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April 29, 2012

Question: How important is the synagogue, church, mosque or other structure?

No one objects to the building of hospitals, schools, courts, government buildings, etc., but one hears occasional criticism of houses of worship as being costly and unnecessary appendages to religion.

The usual underlying assumption is that religions should outwardly demonstrate poverty and that such buildings are a waste of money because the real community consists only of the believers and the belief and value system that inspires them.

In the Bahá’í Faith, the building of houses of worship is actually mandated by Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), in his Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. However, the point to note is that worship is not the sole or even the most important function of Bahá’í temples. In the Bahá’í religion, worship must be integrated with social service. Consequently, the Bahá’í house of worship has been designed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son and successor of Bahá’u’lláh, to have five dependencies: a school, a university, a hospital, a pharmacy, and a hospice. Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, the successor of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, indicated that these dependencies “shall afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved, and education to the ignorant” (Bahá’í Administration, p. 184).

While the Bahá’í community has not yet reached this ideal at the present stage of its development, in the future, houses of worship will be constructed in every town and village. For the present, Bahá’í temples exist on every continent. Worship services are conducted locally in Bahá’í centres and homes. But social service remains integral to the practice of Bahá’í spirituality.

To answer today’s question more directly: Although the smaller community can exist without the bricks-and-mortar, once any world religion becomes established, permanent structures are required. The belief system that generates any religion increasingly demands the concrete expression of those same beliefs in social institutions that are intended to serve the welfare of the community. With this perspective in mind, the bricks-and-mortar are not only important — they are absolutely necessary. 
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen April 29, 2012
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