By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
The Bahá'i faith is a religion like any other, but it has no church and no pastor. Instead the Bahá'is are led by a nine-member spiritual assembly.
'But only in the administrative sense,' said Vina Stasik of Temple, chairperson of the newly formed Bahá'i assembly in Temple. 'There's an elected board of directors with a treasurer and vice-chairperson and officers like that, but we don't lead the prayers or devotionals.'
At a Bahá'i gathering, everyone sits in a circle, and attendees have equal voice and equal right to participate.
'Women are equal to men,' said Dondie Crook of Temple, assembly secretary. 'And children can participate like adults.'
Having formed April 20, the Temple spiritual assembly of the Bahá'i faith has met regularly at Ms. Stasik's home.
'Our weekly devotionals will take place on Sundays at my house,' Ms. Stasik said. 'Those will start sometime this month.' A typical devotional includes prayers, roundtable discussion on spiritual and community affairs, children's activities, fellowship and lessons from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Bahá'is' most holy book.
Even though the spiritual assembly is just starting, the group has managed to complete its first community service project. They partnered with Keep Temple Beautiful on May 30 to clean up area neighborhoods.
'It went great,' Ms. Stasik said. 'Everyone was excited to help. We hope to continue to do projects like these. Community betterment is important to the Bahá'is.'
The local group is composed of about 30 people.
'We've got people of all skin colors,' said Bob Cronin of Temple, assembly treasurer. 'It's a very diverse group, and that tends to be common among Bahá'is.'
Cronin said that's because the faith encompasses the roots of many religions and cultures.
'The Bahá'i teachings say that God sends a new messenger to man on an average of every thousand years,' Cronin said. 'Those messengers have included (Christianity's) Abraham, Moses and Jesus, Hindu's Krishna, Buddha and (Islam's) Mohammed.'
But each of those messengers, according to the faith, is a Holy Manifestation of the same God.
'They come to us when times change,' Ms. Stasik said. 'When there are new social laws to be followed in God's way. The older messages from earlier prophets are to be recognized and honored, but it's the newest message from the most recent prophet that you're supposed to go by. The new prophet is God's way of helping us to get back on track.'
This idea is the crux of Bahá'i. It was born of Bahá'u'lláh, who is considered the most recent Holy Manifestation. Bahá'u'lláh lived in Israel from 1817 to 1892 and he wrote the Kitab-i-Aqdas in 1863.
Bahá'is worldwide commemorate the anniversary of his death on May 29 at 3 a.m.
'It's one of our holy days,' Ms. Crook said. 'We call it the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh.'
It's typically celebrated with prayer and readings from the holy book. Kitab-i-Aqdas, however, is not the Bahá'is' only spiritual reference.
'It's the Most Holy Book, the most recent message from God,' Cronin said. 'That doesn't mean we dismiss the other holy books of different religions. The Most Holy Book incorporates teachings from the Old Testament and Quran, for example. So we read from those books as well.'
The Bahá'i wedding is a perfect example of that custom.
'There's only one line the couple has to say for it to be a Bahá'i wedding,' Cronin said.
And that, according to the Bahá'i prayer book, is 'We will, all, verily, abide by the Will of God.'
'Other than that, couples can play whatever music they want and read from whatever book they want, whether its the Bible, the Quran or Shakespeare,' Cronin said. 'And with so many beautiful verses to choose from, Bahá'i weddings turn out to be quite beautiful.'
And quite cheap, he added, with a smile.
'You see, like traditional Bahá'i services, the weddings don't have a leader or a preacher,' Cronin said. 'So you don't have to pay for someone to officiate the ceremony. Bahá'i couples marry themselves.'
To make a Bahá'i marriage legitimate, there must be two witnesses of the ceremony, witnesses who are deemed as responsible parties by the area's local spiritual assembly.
The other stipulation is that Bahá'i couples must get the consent of their parents before they marry.
'It doesn't matter if you're the bride or groom or 19 or 42,' Ms. Stasik said. 'If your parents are living, you've got to get them to sign off on it.'
Any couple, regardless of religion, is welcome to marry in a Bahá'i ceremony.
For more information about the faith, visit http://bahai.us/. Temple's assembly can be reached at 742-7662 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.