September 13, 2016

Margaret Stevenson - New Zealand’s first Bahá’í

Margaret was born on November 30th, 1865. Her first intimation of the Bahá’í Faith was through reading “The Christian Commonwealth” and she admitted later that “she did not think any more about it”. She received this journal from her sister who was in London studying music and had heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá address the congregation of St. John’s, Westminster at the invitation of Canon Wilberforce. She was so impressed that when another discourse given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at City Temple, London was printed in “The Christian Commonwealth” dated March 27th, 1911, she sent a copy of the journal to Margaret in New Zealand.

In 1912, Miss Dorothea, Spinney, a friend of Margaret’s sister, arrived in Auckland from London and stayed with Margaret at her home. Miss Dorothea Spinney gave recitals of Greek plays. While staying with Margaret she talked about the Bahá’í Cause and her own meeting with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This evidently touched a subconscious chord in Margaret.

To quote Margaret’s own words: “As a child, I used to wish 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 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”.

Margaret spoke to others of her belief but though they appeared to be interested, nothing more came of it. Mrs. Blundell, who also had read 'The Christian Commonwealth,' was the most interested, and the two of them had many talks. Her friend, Miss Spinney had given her some Baha'i books and she obtained more literature from America, becoming a subscriber to “Star of the West”, a Baha’i Magazine.

The first great event in New Zealand was the visit of Mr. and Mrs. Hyde Dunn to Auckland. Margaret’s friend, Mrs. Blundell, invited them to her home to speak to a group of about twenty people she thought might be interested. Margaret and her two sisters were amongst them. She later wrote:

“I shall never forget my first meeting with Mr. Dunn. On being introduced, I noticed the Baha'i ring on his finger. I was also wearing one and turned my hand to him. When he saw my ring his pleasure and astonishment will always be something to remember, for when Mr. and Mrs. Dunn arrived in Auckland they did not know there was a believer in New Zealand. This was the first Baha'i meeting in New Zealand.

While Mr. Dunn was there a hall was rented and public meetings were held. After his return to Australia, Mrs. Dunn remained for a time and formed a study group in Margaret’s home in Auckland which continued for ten years. It was here that the first Bahá’í Feast in New Zealand took place in January, 1923. This was an auspicious occasion and a flashlight photograph was taken which appeared later in 'The Baha'i World.' The Cause in Auckland grew through the supporting efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Dunn.

In 1925, Margaret was one of a small group who journeyed from New Zealand to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, and after an inspiring nineteen days in Haifa, travelled on to England where she met with the English Bahá’í community. 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 home in a ceremony held on February 14th, 1926.

Her pilgrimage in 1925 made a deep impression, which resulted in an unswerving loyalty and consecrated devotion. Her sweet, lovable nature endeared her to all and her deep understanding of the Teachings was a great help to students and enquirers.

Martha Root (on the right) with 
Margaret Stevenson, 1924
In such a geographically remote country, the early New Zealand believers had scant knowledge of Bahá’í administration and erroneously called themselves an Assembly as early as 1924. This was corrected with the receipt of a booklet on the subject and the first properly constituted Bahá’í Assembly in New Zealand was formed on April 21st, 1926, with Margaret Stevenson as its Secretary. A steadfast worker, Margaret was a member of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Australia and New Zealand which was elected in 1934, and served the Bahá’í Cause with faithfulness and efficiency until her passing to the Abhá Kingdom on February 11th, 1941. Her memory will be revered by future generations who look back to the record of her work. 
(Adapted from an article by Mrs. E. M. Axford, published in ‘The Baha’i World 1940-1944’, and from the Appendix of ‘Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand’)