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The first letter of the House of Justice which I can find, which addresses the need for accompaniment, goes back to a 1998 letter on Training Institutes, where they encouraged us to accompany large numbers of believers through a well-defined sequence of courses, helping them to acquire the needed capabilities of service:

If you continue unabated in your efforts, you will steadily increase the capacity within your national community to accompany large numbers of believers through a well-defined sequence of courses, helping them to acquire the needed capabilities of service.  (Universal House of Justice, 1998 Apr, Training Institutes)

In early 2006 Bahá’ís everywhere were studying the House of Justice’s letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, in particular this paragraph, which talked about the need for tutors to accompany participants in their initial attempts to perform acts of service until they, too, were ready to start their own study circles and help others do the same:

Most noteworthy in this regard is the spirit of initiative shown by believers who extend the range of their endeavors to assist others also striving to tread a path of service. Having acquired the capacity to serve as tutors of institute courses, they take up the challenge of accompanying participants in their initial attempts to perform acts of service until they, too, are ready to start their own study circles and help others do the same, widening in this way the scope of the institute’s influence and bringing eager souls into contact with the Word of God. (Universal House of Justice, To the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 27 December 2005)

This was the first time I became aware of accompaniment as a goal.

At that time, I was tutoring study circles over the phone; and asked by the counsellor; auxiliary board and institute boards to stop, because:

In order for tutors to successfully complete a study circle, they need to be face to face to accompany participants through the practices and could not walk with their participants to develop the skills needed to come out of each course or reach out to the greater community, involving our contacts in this world-wide community building process without being face to face.

Having just come back from pioneering to a remote and isolated part of Canada, where feasts, winter schools, and unit conventions (as well as study circles and devotional gatherings) were regularly held via teleconference, I saw the potential for “walking with” participants over the phone as they implemented the practices and home visits in study circles, where those living in urban areas, where the decision was being made, may not have been able to do so.

I appealed the decision to the House of Justice on the basis that no reflection meeting had ever been done with those participating in teleconference study circles, to determine ways for tutors to “accompany” their participants in alternative ways, and they responded with the assurance:

There may indeed be circumstances where a course conducted over the phone would be of benefit to certain individuals who could not otherwise participate in a study circle; and presumably, there would be no objection if you pursued such an approach on a personal basis.  (Universal House of Justice to me, 24 July 2006)

Since then we have learned to be less rigid in our understanding of the Writings, using a model which includes “consultation, action and reflection.  We’ve also learned more about the importance of offering encouragement and giving a wide latitude for error in individual initiatives.

So let’s have a look at the topic of “Accompaniment” – or how we can help others in moving forward with the goals of the plan.

Given the great importance the Universal House of Justice attaches to the process of accompaniment, the challenge is to devise creative approaches of putting into practice the spiritual principles associated with the practice of “learning as a mode of operation.”

That the Bahá’í world has succeeded in developing a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service—supporting one another and advancing together, respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment and avoiding the tendency to divide the believers into categories such as deepened and uninformed—is an accomplishment of enormous proportions. And therein lie the dynamics of an irrepressible movement.  (Ridvan message 2010, paragraph 10)

What is imperative is that the quality of the educational process fostered at the level of the study circle rise markedly over the next year so that the potential of local populations to create such dynamics is realized.  (Ridvan message 2010, paragraph 11)

The following passage from the House of Justice’s 28 December 2010 message concerns the role of the Auxiliary Board members and their assistance, but should equally apply to tutors of study circles!

They should stand shoulder to shoulder with the friends, supporting them through their struggles and partaking in their joys. Some of these friends will quickly move to the forefront of activity, while others will step forward more tentatively; yet all require support and encouragement, offered not in the abstract but on the basis of that intimate knowledge which is only acquired by working side by side in the field of service. Faith in the capacity of every individual who shows a desire to serve will prove essential to the efforts of those who are to elicit from the believers wholehearted participation in the Plan. Unqualified love free of paternalism will be indispensable if they are to help turn hesitation into courage born of trust in God and transform a yearning for excitement into a commitment to long-term action. Calm determination will be vital as they strive to demonstrate how stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress. And a readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception, will be invaluable in identifying obstacles that may prevent some of the friends from appreciating the imperative of unified action.  (par. 5)

Let’s look at the elements we’re being asked to focus on:

  • support people through their struggles
  • partake in their joys
  • work side by side in the field of service
  • have faith in the capacity of everyone who shows a desire to serve
  • unqualified love free of paternalism
  • turn hesitation into courage born of trust in God
  • transform a yearning for excitement into a commitment to long-term action
  • calm determination
  • demonstrate how stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress
  • a readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception
  • identify obstacles that may prevent us from appreciating the imperative of unified action

What is Accompaniment?

In its Ridvan 2010 message, the Universal House of Justice discusses the concept of accompaniment and its role within the Baha’i community. They describe accompaniment in these words:

It signals the significant strengthening of a culture in which learning is the mode of operation, a mode that fosters the informed participation of more and more people in a united effort to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to the construction of a divine civilization.

Accompaniment is learning in the company of another.  That’s how one attendee summed up what was learned in the workshop “How Accompaniment Can Help Us Teach and Better Serve the Faith” offered by Wendy Yap at the recent Rabbani Trust Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Simple yet profound, because behind the statement lie a number of truths.

Accompaniment, the workshop participants noted, is:

  • A process
  • A two-way street of learning from one another
  • Part of every service we render
  • A priceless means for developing our skill as listeners
  • Universal, something from which Baha’is and all with whom they collaborate can benefit equally
  • Even better with the support of guidance of Baha’i institutions and resources from the Baha’i community

Who needs accompaniment?

We all need to be accompanied at some time or another. In one of His prayers, even ‘Abdu’l-Baha asks God to:

Befriend me in my loneliness and accompany me in my exile.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 31)

As the Ridvan Message of 2014 reminds us:

Everyone has a share in this enterprise; the contribution of each serves to enrich the whole.

How do we accompany?

  1. Go visit someone outside of your community – whether it’s to do a home visit to someone in another cluster nearby; or to travel teach; go short-term pioneering; or even pioneer to another country. It’s all accompaniment; as Shoghi Effendi tells us that the movement from place to place has an effect!

The movement itself from place to place, when undertaken for the sake of God, hath always exerted, and can now exert, its influence in the world. In the Books of old the station of them that have voyaged far and near in order to guide the servants of God hath been set forth and written down.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 84)

  1. It requires choreography! At the Canadian National Convention (2014), Counsellor Ann Boyles talked about the “choreography of collaboration” where we need to make sure that our accompaniment is geared to the needs of people – enough so they feel empowered; but not so much that they feel disempowered.  If we don’t accompany, we’re of no help; and if we accompany too much, we’re of no help either.  It’s a fine line.
  1. Be just as systematic in our accompaniment as we are in gathering statistics or planning programs of growth

As Dr. Janet Khan explains in this article about accompaniment, the process of accompanying an individual in their efforts to serve is of paramount importance for both the individual in their path of service, as well as to the Baha’i community as a whole.

For the friends to accompany one another does not simply mean for us to have kind words at the ready whenever we see each other. It means that we:

  • support one another’s efforts
  • pray for each other
  • reflect together
  • stand shoulder to shoulder when that human support is crucial
  • assist each other to start that devotional meeting, contact that parent, engage in that conversation directly and fearlessly

When we do these things together, when we know that someone else is right there with us, an experience that can be daunting and intimidating becomes a shared opportunity for learning, growth, and deepened friendship.

Ways to Accompany

  1. Encourage others
  1. Delight in their progress
  1. Deepen their understanding of the provisions of the Covenant
  1. Foster awareness of the importance of administrative functioning
  1. Train and assist them to acquire the skills necessary to carry out the tasks required for the expansion and consolidation of the Cause
  1. Home visits

For more information please see:

Why Do We Make Home Visits?

What is a Home Visit and What Do We Do When We Get There?

  1. Study a prayer together

For more information please see:

Learning How to Study a Prayer

  1. Visit those in other communities
  1. Be a role model for making a phone call to arrange a home visit
  1. Hold role plays to practice inviting
  1. Put together teams of stronger and weaker participants working together so you don’t have to do it all yourself
  1. Start a study circle, devotional gathering, children’s class or junior youth program together
  1. Study and serve together
  1. Consult about challenges
  1. Labor together ceaselessly
  1. Delight more in the progress and services of others; and less on your own accomplishments
  1. Center your thoughts at all times on helping one another

To assist the Bahá’ís to more effectively engage in the act of accompaniment, the House of Justice calls attention to the importance of the practice of “learning as a mode of operation,” and outlines its critical elements:

Learning as a mode of operation requires that all assume a posture of humility, a condition in which one becomes forgetful of self, placing complete trust in God, reliant on His all-sustaining power and confident in His unfailing assistance, knowing that He, and He alone, can change the gnat into an eagle, the drop into a boundless sea.  (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2010)

How do we have a posture of humility?

  • Trust in God
  • Rely on “His all-sustaining power”
  • Have confidence in His unfailing assistance

The Role of Encouragement in Accompanying

To the very end of her life, Bahíyyih Khánum continued to inspire and encourage the friends to strive to serve the Faith. In one of her uplifting letters, we read:

O you men who stand fast and firm, you women who are steadfast and firm in your faith! Whenever I visit the Holy Shrines, I think of you, and in all lowliness at His Threshold, I entreat the Almighty to send down upon you all His invisible confirmations, and to let His endless bounties enwrap each one of you. …  (Bahíyyih Khánum, p. 138)

O Lord, set their feet firm in Thy Covenant; let them hold fast to the cord of steadfastness in Thy Cause. Protect them from the hosts of discord and calumny, and cause them to come under the sheltering banner of Thy Testament, that is raised high on the summits of the earth.  (Bahíyyih Khánum, p. 138)

Light up then in their hearts the flame of severance from everything except Thy love, and help them by Thine overwhelming might to labour for Thy Teachings.  (Bahíyyih Khánum, p. 138)

Benefits:

  1. With the loving and careful assistance of their tutor, participants gain experience serving their community in ways they might have previously assumed to be beyond their capacity.
  2. They share each other’s joys, sorrows, anxieties and hopes.
  3. They grow towards each other while engaging in structured service to their community.

Attitudes:

  1. The relationship between a tutor is not of a knowledgeable teacher instructing an ignorant student.
  2. Accompaniment of a participant is not a task the tutor dutifully performs.
  3. Rather, the relationship between tutor and participants is one of warm friendship.

Qualities

Along the way Yap recognized a number of the qualities we need to bring to accompaniment.

Through a simple exercise she led workshop attendees on a similar path of discovery. Holding up cleverly designed paper trees, she had each of four small groups list the qualities of a tree that we can use in accompaniment.

Some qualities they identified that make accompaniment effective include:

  • Rooted, in the Word of God and the Plans of the Faith
  • Self-sustaining, through our mutual capacity building
  • Resilient, able to withstand and benefit from tests
  • Flexible, learning from our experiences
  • Upward reaching, aiming ever higher
  • Beautiful, exhibiting the power of our love and example
  • Nourishing the growth of ourselves and others
  • Multiplying, giving life to other activities

Yap then turned to three paragraphs (10, 19 and 23) of the Ridvan 2010 message from the Universal House of Justice that speak specifically to accompaniment and asked attendees to identify the type of culture the Baha’i world is developing and what the qualities are of such interactions.

What emerged from the small groups were elements of a vibrant culture, such as:

  • being supportive of one another
  • having a commitment to spiritual education
  • constant learning how to study, think and act
  • engendering universal participation.

Qualities identified in the small groups included:

  • a posture of humility
  • an absence of judging
  • delighting in the progress and service of others
  • reliance on the Covenant
  • developing a collective consciousness.

For more information please see:

How Do We Create a Climate of Encouragement?

Conclusion

Since the “mode of operation” fosters “informed participation” of increasing number of people, rather than the passive acquiescence or submission to the pressures of manipulative leaders prevalent in the wider society, those involved are free to exercise their creativity, and are more likely to reach knowledge-based conclusions.

Since the participants are engaged in “a united effort to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to the construction of a divine civilization,” their perspective is forward-looking and outward-directed, motivated by a desire to contribute to the evolution of a new social order which gives requisite consideration to the blending of the spiritual and material dimensions of life.

In previous years, many communities, eager to implement the guidance, forgot that we need to “analyse our realities accurately”, which led to extremes of “freneticism or apathy”.   Let’s now take a step back and assess our own realities; and the reality of our communities, in light of the following questions taken from paragraph 4 of the Ridvan Message.

I recommend you think about each of them in light of how you can achieve success in helping your institutions and community achieve the most critical tasks for the next 2 years:  beginning new programs of growth (which can be as simple as sharing prayers together; starting a devotional gathering, children’s classes or junior youth program, or assisting a steady flow of participants through the sequence of training institute courses).

  1. What is required for progress to occur personally, in our institutions and in our communities?
  2. What is the nascent (embryonic, emerging) capacity that must be nurtured in you and in your community?
  3. What are the new skills you must acquire?
  4. Who are the initiators of a fledgling effort and what can I do to accompany them?
  5. What can I contribute to the space for reflection that must be cultivated?
  6. How can the collective endeavour be coordinated?
  7. What are some creative ways in which we can find the necessary time and resources?

To read what other Bahá’í author have written on this topic, please see:

Accompaniment: A Personal Reflection

Systematic Accompaniment: Ruhi Book 1 in Action 

Accompaniment and Changing Conceptions of Friendship

Accompaniment: Learning in the company of others

Accompanying — an advance at the level of culture 

What’s been your experience accompanying others?  Have you ever been accompanied by someone?  How has this helped your understanding of this topic?  Post your comments below!