Rosanne Buzzell was 14 years old when she found the answers she
She was singing Christmas carols door to door with an Eliot church
group when a resident at the last house of the night handed her a
pamphlet on the Baha'i faith.
Another teen-ager might have tossed it aside. Buzzell read it
cover to cover. She was touched by its message of global peace,
racial unity and gender equality.
"I really was searching for answers," said Buzzell, a postal
carrier who lives in Eliot. "The Baha'i writings really jibed with
the way I felt. I knew I had found what I had been looking for."
That was more than 30 years ago. Today, Buzzell is among about 200
followers of the Baha'i faith in southern Maine and New Hampshire.
They practice a religion that started in Iran 148 years ago.
Members are concentrated in this region because of the Green Acre
Baha'i School in Eliot, a religious retreat founded in the 1890s on
the banks of the Piscataqua River.
There are 5 million Baha'is worldwide, including about 150,000 in
the United States. Among the most famous American members was the
late jazz trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie.
Baha'is, which means "followers of the light" in Arabic, have no
clergy. Instead, they are governed by nine-member assemblies elected
at the local, national and international levels.
They also have no churches, although they do have centralized
houses of worship in several countries, including the Baha'i
headquarters, the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel. Baha'i
houses of worship typically are domed, nine-sided buildings adorned
with nine-pointed stars.
In the United States, the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha'is
maintains a House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill., and five regional
schools, including Green Acre.
"The Baha'i faith is more internal than going to a church or a
mosque," said Phyllis Ring, 44, program coordinator at Green Acre.
Ring has been a Baha'i for 24 years.
"It's not a Sunday thing," she said. "It's about how you treat
people and how you work on your character and how you live your
Formerly a summer attraction, most of the 23 buildings at Green
Acre were restored and weatherized six years ago to become a year-
round Baha'i conference center. The riverside campus spreads across
26 acres -- about 10 percent of Baha'i land holdings in Eliot.
Construction of new classroom facilities, including an auditorium, is
planned for next spring.
Today Green Acre holds weekend events and weeklong conferences
that each year attract thousands of Baha'i members and others from
all over the world. The conferences often attract 120 people or more,
and the public is welcome at most events.
The school's summer season kicks off next weekend with a Junior
Youth Academy, which will be followed by Family Virtues Week.
"You can't have unity in the world if you don't have unity in the
individual, and that begins in the family," said Ring, who lives in
Green Acre was founded by Sarah Jane Farmer, daughter of a
prominent Eliot family that was known for taking an activist role in
Her father, Moses Gerrish Farmer, was a prolific inventor and a
member of the Transcendentalist movement, which included nature
lovers and philosophers, such as writers Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo
Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Her mother, Hannah Tobey Shapleigh, started the former Rosemary
Cottage in Eliot, a forerunner of today's Fresh Air Fund, which
brings city kids to the country each summer.
An unusual woman for her time, Sarah Farmer built Green Acre in
1890 as a Victorian hotel with help from several local businessmen.
First named the Eliot Hotel, visitors in long gowns and three-
piece suits arrived by steamship or horse-drawn carriage. They amused
themselves by strolling the lush lawns and relaxing on the sprawling
veranda. Some even slept in white canvas tents set up outside the
Soon Green Acre became a summer destination for artists, writers
and social activists, including W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington,
Phoebe Apperson Hearst and Clarence Darrow, defense attorney in the
Scopes evolution trial.
Farmer renamed the hotel Green Acre during its first season, after
poet John Greenleaf Whittier visited.
Given Farmer's increasing interest in spiritual growth and social
justice, Green Acre developed a religious and philosophical focus
early on. The hotel struggled financially and its investors
threatened to pull out, but it was bolstered repeatedly by donations
from wealthy patrons who supported Farmer's ideals.
In 1894, Farmer dedicated Green Acre to peace and religious unity
and raised the first Peace flag, a large banner with green letters on
a white background. It has been raised every year since.
With its purpose defined, the hotel began hosting conferences and
offering lectures on topics as diverse as nature, psychology,
electricity, evolution and comparative religion. By 1899, Baha'i
writings were included in a Green Acre program.
In 1912, Abdu'l-Baha, son of the Baha'i founder, visited Farmer at
Green Acre and gave his blessing to the work she was doing in his
father's name. More than 500 people gathered to meet his entourage,
including a man from Minneapolis who rode a freight train to
"Abdu'l-Baha visited the locals and talked to everyone, often
using an interpreter," Ring said. "It must have seemed unusual to see
all of these people wearing turbans coming into town."
Roots of faith
The Baha'i faith was founded in Iran by Baha'u'llah, whose name
means "Glory of God" in Arabic. He was a follower of the Bab, a
religious reformer of the early 1800s. Persecuted as heretics by
ruling Muslims, the Bab was executed in 1850 and Baha'u'llah was
imprisoned, as many of his followers are today.
While in prison in 1852 in Teheran, Baha'u'llah had a revelation
that he was the "promised one," as foretold by the Bab and other
prophets before him.
"I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above my
head . . . I beheld a maiden, the embodiment of the remembrance of
the name of my lord . . . Pointing with her finger unto my head, she
addressed all who are in heaven and all who are on earth, saying . .
. 'This is the beauty of God amongst you.' "
After his revelation, Baha'u'llah wrote hundreds of texts on
nearly every subject. His teachings promote global unity, equality,
education, truth-seeking and one progressive, evolving faith for all.
He discounts no prophet who came before him.
"We consider ourselves followers of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed,
Abraham, Krishna and Buddha," said James Sacco, 55, administrator of
Green Acre. He joined the faith 32 years ago, when he was an
idealistic graduate student at Stanford University.
"The bottom line of the Baha'i faith is unity, and if we weren't
accepting of all faiths, we couldn't practice our beliefs," Sacco said.
Prejudice, discrimination, lying and even back-biting are
considered failings to be avoided for the ultimate spiritual
development of humankind. "The earth is but one country and mankind
its citizens," Baha'u'llah wrote.
While Baha'i have a fairly liberal world view, they emphasize
traditional moral values. Sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed by
married, heterosexual couples. Divorce is discouraged but allowed
after a so-called "Year of Patience," when a couple lives apart but
tries to work things out. Gay members are expected to abstain from
Provocative dress and salacious behavior are considered improper,
but understanding is expected for cultural differences. Consuming
alcohol and recreational drug use are prohibited.
"You don't degrade yourself, and you don't degrade anyone else,"
Most members pray several times each day, using intonations and
movements that embody practices in Christianity, Islam and other
The Baha'i calendar is broken down into 19 months of 19 days each.
Each month is named for an attribute of God, such as glory, power and
light. Every month, members gather to hold Feast, which is a
combination of prayer, business and social activities. The new year -
- Naw Ruz in Arabic -- starts on March 21, the spring equinox, when
day and night are equal in length.
As with most religions, Baha'i properties and programs are paid
for by members. However, donations are neither required nor
requested. Sacco said giving is a private, voluntary matter, and no
donations are accepted from non-members.
Many Green Acre activities are run by volunteers, including young
people from other countries. Sacco and Ring are among few paid
workers at Green Acre. They are hired by a vote of the local assembly
and paid competitive wages for the work they do, Sacco said.
Local Baha'i members said their numbers are growing, but it's
difficult to say by how much. They said the Baha'i population is
growing faster outside the United States, where there is greater need
and fewer distractions.
Still, Ring believes there is growing interest in the Baha'i
faith. When she started working at Green Acre five years ago, Ring
received one or two inquiries every few months. Now she receives
several each week.
For Diane Iverson, the reason for the growing interest is clear.
Iverson, 52, is a former paralegal who left a large Wisconsin law
firm 18 years ago to become a Baha'i.
"I always believed that humanity had the capacity for doing
greater good than I was seeing," said Iverson, who now lives in
Eliot. "The Baha'i faith is the best vehicle for releasing full human
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 282-8229 or at:
Here are a few events scheduled at Green Acre Baha'i School this
Concert Picnic on the Piscataqua, Sunday, July 2, 12:30 to 4:30
p.m. Features recording artist Red Grammer and the annual raising of
the Peace flag. Admission $3 per person, $10 per family. Bring or buy
a lunch. Concert picnics are also planned for Aug. 6 and Sept. 3.
Unity Walk and Barbecue, Saturday, July 22, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Procession to the grave of race-relations worker Louis Gregory,
followed by a picnic with food for sale. Procession is free. Please
call to reserve meals.
Sarah J. Farmer Day, Saturday, July 23, 7:30 p.m. Celebrate the
birthday of Green Acre's founder with highlights of her life, cake
and festivities. Free.
Gospel Concert Extravaganza, Friday, July 28, 8 p.m. One Human
Family Singers. Free.
Mystic Medicine, Aug. 11-16. Presenter Babak Etemad explores how
religion has shaped scientific study through the centuries. Fee: $10.
For more information about the Baha'i faith or for a full list of
upcoming events at Green Acre, call 439-7200 or visit the Web site at
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