By David Hall
Pittsburgh has a long history of diverse religious groups, and one such group is the Bahá’í faith. The Bahá’í faith in Pittsburgh dates all the way back to 1909 when they officially organized as a group. Although they are only a small portion of the United States, the Bahá’í faith has a wide range of practices and devotional groups. There are about 20 different devotional groups in Pittsburgh alone, each with a different topic and structure. This diversity shows the flexibility and, at the same time, the unity of the Bahá’í faith.
The prophet Bahá’u’lláh, whose coming they believe was prophesized by the Bab, founded the Bahá’í faith in 1844. His son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, carried on leading the Bahá’í faith after his father’s death and traveled around the world to spread the Bahá’í faith. In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited Pittsburgh reportedly after Rabbi J. Leonard Levy of Rodef Shalom invited him to speak. ‘Abdu’l Baha spoke at the Schenley Hotel in May of 1912, which was later turned into the William Pitt Union. As the Bahá’í International Community website explains, the Bahá’í faith believes in the
“oneness of God and religion, the oneness of humanity and freedom from prejudice, the inherent nobility of the human being, the progressive revelation of religious truth… the integration of worship and service, the fundamental equality of the sexes, the harmony between religion and science” and “the centrality of justice to all human endeavours.”
Bahá’í devotions are very diverse; in fact, they do not adhere to a uniform structure across different meetings and groups throughout the world. Aside from more organized and structured holy days, like the Nineteen Day Feast, most devotions are flexible and tailored to the needs of those organizing and attending them. Even devotionals within the same city can vary greatly in structure. The Bahá’í community in Pittsburgh does not yet have a House of Worship like some other cities, but these devotions are said to lay a spiritual foundation to build one someday. Due to the lack of a dedicated place of worship, people hold these devotions mostly in their homes.
Prayers of Hope, Peace, and Unity is one such weekly devotion out of the many in Pittsburgh. Though devotions moved online to Zoom because of the coronavirus, they still continue in much of the same form. Organized by Susan Burke, they are open and welcoming to everyone. They begin with music, selected from either Bahá’í devotional music or music that addresses some of the topics that the devotional emphasizes. Music is then followed by the members sharing prayers, readings, songs, from diverse sources and many religious traditions. These readings often come from Bahá’í figures, like the Prophet Bahá’u’lláh or ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, his son; however, members also pull from other traditions such as a Shinto prayer for peace. Members choose these readings and prayers based on what they feel resonates and needs to be said. These readings make up the backbone of the devotional aspect of the services, and often deal with themes of peace, unity, and oneness. After reciting these readings, they share another musical piece, which again reflects the themes that this particular service addresses. Lastly, members have a discussion about their faith, hope, peace, and unity, with recent discussions centering on racial unity and justice. Prayers of Hope, Peace, and Unity end with a five-minute loving kindness meditation session. Though many Bahá’í devotions vary widely, all contain core beliefs that unites the faith together.
‘Abdu’l Baha spoke at the Schenley Hotel in May 1912, which was later turned into the William Pitt Union.
Bahá’í Community of Pittsburgh. Bahá’í’s of Pittsburgh, 2020, www.pittsburghbahai.org/.
The Bahá’í Faith. “The Bahá’í Faith,” The Bahá’í Faith – The Website of the Worldwide Bahá’í Community, Bahá’í International Community, 2020, www.bahai.org
How to Cite
MLA: Hall, David. “Prayers of Hope, Peace, and Unity: Bahá’í Devotions in Pittsburgh.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 3 September 2020, https://religyinz.pitt.edu/bahai-devotions/.
APA: Hall, David. 3 September 2020. Prayers of Hope, Peace, and Unity: Bahá’í Devotions in Pittsburgh. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/bahai-devotions/.
Chicago: Hall, David. “Prayers of Hope, Peace, and Unity: Bahá’í Devotions in Pittsburgh.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 3 September 2020. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/bahai-devotions/.