritual Life and Practice
Though the Boston Bahá’í Center hosts a variety of events and activities and the Local Spiritual Assemblies ministerMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam). to the needs of the community, they are not the focus of Bahá’í life.
Central to Bahá’í practice is daily prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not., observing a period of fasting, the independent investigation of truth, and adherence to high moral principles including trustworthiness, chastity, and honesty, avoidance of excessive materialism, partisan politics and backbiting, service to humanity, and the open exchange of viewpoints in an atmosphere of friendship and fellowship.
The centerpiece of Bahá’í community life is the Nineteen Day FeastThe Bahá’í community generally gathers on the first evening of each Bahá’í month, or once every nineteen days. Each Feast has three portions: worship, adminstrative and socializing. The devotional portion tends to center on two activities: the rea.... Held once every 19 days, the Feast is the regular gathering that promotes and sustains the unity of the local Bahá’í community. The Feast always contains three elements: spiritual devotion, administrative consultation, and social fellowship. In Boston, the Feast is held at the Boston Bahá’í Center.
Service to Humanity
An essential aspect of Bahá’í spiritual life and practice is service to humanity. Thus, Bahá’í communities around the world and in Greater Boston are engaged with people of all faiths and backgrounds in promoting the well being of humanity and individual and collective spiritual transformation through focused study of the Bahá’í writings and concerted acts of service. This has meant a more decentralized form of Bahá’í life, centered around five main activities:
Devotional gatherings are scheduled regularly for groups of people to come together in homes or community spaces to share a devotional spirit of joy, love, and fellowship. Bahá’í readings, along with those of other traditions, are provided and participants are encouraged to bring material they wish to share. There is no established ritual and no solicitation of funds.
Study circlesIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita... allow for small groups to engage in an in-depth, systematic study of the Bahá’í writings, in order to comprehend their meaning and find ways to apply the teachings to one’s daily life.
Junior youth groups offer a setting for small groups of adolescents, led by a trained facilitator, to develop their spiritual perception, enhance their power of expression, form a strong moral identity, and carry out acts of service in their community.
Children’s classes emphasize the moral and spiritual education of children, with a focus on providing ongoing opportunities for developing a sense of world citizenship, and a lifelong commitment to serve humanity.
Bahá’ís are encouraged to make home visits to anyone living in the Boston area. These visits are usually used as an opportunity to build relationships with people living in the community.
People do not have to be Bahá’í to participate in any of these activities; they are open to all.
The Future of the Greater Boston Bahá’í Community
Like Bahá’í communities all over the world, the Bahá’ís in Boston are working toward the aim of their faith: to unify humanity. The Bahá’í community in Greater Boston has a rich history of participating in and organizing interfaith community dialogues and events in the spirit of building unity across all types of social barriers, such as race, religion, class, or nationality.
Today and in the coming years, their efforts are being channeled through the activities described above which, Bahá’ís believe, are fundamental building blocks in creating local communities and a global society bound together by the spiritual qualities of love, justice, knowledge, wisdom, trustworthiness, and truthfulness. The Bahá’í community in and around Boston will continue to work side by side with any and all who share in this goal.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá During His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, 3rd ed. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2007.
The Bahá’í Faith. (n.d.). The Rhythms and Routines of Bahá’í Communities. Retrieved, January 12, 2010, from http://info.bahai.org/article-1-6-0-3.html.
The Bahá’ís of the United States. (n.d.). Administration. Retrieved, January 12, 2010, from http://bahai.us/administration.
Rideout, Anise. (n.d.). Early History of the Bahá’í Community, Boston, Massachusetts. Unpublished paper.
Stockman, Robert H. The Bahá’í Faith in America Volume 1: Origins, 1892-1900. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1985.
Ward, Allan, L. (1979). 239 Days: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.