Bahai News - Food, music and racial harmony
Food, music and racial harmony
Baha'is, Unitarians plan weekend events to stress need for unity
By Erik Tryggestad
Savannah Morning News
Some churches are looking at large tracts of land outside Savannah city
limits for new sanctuaries.
Not the Baha'i Faith Community. The Savannah congregation of about 50,
who follow the teachings of Baha'u'llah, just purchased a building in
the 2400 block of Waters Avenue, just north of Victory Drive.
"We picked that place because it's a place where Savannah starkly divides,"
said Michael O'Neal, a member of the local congregation. "It came down to
basically where we were needed. Where can we have the greatest effect?
Where can we be most visible?"
Unity is a key tenant of Baha'i beliefs, which stress the oneness of
God, the oneness of religion and the oneness of humanity. This Sunday
the congregation hosts its annual Race Unity Picnic at Lake Mayer
Community Park. The event includes free food, the First Commandment
Gospel Singers and Canadian composer and singer Jack Lenz.
The National Spiritual Assembly, the governing body of Baha'is in the
United States, recently issued a statement about the importance of race
unity. Racism, "like a cancer, is corroding the vitals of our nation,"
according to the statement.
"We believe in service. Baha'is believe actions far exceed words,"
What else do Baha'is believe? O'Neal said one of the most frequent
questions he's asked is: "Do you believe in Jesus?"
"The answer to that is a roaring 'yes.' We believe in the divinity of Jesus,"
O'Neal said. "Jesus is part of a line of many teachers God sent."
Those other teachers include Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha
and Mohammed. According to Baha'i beliefs, each was a messenger from
God, and believing in all of them doesn't minimize believing in one.
Just as numerous teachers at each grade level prepare students for
graduation, numerous spiritual leaders contribute to believers'
The teacher for this age is Baha'u'llah, who was born in Persia in
1817. His name, roughly translated, means "glory" or "splendor" of God.
But Baha'u'llah will not be humanity's last teacher.
"There will always be another, because the nature of human beings is to
be forgetful," O'Neal said.
Baha'is must declare their beliefs, but there is no ritual or sacrament
involved. There is also no clergy. Baha'is deliver messages as part of
their services, but they do so on a rotating basis. They have services
and sing songs, just like other churches. Right now Savannah Baha'is
meet on Sunday, but that could change based on the needs of the
community they intend to serve, O'Neal said.
But the mission of the group this Sunday won't be to proselytize, but
to educate area residents about the importance of racial harmony.
Lenz, who is also a Baha'i, will be performing at the picnic. He
composed music for the television series "Due South," and his latest
album -- "Who Is Writing the Future?" -- is a collection of songs that
"represents all that I don't know about God and the soul," according to
the album's notes.
There's been an increase in violent crime in Savannah since the last
Race Unity Picnic. While O'Neal said free food and music will by no
means solve the city's ills, any event that helps people understand each
other better is a start.
"It has to be the community that fights crime," O'Neal said. Race unity
will create "a community where everyone feels nurtured."
"In a community like that, crime has no real place."
If you go
Savannah's annual Race Unity Picnic is Sunday from 1-5 p.m. at the Lake
Mayer Pavilion. The First Commandment Gospel Singers and composer Jack
Lenz are featured performers.
They will also perform at a free concert Saturday night at 7 p.m. at
the Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah, 307 E. Harris St.
Crime and public safety reporter
Erik Tryggestad can be reached at 652-0318.
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