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," O'Neal said.

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' spiritual education.

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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