At the local level, the affairs of the Bahá’í community are administered by the Local Spiritual Assembly. Each Local Assembly consists of nine members who are chosen in annual elections. As with all other elected Bahá’í institutions, the Assembly functions as a body and makes decisions through consultation.
The responsibilities of the Local Spiritual Assembly include promoting the spiritual education of children and young people, strengthening the spiritual and social fabric of Bahá’í community life, assessing and utilizing the community’s resources, and ensuring that the energies and talents of community members contribute towards progress. It is also responsible for organizing the Nineteen Day Feast, which is the cornerstone of Bahá’í community life. During the Nineteen Day Feast the friends living in a particular locality gather to pray and consult together, give suggestions to the Local Spiritual Assembly, and receive information from it.
In addition, the Assembly is intimately concerned with the wellbeing of the wider community. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has written that the discussions of a Local Spiritual Assembly “must all be confined to spiritual matters that pertain to the training of souls, the instruction of children, the relief of the poor, the help of the feeble throughout all classes in the world, kindness to all peoples, the diffusion of the fragrances of God and the exaltation of His Holy Word.”1
The Local Assembly is elected each year by secret ballot. All Bahá’ís over the age of 21 are eligible to vote, and are asked to do so in a spirit of prayer. Each participant chooses the nine adult individuals from the community that he or she feels will be best able to serve in this capacity. There is no prepared ballot—or any other system of nominations—and the entire process is free of any trace of electioneering, canvassing, or propaganda.
Service on a Local Spiritual Assembly is viewed as a privilege, but not one that is sought by the individual. It is a responsibility to which he or she may be called at any given time. Of the qualities of those called to serve for a period on an Assembly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes: “The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold.”2 Referring to their consultations, He states: “The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the assembly.” “They must be wholly free from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God”, He continues, “for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden.”3 He counsels that they must express their views “with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation” and warns that their task is to “search out the truth” and not to “insist upon their own opinion”, as “persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden.”4 He further forbids any one to belittle the thought of another and states that ill-feeling should not be allowed to arise. “In short”, He avers, “whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness.”5