Baha'i News -- Bahais promote religious unity

Bahais promote religious unity


Jeff Mather holds his son, Tyler, 5, during a devotional gathering of the Bahai Faith of Manatee County.


posted 10/03/02

EAST MANATEE -- Charles Kennel greeted guests as they walked up to Marjorie Kellberg's Braden Woods home on a recent Sunday.

"C'mon in. The water's fine," said Kennel, a member of the Bahai faith since 1963, as he offered an open door.

Morning crept peacefully through Kellberg's living room. Sounds of soft, religious music lilted and mixed with the powdery, perfumed air in the home. Kellberg, with a broken arm, sat on a stool in her kitchen and played CDs during the service.

Surrounded by aged, amber-colored family photographs, 12 Bahais quietly read devotionals in Kellberg's living room.

People who practice Bahaism encourage each other to read the writings of various religions. They participate in what they call "independent investigations of the truth," a constant study of world religions and what different prophets taught. Bahais say their most important message to send is one of racial and religious unity.

In the hush of the devotions, it was as though a grandmotherly hug wrapped around the individuals deep in prayer. They sat with their eyes closed, hands folded in their laps until the music ended.


Helene Weaver of Bradenton, left, reads along to passages with Charles Kennel of Palmetto during a small devotional gathering of the Bahai Faith. STAFF PHOTO / CHIP LITHERLAND

The group took turns and read the devotions aloud.

Devotions, readings from different holy writings of the world's religions, are chosen by the host of the gathering, according to a specific theme. Sunday's theme of justice led to 24 readings.

Over to the side, in the dining room, or rather, under the dining room table, Anders Sohaili, 6, and his brother Kellan Sohaili, 2, had their own gathering.

Their tiny bodies sunk into the plush carpeting as they studied memory flash cards. When the music started, they would stop and listen.

The Sohaili brothers came to the devotional gathering with their mom, Karla Sohaili, a Bahai from Sarasota. She said she came to the Manatee gathering to show support and visit with other members. Sohaili became a Bahai when she was 19 and her husband is a third-generation Bahai.

Anders and Kellan are learning about the world's religions through their parents.

When children raised by Bahai parents reach age 15, they are free to decide if they would like to continue as a Bahai or move on to another religion.

"It is part of the responsibility of Bahai parents to teach our children about the different writings of all religions," Sohaili said. "We teach our children that all the messengers from God were divine."

Bahaism is at times confused with being a "sect" of Islam, because its prophet and early followers were from an Islamic society. Actually, it is an independent religion that recognizes Islam, Christianity and other world religions, said Allan Wunsch, a Manatee County Bahai.

Something else that differentiates the Bahaism from other religions is how services are organized.

Bahais do not believe in having clergy.

"This means we all help out. We do the best we can," Shirley Mather said.

Kellberg had a sign on her refrigerator, a writing from Abdu'l-Baha', the son of Baha'u'lla'h, the prophet who started the Bahai independent religion in 1844.

It reads: "My home is the home of peace. "My home is the home of joy and delight. "My home is the home of laughter and exultation.

"Whoever enters through the portals of this home must go out with a gladsome heart.

"This is the home of light; whoever enters here must become illuminated."

Kellberg carried out this prayer Sunday.

"For me, it's a privilege to have all these people in my home,"she said.

Kellberg, a third-generation Bahai, said her grandparents became Bahais in 1898. Other Bahais treated them as family everywhere they traveled.

And, just like any family, the guests in Kellberg's home Sunday were not allowed to leave hungry. After the devotions, everyone mingled near a counter full of fruit, cheese and crackers in the kitchen.

"Everywhere you go, Bahais are your family," Kellberg said.

Last modified: October 03. 2002 12:00AM

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