Baha'i News -- Baha'i Faith Plans New Meeting Place

Baha'i Faith Plans New Meeting Place; Eastside Community Now Rents A Hall In International District

With the world sorely lacking peace and unity, members of the Eastside's Baha'i faith are planning to build a $2 million center in hopes of one day turning that around.

They have their work cut out.

"But that's the purpose of a Baha'i center in any town, or any country," said Nasrin Tyler, a volunteer at the Baha'i Information Center on Front Street in Issaquah. "We believe all the religions of the world come from the same God, and we welcome them to come and worship with us."

Tyler said the 19th century Persian prophet Baha'u'llah brought the Baha'i faith out of his roots in Islam to offer a vision of oneness as a 1,000-year goal.

That mission has barely begun, she said.

Tyler ticked off the faith's four principals: the oneness of humanity; the equality of men and women; the elimination of prejudice; and the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty.

According to Bellevue Baha'i spokesman Bill Griffith, the new center will be the first of its kind for the area. Portland and Vancouver, B.C., each have meeting centers.

Seattle's Baha'i community, which dates to 1907, does not. It rents a hall at the Pearl Warren Center in Seattle's International District.

The Eastside community intends to create a 23,000 square-foot facility on an acre of ground in the 16000 block of Northeast Eighth Street.

Griffith said the building's arched-roof design was created by Vancouver, B.C., architect Hossein Amanat, who participated in the design of the Baha'is' world center in Haifa, Israel.

If permits are granted later this year, the building will rise between a city water tank and the Schuster business mall opposite Bellevue Fire Station No. 3.

The site is just two blocks east of Crossroads Shopping Center in one of the region's most diverse neighborhoods.

It fronts a single-family residential area along its south property line, but that won't likely be a problem, said a Bellevue planning department spokeswoman.

As a religious center the facility requires only a city design review before a general building permit is issued.

The Bellevue group's decision to build follows a national trend, said Baha'i scholar Robert Stockman, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Wilmette, Ill.

Wilmette is home to the faith's national center.

"The Baha'i faith grew considerably in the 1960s and 1970s," he said. "People entered the faith when they were in college. Now they've moved into middle age, have kids and are in their peak earning years. So quite naturally they have money, now, to build a center, and that's what we're seeing happen all across the country. There is a growing concern about increasing the strength of Baha'i community life."

Bob Wilson, a management consultant and an elected member of the Seattle Baha'is' spiritual council, said he is "delighted" at the Bellevue progress.

"I think it's fantastic," he said. "We've all waited a long time for this. It will be a regional facility for the Eastside, certainly. We are working hard toward a center of our own. But certainly this will be wonderful for us. We'll be able to participate in larger gatherings over there."

As spokesman for the Eastside group, Griffith said membership in the Bellevue area has reached the 300 level, about equal to Seattle's, and needs the space.

The faith counts about 1,000 members in the greater Seattle area with an estimated 2,000 around Puget Sound.

P-I reporter Gordy Holt can be reached at 425-497-0907 or gordyholt@seattlepi.com


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