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Baha'i faith celebrates 100 years in NZ

CATHERINE HEALY
Last updated 05:00 20/09/2013
Stevenson Gravestone

RESTING PLACE: Margaret Beveridge Stevenson, the first Baha’i in New Zealand, is buried at Hillsborough Cemetery.

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One of New Zealand's lesser known religions is celebrating its centenary this year .

The Baha'i faith was first practiced in New Zealand by Margaret Beveridge Stevenson (1865-1941) who lived in Parnell's Cowie St for much of her adult life.

District Court Judge Heather Simpson has been researching Margaret Stevenson's life for a collaborative book that will be published to celebrate the centenary.

Judge Simpson became interested in the Baha'i faith when she moved to Thames in 1975 and met another follower.

"It sounded good and logical and I was gradually drawn in. What appealed to me was the idea of a world that would be peaceful. I liked the ideas of peace and justice. Equality of men and women is one of the central teachings. It comes from the fact that Baha'is see everyone, regardless of age, race or gender as part of the same family - they are not strangers.

"These days if a person wants to become a Baha'i, they have to tell another believer. I started asking questions: If Margaret Stevenson was the first in New Zealand, who did she tell?"

Judge Simpson discovered that in 1913 Ms Stevenson had a visit from the English actress Dorothea Spinney. Ms Spinney had heard Abdu'l-Baha the son of the founder of the Bahai faith, preach and was inspired by him.

"When she stayed with the Stevensons she was bubbling over with enthusiasm at all the teachings."

It made quite an impression on Ms Stevenson, who was 47 years old at the time. She made her life-long commitment to the Baha'i faith while Ms Spinney was in town.

Ms Stevenson went on to hold study meetings in her Cowie St home and for many years it was the centre of all things Baha'i in New Zealand. These days there are around 3000 Kiwi followers and the national office is in Henderson.

On October 12 at 7.15pm a concert will be held at Auckland Grammar's auditorium to celebrate the centenary. It will be narrated by Ilona Rogers and have various actors playing the parts of early Baha'is, with music and visuals celebrating key events over the 100 years. The show is free and open to all but it is advisable to book. Phone Hoss Zibaei on 550 3103 or email hoss.zibaei@gmail.com.

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- East And Bays Courier

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