Our First NZ Bahá'í
The first New Zealand Bahá'í, Margaret Stevenson, was born in Onehunga on 30 November 1865. She initially heard of the Bahá'í Faith through reading an article in The Christian Commonwealth sent to her by her sister, Amy, who was studying music in London.
Amy had heard 'Abdu'l-Bahá speak on at least one occasion and was so impressed that when a review of one of His talks was published in September 1911 she posted the article to Margaret in New Zealand. Margaret, though, later admitted that she “did not think any more about it”.
However, in 1913 Miss Dorothea Spinney, a professional actress who performed in many parts of the world, arrived in Auckland from California and stayed at the Stevenson home in Devonport. During that visit there were many opportunities for Miss Spinney to tell the Stevenson family about the Bahá'í Cause and her own meeting with 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
To quote Margaret’s own words:
"As a child, I used to wish that I had lived when Christ was on earth. As Miss Spinney spoke, I remembered my childhood wish, and the thought came to me that I too might have denied Him as so many others had done. It was this secret thought that made me seriously think of what I had heard from Miss Spinney, and through God’s grace and mercy I was enabled to grasp and believe in Bahá'u'lláh and His Message."
Despite prevailing social attitudes, Margaret spoke to others of her new found beliefs – a courageous act for a middle-class woman in a conservative society, where following a new religion was considered odd. She obtained literature from America and became a subscriber to the magazine Star of the West. She contributed towards the building fund for the Bahá'í House of Worship in Chicago. As New Zealand’s only Bahá'í, she held on steadfastly to her faith for many years.
Finally, after the visit of the first Bahá'í travelling teachers to New Zealand in December 1922, a handful of individuals from Margaret’s social circle also became Bahá'ís. A class was established at her home in Parnell to study the Teachings in more depth and was held there regularly for 10 years. In January 1923 the first Bahá'í Nineteen Day Feast was held at her home.
In 1925 Margaret was included in the first Pilgrimage group from Australasia to visit the Holy Land. After 19 days in Haifa the small group travelled on to England where they met other Bahá'ís in that country. The pilgrims arrived back in Auckland in December 1925, bringing with them some dust from the Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh which was placed in New Zealand soil at the Stevenson’s property during a ceremony held on 14 February 1926.
The first Bahá'í Assembly was formed in Auckland on 21 April 1926 with Margaret as its Secretary. In 1934, Margaret was also elected to serve on the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand.
Margaret remained an active and dedicated Bahá'í until her passing in Auckland on 11 February 1941. She is buried in the Hillsborough Cemetery.
Since Margaret’s acceptance of the Faith in 1913, local Bahá'í communities have been established throughout the country, each comprised of members from a wide variety of races, religious backgrounds, ages and socio-economic levels. It is becoming increasingly known and respected for the relevance of its principles and the positive contributions made by its followers to the wider New Zealand community.