It’s a small religious group – with a big message of peace and equality for the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
The White Rock Baha’is follow a faith that originated in 19th century Persia (now Iran) and the teachings of Baha’u’llah, who was said to have been the most recent messenger of God.
Baha’is believe that there have been multiple messengers of God – such as Jesus Christ, Buddha and Muhammad, whose teachings are followed in other religions – and that Baha’u’llah is the most recent messenger.
White Rock Baha’i Paul Reynolds said that the religion teaches equality for all genders, races, religions and backgrounds.
“There’s one word that summarizes the basic essence of the Baha’i faith, and that’s unity.”
Reynolds said he discovered the Baha’i faith when he came from Ireland to the U.S. as a child, and that when he was 18 he realized the Baha’i faith represented his beliefs.
“I grew up in a vanilla world, I was an Irish Catholic in a city – Limerick, Ireland – where there probably were 100 to 200 Protestants, there were no Chinese, or Indians or any ethnic groups… and we all thought and acted the same,” he said.
“It just made so much sense that there is a religion that teaches that we are all one and is trying to practise it.”
The Baha’is are taught to be inclusive and accepting of all religions, according to Nazie Shams, who came to Canada from Iran in the 1980s.
“There is no division between us and non-Baha’is. Everything we do, we include other people, we invite them, we include them, there is no separation,” she said.
“The plan for humanity is to become united, and that is what we are working on.”
Reynolds notes that in support of unity, the Baha’i faith also believes in the co-existence between faith and science.
If science is to prove something wrong that is in line with current Baha’i teachings, he explains, worshippers will accept the scientific findings and modify their beliefs.
Conversely, if there is something that can’t be confirmed or denied by science, Reynolds says, the Baha’i will still follow it – giving the human soul is an example.
Despite the White Rock group’s small numbers – about 25 people – they don’t feel too different from larger communities around the world.
“I happened to have been in a large community and it is the same, basically, you just have a larger group of friends,” said Patricia Chapiel, a longtime White Rock resident.
Chapiel, who came from a small town in Ohio, said that when she was introduced to the Baha’i faith, it awakened something in her.
“When I went to my first Baha’i gathering… I had never saw a native Indian, I never saw a Persian… But at this particular gathering, there were native Indians, there were Persians, there were First Nations. I mean it was such a diversified group of people, which for me – I was in awe.
“It made me feel alive.”
As a way to explain the Baha’i ideal of universal peace and acceptance to all things, Reynolds likened the world to a garden of flowers.
“If all the flowers were red, it is not half as interesting as if there are a variety of colours.”
The White Rock Baha’is are hosting an open workshop to teach the process for electing their spiritual leaders on April 9, from 1-4 p.m. at the White Rock Community Centre.
For more information, call 778-294-7503.