Bahá’ís in Phoenix:
The first permanent Phoenix Bahá’í residents arrived from Chicago, Illinois in the summer of 1917. They were Edward and Amanda Ruppers and their four children. The Ruppers became Bahá’ís in the early 1900′s. They were present on several occasions during talks given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Chicago during his eight-month tour of the United States in 1912 (http://centenary.bahai.us/).
These early years were filled with visiting Bahá’ís and diverse teaching activities. One of the principles of the Bahá’í Faith is the belief that a universally understood language will be necessary to achieve world unity. Esperanto, a “manufactured” language developed by Dr. Ludwik Zamenhof of Poland was introduced in 1897; to many Bahá’ís it seemed an ideal candidate for such a universal language!
Consequently, it had a close relationship to the Faith for many years. One of the early Phoenix Bahá’ís, Josephine Nelson, lived with her sister Amanda Ruppers from 1929 and taught Esperanto in weekly evening classes. So, even in the wild west of the 1920’s, Phoenix Bahá’ís were studying an international language in preparation for world unity!
The first Phoenix Spiritual Assembly was formed in 1930. On April 18 of that year the Phoenix Evening Gazette reported: “At a meeting of the Bahá’í community of Phoenix to be held Monday evening, beginning at 8 o’clock, a local Assembly to be known as the Bahá’í Assembly of Phoenix, affiliated with the National Bahá’í Assembly of the United States and Canada, will be organized.” The article went on to explain that thirty members were enrolled in the Phoenix community at that time which had been staging regular meetings for more than a year as a study group. It also mentioned that the Bahá’í movement proclaims “the time of universal peace and provides the base for universal religion….”
That first Spiritual Assembly convened on April 21, 1930 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Bugbee, 1738 West Van Buren St. (April, 2005 was the 75th anniversary of the Phoenix Assembly). Elected were: Clinton Bugbee, Miriam Bugbee, Emma Jacobs, William McCoy, Amanda Ruppers, Nina Virginia Ruppers, Paul Schoeny and Ross Seibert. Even in spite of the fast-growing and fast-changing population of Phoenix, at least four members of our current community (circa 2005) are related to someone elected to that first Spiritual Assembly. “The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Phoenix” was officially incorporated under that name in 1939.
The greatest honor bestowed upon a Bahá’í in the days of `Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi was to be named a “Hand of the Cause of God”. Only a small number of truly exceptional teachers of the Bahá’í Faith throughout the world received this honor, but amongst them were three people who resided in Arizona for some portion of their lives. Amelia Collins resided in Phoenix off and on from 1937. General Alai resided in Phoenix and is buried in Paradise Valley. William Sears resided in Tucson from 1985 to 1991 and was a frequent visitor to Phoenix. He is well known as the author of many books, perhaps most notably the still-popular “Thief in the Night” about Biblical prophesies and the Bahá’í Faith.
The Bahá’í Center
In the beginning, Phoenix Bahá’ís did what Bahá’ís do in smaller communities throughout the world – they met in each other’s houses or in rented or borrowed facilities. In communities which are fortunate enough to have a building to meet in, that facility is generally referred to as a “Bahá’í Center” (as opposed to a church or temple). The current Phoenix Bahá’í Center was acquired in 1980 and is located at 944 E. Mountain View Road. The more formal designation of Bahá’í House of Worship is reserved for a small number of specially designed facilities around the world, one on each continent for now. In the United States, the House of Worship (and the national headquarters of the Faith), is in Wilmette, Illinois.
For more about the Bahá’í House of Worships or Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs – literally meaning the Dawning Place of the Mention of God – and to see pictures of Bahá’í House of Worships refer to Baha’i Houses of Worshp, Mashriqu’l-Adhkár Handbook, Mashriqu’l-Adhkár by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, http://mashriqul-adhkar.com/, Baha’i Houses of Worship-Baha’i Encyclopedia
The Bahá’í community of Phoenix numbers about 900. Every Bahá’í community is diverse, but communities in urban areas are even more so. Phoenix has members who have become Bahá’í as recently as yesterday and others who are fifth generation Bahá’ís (and who can trace their Bahá’í roots in Iran back to the time of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh). Phoenix has Bahá’ís who have moved in from all other portions of the country and from many places around the world, and also those whose family roots go back to that first Phoenix Assembly in 1930. Phoenix, like most Bahá’í communities, has members who were raised in a wide variety of other religious traditions. All have a unique story to tell of how they found their way to faith in Bahá’u’lláh. A significant portion of Bahá’ís worldwide are of Iranian (Persian) descent. Iran, the birthplace of Bahá’u’lláh, is considered the “cradle of the Faith” and it was the job of Persian Bahá’ís to begin its worldwide expansion. With the coming of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, Iran has become inhospitable to Bahá’ís and as a result, even more Persian Bahá’ís have settled in places such as Phoenix.
Finally, it is important to note that Bahá’í communities, while autonomous in some ways, are all part of the same universal process. For this reason, there is great cooperation amongst Bahá’ís from neighboring cities and towns throughout the world. To be a Bahá’í in Phoenix means exactly the same thing as being a Bahá’í in Mesa, or New Hampshire or Oregon (or France, or Uganda, Africa or Russia, or Sri Lanka for that matter). Projects of all sorts are undertaken together and all United States communities are engaged in the same initiatives as they are delivered from higher administrative bodies such as the National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice.
Like Bahá’í communities throughout the world, the Phoenix Bahá’ís are involved and engaged in a number of community building activities to spiritually uplift the greater Phoenix community, such as devotional meetings, study groups (also known as study circles), children’s classes and junior youth spiritual empowerment groups. The Phoenix community, like all Bahá’í communities, looks forward to welcoming ever-growing numbers of new believers who will join us in our work towards the spiritual unification of mankind.
Recently we are developing spiritual neighborhood communities with activities for all ages. For more information about the Bahá’í activities in Phoenix, see “Activities for All Ages”
The “Resources” section (click here: Phoenix Baha’i community Resources) will introduce you to the Bahá’í Writings and Bahá’í Communities around the world.