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I’ve had several discussions with people lately, who were frustrated with either the quality or lack of reflection meetings in their clusters. It seems there is general confusion about what they are for; what is to be achieved there; and how they are different from the consultations at Feast, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to look at the Bahá’í Writings and see if I can help shed some light on these important gatherings.

For each of the following questions, I’ve given some quotes for study; and a summary of the standard they’re encouraging us to strive towards.

What is a Reflection Meeting?

First, reflection meetings have become the learning matrix of the clusters. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)    

Key to the progress of an intensive programme of growth is the phase dedicated to reflection, in which the lessons learned in action are articulated and incorporated into plans for the next cycle of activity. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Its principal feature is the reflection meeting – as much a time of joyous celebration as it is of serious consultation. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Careful analysis of experience, through participatory discussions rather than overly complex and elaborate presentations, serves to maintain unity of vision, sharpen clarity of thought and heighten enthusiasm. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Summary:

A reflection meeting is a learning matrix dedicated to reflection in which the lessons learned in action are articulated and incorporated into plans for the next cycle of activity.

Reflection meetings should be both joyous celebration as well as a serious consultation, which allows for participatory discussions rather than complex presentations; in order to maintain unity of vision, sharpen clarity of thought and heighten enthusiasm.

What is the Purpose of a Reflection Meeting?

Reflection meetings at the level of clusters have become a powerful means of unifying thought and action across institutions and localities . . . (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2003)

Reflection meetings at the cluster level are becoming a forum for the discussion of needs and plans, creating a collective identity and strengthening the collective will. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Key to the progress of an intensive programme of growth is the phase dedicated to reflection, in which the lessons learned in action are articulated and incorporated into plans for the next cycle of activity. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Meetings of reflection will have to be held periodically in order to monitor progress, maintain unity of thought and mobilize the energies of the friends.  (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Specifically, a space has been created, in the agency of the reflection meeting, for those engaged in activities at the cluster level to assemble from time to time in order to reach consensus on the current status of their situation, in light of experience and guidance from the institutions, and to determine their immediate steps forward. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

Furthermore, the friends are conscious that the work of the Cause proceeds at different speeds in different places and for good reason — it is, after all, an organic phenomenon — and they take joy and encouragement from every instance of progress they see. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2013)

Indeed, they recognize the benefit that accrues from the contribution of each individual to the progress of the whole, and thus the service rendered by each one, in keeping with the possibilities created by a person’s circumstances, is welcomed by all. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2013)

Gatherings for reflection are increasingly seen as occasions where the community’s efforts, in their entirety, are the subject of earnest and uplifting deliberation. Participants learn what has been accomplished overall, understand their own labours in that light, and enhance their knowledge about the process of growth by absorbing the counsels of the institutions and drawing on the experience of their fellow believers. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2013)

And so it is that, through the wise direction of institutions and agencies of the Faith functioning at every level, the friends’ exertions, however modest individually, coalesce into a collective effort to ensure that receptivity to the call of the Blessed Beauty is identified quickly and nurtured effectively. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2013)

It fosters the process of reflection and planning by organizing the reflection meeting, facilitating a sound reading of the cluster’s reality, and arranging for the accurate gathering and careful analysis of its statistics — all of which expand vision, build unity of thought, and illuminate the path for the progress of the cluster. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 5 January 2015)

Meetings of consultation held at the cluster level serve to raise awareness of possibilities and generate enthusiasm. Here, free from the demands of formal decision-making, participants reflect on experience gained, share insights, explore approaches and acquire a better understanding of how each can contribute to achieving the aim of the Plan. In many cases, such interaction leads to consensus  on a set of short-term goals, both individual and collective. Learning in action is becoming the outstanding feature of the emerging mode of operation. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

Summary:

The purpose of a reflection meeting is to:

Reflect

  • monitor progress
  • ensure that receptivity to the call of the Blessed Beauty is identified quickly and nurtured effectively
  • arrange for the accurate gathering and careful analysis of its statistics
  • reflect on experience gained

Consult

  • become a forum for the discussion of needs and plans
  • earnest and uplifting deliberation on the community’s efforts, in their entirety
  • learn what has been accomplished overall
  • draw on the experience of their fellow believers
  • raise awareness of possibilities
  • share insights
  • explore approaches
  • acquire a better understanding of how each can contribute to achieving the aim of the Plan

Set Goals

  • mobilize the energies of the friends
  • determine their immediate steps forward
  • ensure that the friends’ exertions, however modest individually, coalesce into a collective effort
  • illuminate the path for the progress of the cluster

 Uplift

  • create a collective identity and strengthen the collective will
  • take joy and encouragement from every instance of progress they see
  • recognize the benefit that accrues from the contribution of each individual to the progress of the whole
  • welcome the service rendered by each one, in keeping with the possibilities created by a person’s circumstances
  • understand their own labours in the light of what has been accomplished overall
  • expand vision
  • generate enthusiasm

Benefit from the Wisdom of the Institutions

  • enhance their knowledge about the process of growth by absorbing the counsels of the institutions

Achieve Unity of Thought

  • become a powerful means of unifying thought and action across institutions and localities
  • maintain unity of thought
  • reach consensus on the current status of their situation, in light of experience and guidance from the institutions
  • facilitate a sound reading of the cluster’s reality
  • build unity of thought
  • achieve consensus  on a set of short-term goals, both individual and collective.

What Do We Do At Them?

Central to such an analysis is the review of vital statistics that suggest the next set of goals to be adopted. Plans are made that take into account increased capacity in terms of the human resources available at the end of the cycle to perform various tasks, on the one hand, and accumulated knowledge about the receptivity of the population and the dynamics of teaching, on the other. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

The present Five Year Plan calls for an understanding of how the diverse elements described in that message come together to create conditions conducive to the growth of the Faith. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 April 2007)

In every cluster the institutions and agencies guiding the process – the Auxiliary Board members and the institute, together with the Area Teaching Committee – need to examine the dynamics of growth on a regular basis and analyze the way in which these elements are working together, in order to identify gaps and determine what adjustments should be made. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 April 2007)

If there are insufficient numbers moving through the sequence of institute courses, steps will need to be taken to overcome this difficulty. If an environment is not being fostered in which friends with capacity to serve as tutors feel empowered to accompany others in their initial attempts to carry out acts of service, the spiritual requisites for the creation of such an environment should be explored. If those who have completed the courses are not being consistently mobilized in the field of service, if a growing number of seekers are not being brought into activities, if receptive populations are not being reached, then thought must be given as to how to remedy the situation – not once, but over an extended period of time in which an ongoing process of consultation, action, and reflection leads to a better and better understanding of how to achieve sustained growth. Regional Baha’i Councils will have to ensure that this becomes the mode of operation in cluster after cluster across the United States. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 April 2007)

As learning has come to distinguish the community’s mode of operation, certain aspects of decision making related to expansion and consolidation have been assigned to the body of the believers, enabling planning and implementation to become more responsive to circumstances on the ground. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

These meetings at the cluster level have been particularly effective in well-established areas where an expanding pool of human resources exists. In such gatherings the institutions and the believers, many of whom are involved in the institute process, study the relevant Five Year Plan documents, share experiences, and consult on the achievements and strengths within the cluster. Avoiding “grandiose and elaborate plans,” the friends reach a consensus on short-term goals which reflect the pledges of individual initiatives and collective actions that have emerged from the consultation. These goals are generally incorporated into a calendar of activities that becomes the framework for the subsequent two-to-three-month period. In many clusters    around the world, how to hold productive and enjoyable reflection meetings has – – – become an important area for learning. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

These periodic consultations have enabled the believers to “reflect on issues, consider adjustments, and maintain enthusiasm and unity of thought. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

The value of short-term goals is immediately recognized, as accomplishments and challenges can regularly be evaluated, “obstacles removed, resources multiplied and lessons learned,’ and modifications in the goals made without losing continuity of action. Flexibility and patience are encouraged, as essential prerequisites of the learning process. The friends have begun to appreciate that not all answers can be tied down in advance but are garnered through experience. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

Summary:

At reflection gatherings, we:

  • review vital statistics
  • suggest goals to be adopted
  • make plans that take into account the human resources available and the accumulated knowledge about the receptivity of the population and the dynamics of teaching
  • understand how the diverse elements described in the messages create conditions conducive to the growth of the Faith
  • examine the dynamics of growth
  • analyze the way in which these elements are working together
  • identify gaps
  • determine what adjustments should be made
  • study the relevant Five Year Plan documents
  • share experiences
  • consult on the achievements and strengths within the cluster
  • avoid “grandiose and elaborate plans,”
  • reach a consensus on short-term goals which reflect the pledges of individual initiatives and collective actions that have emerged from the consultation
  • incorporate the goals into a calendar of activities that becomes the framework for the subsequent two-to-three-month period
  • reflect on issues
  • consider adjustments
  • maintain enthusiasm and unity of thought
  • accomplishments and challenges can be regularly evaluated
  • remove obstacles
  • multiply resources
  • share lessons learned
  • make modifications in the goals without losing continuity of action

In particular:

  • if there are insufficient numbers moving through the sequence of institute courses, steps will need to be taken to overcome this difficulty
  • if an environment is not being fostered in which friends with capacity to serve as tutors feel empowered to accompany others in their initial attempts to carry out acts of service, the spiritual requisites for the creation of such an environment should be explored
  • if those who have completed the courses are not being consistently mobilized in the field of service, if a growing number of seekers are not being brought into activities, if receptive populations are not being reached, then thought must be given as to how to remedy the situation

 What Are The Benefits?

Reflection meetings . . . have lent a potent stimulus to institutional and individual initiatives in a mutually supportive spirit. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2003)

. . . serves to maintain unity of vision, sharpen clarity of thought and heighten enthusiasm. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

When human resources increase in a manner proportionate to the rise in the overall Baha’i population from cycle to cycle, it is possible not only to sustain but to accelerate growth. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Not only does this advance in culture influence relations among individuals, but its effects can also be felt in the conduct of the administrative affairs of the Faith. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

A cluster in this condition is clearly one where the relationships among the individual, the institutions, and the community–the Plan’s three protagonists–are evolving soundly. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2013)

A natural vehicle for multiplying core activities has been reflection meetings. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

Learning in action is becoming the outstanding feature of the emerging mode of operation. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

. . . an ongoing process of consultation, action, and reflection leads to a better and better understanding of how to achieve sustained growth. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 April 2007)

As learning has come to distinguish the community’s mode of operation, certain aspects of decision making related to expansion and consolidation have been assigned to the body of the believers, enabling planning and implementation to become more responsive to circumstances on the ground. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

In many clusters    around the world, how to hold productive and enjoyable reflection meetings has – – – become an important area for learning. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

The value of short-term goals is immediately recognized, as accomplishments and challenges can regularly be evaluated, “obstacles removed, resources multiplied and lessons learned,’ and modifications in the goals made without losing continuity of action. Flexibility and patience are encouraged, as essential prerequisites of the learning process. The friends have begun to appreciate that not all answers can be tied down in advance but are garnered through experience. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

Summary:

The advantages of regular reflection meetings is that they:

  • lend a potent stimulus to institutional and individual initiatives in a mutually supportive spirit
  • maintain unity of vision
  • sharpen clarity of thought
  • heighten enthusiasm
  • sustain and accelerates growth
  • influence relations among individuals
  • effect the conduct of the administrative affairs of the Faith
  • evolve relationships among the Plan’s three protagonists
  • multiply core activities
  • facilitate learning in action
  • lead to a better and better understanding of how to achieve sustained growth
  • enable planning and implementation to become more responsive to circumstances on the ground
  • become an important arena for learning
  • recognize the value of short-term goals
  • evaluate accomplishments and challenges
  • remove obstacles
  • multiply resources and lessons learned
  • modify goals without losing continuity of action
  • help the friends to appreciate that not all answers can be tied down in advance but are garnered through experience

 How Often Are They Held?

Meetings of reflection will have to be held periodically in order to monitor progress, maintain unity of thought and mobilize the energies of the friends.  (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated December 27, 2005)

Who Should Attend?

In every cluster the institutions and agencies guiding the process – the Auxiliary Board members and the institute, together with the Area Teaching Committee – need to examine the dynamics of growth on a regular basis and analyze the way in which these elements are working together, in order to identify gaps and determine what adjustments should be made. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 April 2007)

The analysis thus achieved must, of course, be the subject of thorough consultation in a reflection meeting with the generality of the believers, drawing them into the decision-making process. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 April 2007)

A similar space is opened by the institute, which makes provision for those serving as tutors, children’s class teachers, and animators of junior youth groups in a cluster to meet severally and consult on their experience. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

Intimately connected to this grassroots consultative process are the agencies of the training institute and the Area Teaching Committee, together with the Auxiliary Board members, whose joint interactions provide another space in which decisions pertaining to growth are taken, in this case with a higher degree of formality. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

Such experience is also shared in numerous other spaces that are emerging for consultation amongst friends intensely engaged in specific endeavours, whether they are pursuing a common line of action or serving in a particular part of the cluster. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2013)

Specifically, a space has been created, in the agency of the reflection meeting, for those engaged in activities at the cluster level to assemble from time to time in order to reach consensus on the current status of their situation, in light of experience and guidance from the institutions, and to determine their immediate steps forward. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

Summary:

The following people should attend:

  • the generality of the believers
  • those serving as tutors, children’s class teachers, and animators of junior youth groups
  • friends intensely engaged in specific endeavours at the cluster level
  • the Auxiliary Board members
  • the institute
  • the Area Teaching Committee

 Who Makes Sure That Reflection Meetings Become The Mode Of Operation?

Regional Baha’i Councils will have to ensure that this becomes the mode of operation in cluster after cluster across the United States. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 April 2007)

The mobilization of individuals to ensure steady progress of the program of growth is the principal focus of the Area Teaching Committee. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 5 January 2015)

Summary:

The Regional Bahá’í Council and the Area Teaching Committee both have a responsibility to ensure the meetings happen at the cluster level.

What are the Characteristics of a Reflection Meeting?

The workings of this cluster-level system, born of exigencies, point to an important characteristic of Baha’i administration: Even as a living organism, it has coded within it the capacity to accommodate higher and higher degrees of complexity, in terms of structures and processes, relationships and activities, as it evolves under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

The ability to organize productive and enjoyable reflection meetings has also been a feature of well-developed clusters. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

Summery:

These meetings have coded within them the capacity to accommodate higher and higher degrees of complexity, in terms of structures and processes, relationships and activities, as it evolves under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice.

What Attitudes Do We Bring to the Meeting?

All these insights are located in a wider appreciation that progress is most easily achieved in an environment imbued with love–one in which shortcomings are overlooked with forbearance, obstacles are overcome with patience, and tested approaches are embraced with enthusiasm. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2013)

Flexibility and patience are encouraged, as essential prerequisites of the learning process. The friends have begun to appreciate that not all answers can be tied down in advance but are garnered through experience. (The International Teaching Center, ‘Building Momentum’, 2003)

Summary:

These are the virtues expected of us at these meetings:

  • love
  • shortcomings are overlooked with forbearance
  • obstacles are overcome with patience
  • tested approaches are embraced with enthusiasm
  • flexibility
  • patience

What Challenges Should We Look For?

In some cases, challenges arose as a result of an inability to establish one or another vital aspect of the framework for action. For example, in certain clusters the institute process had not taken root so the relationship between study and service intrinsic to the institute courses was not realized. Thus, rather than bringing about an organic process in which more and more individuals carry out more and more activities, a small number of believers became overwhelmed by increasing responsibilities. Only when the challenge of human resource development was resolved could the scope of endeavours expand. In other clusters, the friends readily enrolled new believers but struggled to help a significant number of them advance through the sequence of courses and enter a path of service. There were also those instances when the friends initiated many core activities among themselves, without giving due attention to teaching and inviting participants from the wider community. (The International Teaching Centre, ‘Insights from the Frontiers of Learning’, April 2013)

Reflection meetings sometimes centred too much on planning or instruction rather than the opportunity to learn from experience and revise action accordingly. (The International Teaching Centre, ‘Insights from the Frontiers of Learning’, April 2013)

Occasionally, when addressing new, emerging facets of an evolving programme of growth, misunderstandings surfaced, or, in some cases, attention to a new aspect of the work led, inadvertently, to ignoring others. For example, in some places a dichotomy was perceived between collective teaching campaigns and the responsibility for personal teaching, when in reality, every act of teaching represents a response of the community to the Master’s Divine Plan. Sometimes, a focus on neighbourhoods was interpreted to mean that core activities drawing participants from different parts of a cluster should no longer be maintained. On occasion, there was a “tendency to confuse focus with uniformity or exclusivity”, leading either to an insistence on a single fixed approach or, conversely, to the idea that all individuals can establish any initiative they wish. (The International Teaching Centre, ‘Insights from the Frontiers of Learning’, April 2013)

Summary:

Typical challenges include:

  • an inability to establish one or another vital aspect of the framework for action
  • the institute process had not taken root
  • the relationship between study and service was not realized
  • there is no organic process in which more and more individuals carry out more and more activities
  • a small number of believers became overwhelmed by increasing responsibilities
  • the friends readily enrolled new believers but struggled to help a significant number of them advance through the sequence of courses and enter a path of service
  • the friends initiated many core activities among themselves, without giving due attention to teaching and inviting participants from the wider community
  • reflection meetings centred too much on planning or instruction rather than the opportunity to learn from experience and revise action accordingly
  • misunderstandings surfaced
  • attention to a new aspect of the work led, inadvertently, to ignoring others
  • a dichotomy was perceived between collective teaching campaigns and the responsibility for personal teaching, when in reality, every act of teaching represents a response of the community to the Master’s Divine Plan
  • a focus on neighbourhoods was interpreted to mean that core activities drawing participants from different parts of a cluster should no longer be maintained
  • there was a “tendency to confuse focus with uniformity or exclusivity”, leading either to an insistence on a single fixed approach or, conversely, to the idea that all individuals can establish any initiative they wish

What’s been your experience with reflection meetings?  How was this helpful?  Post your comments below!