New Zealand Bahá’ís
“Let your vision be world embracing…”
So, where did it all begin for us Kiwis?
Since 1913, a growing number of New Zealanders have embraced the Bahá'í Faith and committed themselves to promoting its ideals of tolerance and peace. This section of the website introduces the people who make up the Bahá'í community today, explains its activities and organisation, and tells of the courageous individuals who pioneered its early growth.
From 1913 to 1922, the Bahá'í Faith had a single follower in Aotearoa/New Zealand — a courageous, middle-aged woman named Margaret Stevenson. Since then, the Faith has grown to establish local communities throughout the country, each comprised of members from a wide variety of races, religious backgrounds, ages, and socio-economic levels. It has become known and respected for the relevance of its principles and the positive contributions made by its followers to the wider New Zealand community.
The story of the New Zealand Bahá'í community is one of perseverance in pursuit of a vision. Margaret Stevenson herself demonstrated the quality of commitment that enabled the community to flourish. A middle-class woman, Margaret lived in a conservative society where following a new religion was considered odd. Nevertheless, from 1923 a handful of individuals from Margaret's social circle followed her example and were similarly courageous in the face of prevailing social attitudes. Margaret remained a dedicated and active member of the Bahá'í Faith until her passing in 1941. The catalyst for the early expansion of the Faith from December 1922 was visits to New Zealand by John Hyde Dunn and his wife, Clara Dunn, from Australia. The Dunns had migrated from the USA to Australia in order to establish the Faith there. They travelled widely, holding home meetings to introduce the new religion, and visited New Zealand as an extension of their activities in Australia.
The subsequent expansion of the Faith in New Zealand resulted from a combination of home-grown initiatives and external encouragement. Its development was influenced by Bahá'ís who travelled the world to spread the message - visitors like Hands of the Cause* Martha Root, Enoch Olinga, and Rahmatu'llah Muhajir. Some New Zealand Bahá'ís of the past whose names stand out are Hugh Blundell, Ephraim Te Paa, and Shirley Charters. These are just a few names among many early, influential Bahá'ís who spread the message of Bahá’u’lláh and attracted New Zealanders to the Faith.
The growth of the New Zealand Bahá'í community, as in other countries, has also involved administrative development. The Bahá'í administrative system is a model intended to demonstrate new ways of organising society. At a local level, the New Zealand Bahá'í community is administered through a network of elected bodies known as Local Spiritual Assemblies. At a national level, Bahá'í administration is led by the National Spiritual Assembly. Both bodies are elected on an annual basis without electioneering, nominating or campaigning of any kind. Elections are conducted in a prayerful and meditative atmosphere. All Bahá'ís over the age of twenty-one are eligible for election.
The New Zealand Bahá'í community has always engaged with the rest of the Bahá'í world at an international level. After the passing of Bahá’u’lláh in 1892, Bahá'í endeavour was inspired and guided by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, until his passing in 1921; then Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian. Today, the worldwide Bahá'í community looks to the Universal House of Justice as its supreme governing institution.
Those interested in learning more about the history of the New Zealand Bahá'í community can refer to Resolute Advance: A History of the Bahá'í Faith in New Zealand 1912-2001, by Joan Camrass. This book is available from the New Zealand Bahá'í Distribution Service.
* Hands of the Cause of God were high-ranking officers of the Bahá'í Faith, with duties of encouraging the Bahá'í community in its work. They were appointed by Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi.