Devotional meetings spring up naturally in a community where a conversation about the spiritual dimension of human existence is growing. In diverse settings, Bahá’ís and their friends and families unite with one another in prayer. There are no rituals; no one individual has any special role. Meetings consist largely of reading prayers and passages from the Bahá’í sacred texts in an informal yet respectful atmosphere. A spirit of communal worship is generated by these simple gatherings, and this spirit begins to permeate the community’s collective endeavours.
A study circle is a small group that meets at least once or twice a week for a few hours, usually in the home of one of its members, to study the course materials. Anyone aged fifteen or older, whether a Bahá’í or not, is welcome to take part. The group is brought together by a tutor associated with the training institute. Tutors do not hold any special status. They are simply those who are further along in their study of the materials. Everyone can potentially serve as a tutor on some occasions, while taking part as a member of a study circle on others. All those participating are seen as active agents of their own learning, and tutors strive to create an atmosphere that encourages individuals to assume ownership for the educational process in which they are engaged. A study circle should be a space that leads to the spiritual and moral empowerment of individuals.
Bahá’ís see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment. In a world where the joy and innocence of childhood can be so easily overwhelmed by the aggressive pursuit of materialistic ends, the moral and spiritual education of children assumes vital importance.
The materials being developed for use by the institutes emphasise the acquisition of spiritual qualities—for example, truthfulness, generosity, purity of heart, and kindness, to name a few—which are considered attributes of God that are reflected in the mirror of the human heart. Year after year, the materials build on the understanding of these qualities and add lessons related to the history and the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith. In recent years, training institutes around the world have been playing an increasingly important part in the training of teachers to conduct classes for the spiritual education of children.
The goal is for the children to reach a stage in which they can understand and act upon the imperative to tend to their own spiritual development and contribute to the well-being of society.
A Junior Youth Group provides an open and welcoming environment to individuals aged 12 to 15. Junior Youth Groups meet regularly with their animator and discuss themes that are relevant and pertinent to the junior youth’s spiritual development. The core curriculum of the group is based around stories that explore moral concepts and spiritual virtues to help equip the junior youth with the tools they need to navigate the transitional age between childhood and youth. The participants also reflect on how they can contribute to their communities by engaging in service projects. Junior Youth Groups provide a safe environment in which each individual feels encouraged to develop his or her talents and become an active member of society.
The youth gatherings draw together young people of different ages and experiences. Regardless of their social situations, young people aspire for spiritual and intellectual growth and “to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity”. They have many wonderful powers, and channelling them properly is an important concern, for when misdirected or manipulated by others, they can cause much social distress. During Youth Gatherings, youth discuss their role in society, analyse the forces at work in society and build strong bonds of friendship.
Summer and winter schools have been features of Bahá’í community life for many years. In addition to providing an opportunity for participants to study the Bahá’í writings and to strive to obtain a more adequate understanding of their significance, these seasonal schools allow individuals and families to spend a period of time together in a joyful atmosphere conducive to learning and the strengthening of spiritual bonds.
Becoming a Bahá’í is essentially a personal matter of the heart. There is no ceremony, ritual or formality involved. To be a Bahá’í means that a person accepts Bahá’u’lláh as God’s Messenger for this day and His teachings as the guidance that will shape his or her life. To take this step is a personal act of faith, which does not need to be publicised in any way. However, when a person wishes to become part of the Bahá’í Community of Belgium, they will be asked to fill in a so-called “declaration card”, in order to have an official record of their affiliation. This process exists all over the world, although the exact details may differ from country to country.