Bahá’í Center of Louisville members welcome guests with warm smiles and waves on a recent Sunday morning as fresh coffee brews in the kitchen. Photographs of sacred temples and prophets are framed on the warm red and gold walls of the gathering space, where hands enthusiastically clasp hands in recognition and reception. Folks of all colors, ages, and creeds are gathered to worship.
The Bahá’í Faith, which emerged in Iran in the 19th century, is a values-based tradition that emphasizes the orderly, progressive unity of world religions. Bahá’í temples are nine-sided buildings with a central dome, representing the unity of the world’s major religions at the time of the faith’s founding. Louisville’s Center is not a temple, but a homey place to gather and reconnect with fellow believers and the tenets of the faith. One member shares, “We gather here together, but our worship happens all week long in our individual daily lives.”
Though there are no clergy, leaders in the Bahá’í faith are democratically elected by the entire body of believers. At Louisville’s Bahá’í Center, members rotate the responsibilities of their community. Today, Pooneh, an attorney with her own law practice, facilitates the children’s class. Another member hosts the worship service. Others play music for the service, host Ruhi study classes, or serve as ambassadors to the wider Louisville community.
This Sunday’s worship begins with video footage showing musicians across the globe collaborating to perform a song about peace and reconciliation. Each person attending reads aloud a selected excerpt from the sacred texts, then shares a personal insight or take-away from the readings. The service comprises a chorus of voices, each unique timbre and cadence received by the others with reverence. The same regard is offered to a first-time visitor and long-time members. The makeup of the gathering – young and old folks of various races and ethnicities, different intellectual abilities, and diverse backgrounds – is a microcosm of the global unity espoused in the hope of the religion’s vision.
“The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of a different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness.” —Baha’u’llah