Washington DC Baha'i Center

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 26 October 2018.

Phone: 202-291-5532
Email: washlsa@aol.com
Website: http://www.dcbahai.org/
[flickr_set id="72157621942291688"] Prepared by Amy Zalud of the George Washington University, Spring, 2002. The full report is available in the Pluralism Project archives. Description There is only one Baha'i center of worship in the District of Columbia, but several in the surrounding Metro area. The center in D.C. is located in Northwest area at the corner of 16th and Montague Streets. It does not immediately stand out as 16th Street is lined with many houses of worship for different religions. Another reason for the near anonymity of the center is that it is in an average sized, two-story house. This simple, two-story house has served as the Washington, D.C. Baha’i faith center since 1965. As you walk into the DC Baha’i Center, there is a large staircase immediately in front of the door and a table with Baha'i informational pamphlets and a guest book to sign. To the direct left is a large room with a bench that runs around the perimeter of the room. Inside this room is a table usually full of punch, tea, and snacks. After services, the group meets here to socialize. To the immediate right of the front door is a living room used for worship services. In the front of this room is an old, wooden baby-grand piano with a stereo and papers on top. In front, is a podium with rows of chairs facing it. The chairs are ordered in ten rows of three. To the right is a fireplace. On the mantle is a large, color picture of Baha'u'llah’s sacred place in Haifa, Israel. On the left are framed sayings of Baha'u'llah in Persian and English. Towards the back of the room is a long bench and coffee table for people to sit around and socialize prior to services. Also in the back on the left wall is a large bookcase enclosed in glass. It is a large selection of books for sale in what they term their 'bookstore.' One of the shelves on the bookcase features prominent pictures of Louis Gregory. He was involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the first African-American Baha’i given the title "Hands of the Cause of God." Individuals chosen by Baha'u'llah or Shongi Effendi as leaders in the Faith were called "Hands of the Cause of God." Only Baha'u'llah and Shongi Effendi could appoint such people, thus the title has not been used after their death. Leadership The center is run by resident managers, Anna and Alexander Gynga, who are immigrants from Russian. They live upstairs with their 20 month old son, Daniel. Daniel speaks mostly in Russian, but knows some English. Anna and Alexander Gynga have been resident managers for one and a half years. The resident managers of the Baha’i Center contribute to the maintenance of the center and its activities. They are responsible for the up-keep of the house and grounds. They are also responsible for coordinating activities and religious services when held in the center. At the Baha’i center, there is no clerical leadership. Rather, the all women and men lead collectively. Baha’is believe that clergy was mainly a function for the illiterate, which they do not see as a determinate issue in today’s society. The Local Spiritual Assembly is the leadership group for the DC Baha’i community. It is made up of nine adults who are chosen in Spring, usually on April 21, the first day of the 12-Day Ridvan (Paradise). The number nine holds special significance to Baha’is as being the largest single digit and representing the nine major religions of the world coming together. There is no campaigning by members to be chosen for the Spiritual Assembly. Members pray and reflect and then make their decision by a secret ballot. Each community has a Spiritual Assembly who is responsible for maintaining the centers of worship, organizing activities, and creating programs for the worship services. Activities and Schedule The center holds children's classes, memorial services, Baha'i Chorale practice sessions, and meetings of the Baha'i Youth Workshop. A large selection of Baha'i literature is for sale, while a lending library and free literature are available at the Center as well. The center is also used as a meeting place by community and civic organizations. The Center is open all day to the public and those of the Baha’i Faith. People are welcome to stop by without notice, but are encouraged to call first if possible. Informal meetings about the Baha’i Faith are held at the Center on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. A Baha’i Youth Workshop is held on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. On Sundays, at 11 a.m., formal Baha’i Faith services are provided, along with children’s Sunday School. Every Sunday there is a worship service that starts a little after 11:00 a.m. As people came into the service, one notices who are regular attenders and who are new comers. Fortunately, everyone was welcoming towards each other. The dress of people varied greatly. There were people in suits and dresses and others dressed casually in jeans. It was clear that no one enforced a strict dress code. In the first service I attended, there were between twenty-five and thirty people in attendance, which was equally divided between men and women. In terms of age, about six members were over sixty years of age, fifteen between the ages of thirty and sixty, six between the ages of sixteen and thirty, and four children. In terms of ethnic composition, about sixty-percent were of American, European or Middle Eastern descent. The other forty percent were of African descent. At successive meetings, the number of people and ethnic composition of the people remained about the same. Yet, every week there were new people attending, either because they were investigating the faith, were new converts, or visiting the DC community. The Sunday services are not the only organized Baha’i gatherings. Every Friday night at 7:30 p.m. the Center hosts informal meetings, led by the resident managers, Ana and Alexander. There are also Fireside chats held in member’s personal homes. During the Sunday services there is a children’s Sunday school held in the basement of the Center. Typically, Ana or Alexander Gynga will stay in the basement with the children or a parent will volunteer. The children are all from different races and play with a variety of toys. On Saturdays, from noon to 4 p.m., the Baha’i Youth Workshop is held at the Center. On December 8th, I attended a Youth Workshop. The purpose of this workshop is to bring youths of differing backgrounds together to teach about their faith through art and to open their hearts to others. They do this through community service and by performing interpretive dances and dramas. Many of the young people are not even Baha’i because it is open to all youths in the community. There were about fifteen children and young adults of varying ages (ages four to twenty-one). The Baha’i Center also serves as a place for Baha’is in the community to celebrate Holidays of their faith. The two most important at the DC Baha’i center are Baha'u'llah’s birthday on November 12th and the nineteen-day feast. This feast is held once every nineteen days and members of the Baha’i community gather for prayer, community consultation, and fellowship. This schedule is based on the Baha’i calendar of nineteen months of nineteen days each. The Center also tries to create social events, outside of faith meetings and worship services, to bring the community together.