History of the Bahá’í Faith in Barbados

In December 1927 Barbados received a visit from Leonora Holsapple (later Armstrong), an American Bahá’í, during her three-month trip through Latin America and the Caribbean sharing the Message of the Bahá’í Faith. Leonora’s visit represented the first tender breezes of the Faith to blow over the island.

However, it would take another 30 years for the first seed of this new religion of God for today to take root in Barbadian soil, with the return of Charles Winfield Small, in 1957, to his native home of Barbados. He had the unique privilege of being the first person to become a Bahá’í in the Bahamas, in October 1954, where at that time he was living and working as a police officer and, again, to experience another first when he returned to Barbados to become the first Bahá’í to settle on the island.

The small glow of the Faith’s presence on the island was very slowly augmented in the subsequent years after Charles’ return, with the arrival of a Bahá’í, Denis Holder, from what was then British Guiana (now Guyana), and then the arrival of the first Bahá’í pioneer, in August 1964, when Etta Woodlen of the U.S.A. arrived in Barbados.

In 1964 the community saw the return of another native son, Reginald Barrow, father of our beloved first Prime Minister - the late Rt. Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, who had relocated from the U.S.A, bringing with him significant teaching experiences.

With Etta’s arrival, the teaching work received a significant boost as she became a tower of strength for the fledgling Bahá’í community, introducing many Barbadians to the teachings and beauty of Baha’u’llah’s Call for the bringing together of all the world’s peoples, in a spirit of justice and unity, to raise up a new race of man characterized by its belief in the oneness of humanity.

The diligent teaching efforts bore their first fruit, in early 1965, when Horace “Mozart” Newton, after being introduced to the Faith’s teachings by Etta, declared his belief in Bahá’u’lláh, thus having the distinction of being the first Barbadian to become a Bahá’í on the island and one of the Faith’s most ardent teachers. Around the same time that Mozart declared two other local gentlemen, Leon Newsome and George Pilgrim, also embraced the new spiritual path of living offered to humanity by Baha’u’llah.

At this time, the teaching work was occurring in the parish of Christ Church with weekly gatherings at the home of Etta, where contacts and seekers would be invited to learn the basic spiritual tenets of the Bahá’í Faith and to study its Holy Scriptures. Bahá’í travel teachers from the U.S.A. like Marguerite Sears, wife of the beloved Hand of the Cause of God William Sears, and Belle Lennox, from Puerto Rico, were some of the dear supporters who, through their presence and loving friendships, fortified the activities of the small but growing local Bahá’í community.

Some of the other early believers to enter the Faith during the 1960s were: Sgt. James Brathwaite, Freelyn Clarke, Cordelia Cox, Gladys Evanson, Kenneth Foster, Keith Graham, Ralph Greene, Joan Jackson and Victor Small.

By Ridván (April) 1965 the first ever Local Spiritual Assembly in Barbados was elected by this budding band of new and vibrant followers of Baha’u’llah’s world religion. Those elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Christ Church, an administrative institution operating at the parish level, were: Joseph Ashby, Harold Bellamy, F. Elias, Lionel Harris, Victor A. Jordan, Horace “Mozart” Newton, George Pilgrim, H. Snider and Etta Woodlen. May 1966 saw the arrival of a pioneer family from Britain, Wally and Carol Haynes and their small children, which fulfilled an international goal for the Caribbean. They would, like all of the other early Bahá’ís, serve the Faith with distinction including serving as caretakers of the first official Bahá’í Centre, which was located at Flint Hall, St. Michael. By January 1966 the Faith was registered with the Government of Barbados and as a result received a certain level of national recognition. An evident Bahá’í community had emerged by 1967, engaging in the organization of children’s classes, observance of the Nineteen Day Feasts, Bahá’í Holy Days as well as regular home gatherings and presentations on the Faith to the secular community.

With the increasing recognition of the presence of the Faith on the island, the Bahá’ís were afforded the special opportunity in October 1968 to be received by the then Governor-General, the late Sir Winston Scott, and a copy of the Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh was presented to him by a delegation of Bahá’ís – Carol Haynes, Wally Haynes, Katherine Meyer, Ed Miller and George Pilgrim.

The pace of enrollments continued to increase with new Bahá’ís like Ivan Rudolph Alleyne and Alphonse Wade coming into the Faith in St. Michael, and so it was not long before another Bahá’í community began to emerge, centered around the home of the Haynes family at Scott’s Gap, Britton’s Hill, St. Michael.

Barbados experienced its first large-scale Bahá’í teaching campaign in the 1970s which later extended into the neighbouring islands of St. Vincent and Grenada. These initial inter-island teaching activities eventually lead to a regional mass-teaching campaign encompassing the Leeward and Windward Islands as well as the Virgin Islands. Consequently, thousands heard the Message of Bahá’u’lláh and hundreds were enrolled in several parishes across Barbados. The visit in 1970 of the prominent Officer of the Faith, Hand of the Cause of God Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, generated much public interest and also galvanized the Bahá’ís to intensify their teaching efforts. A meeting of 127 persons at a teaching gathering in Bayfield, St. Phillip, is still an unsurpassed record! During her visit Amatu’l-Bahá also made an official visit to Sir Winston Scott and gifted him with a Bahá’í book. Several other Hands of the Cause of God also visited the island during the early years, including Collis Featherstone, Rahmatu’lláh Muhájir, Enoch Olinga and ‘Ali-Muhámmad Varqá.

The aforementioned collaboration between Barbados and the other islands naturally gave rise to an administrative grouping, which was the National Spiritual Assembly of the Windward Islands, formed at Ridván 1972, with its seat in Barbados. This first Convention electing the National Spiritual Assembly of the Windward Islands, attended by approximately 100 Bahá’ís, was held at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. Eventually, the complexity of the local affairs in Barbados necessitated a dedicated national administrative body and, therefore, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Barbados, an incorporated entity, was created in 1982, charged with the responsibility of directing and administering the affairs of all Bahá’ís on the island.

With the establishment of this new national institution in Barbados, the seat of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Windward Islands was relocated to the island of St. Vincent.