The International Teaching Centre
In making decisions, the International Teaching Centre acts as a corporate body. However, the discharge of its duties also requires its members to travel. During their travels, the International Counsellors will at times present the views of the Teaching Centre and at others offer general advice and encouragement.
The International Teaching Centre works principally through the Continental Counsellors in accomplishing its objectives; its advice to the Counsellors enables them and their auxiliaries to draw on its insights in their interactions with the friends. Thus its access to Spiritual Assemblies and individual Bahá’ís, apart from certain international pioneers and travelling teachers, is indirect. The Teaching Centre does not correspond with Spiritual Assemblies or Regional Councils. If it receives letters from them, or from individuals that are not concerned with pioneering or travel-teaching, it refers them to the Universal House of Justice.
Among the structures that help facilitate the efforts of the International Teaching Centre and the Continental Counsellors in the promotion of pioneering and travel-teaching are the Continental Pioneer Committees, which work under the Teaching Centre’s direction. Their functions reinforce those of the National Spiritual Assemblies and their agencies.
The correspondence of the International Teaching Centre with the Continental Counsellors is intended for their guidance and information and as a resource that assists them in carrying out their duties. In consulting with a National Spiritual Assembly, a Counsellor may decide to share a letter from the Teaching Centre in its entirety, or parts thereof, with the Assembly. But he or she may also choose not to do so in order, for instance, to avoid the impression that the Assembly is being induced to give greater attention to the views propounded.
Should circumstances prevent the Universal House of Justice from making new appointments at the end of any five-year term, the International Teaching Centre will continue to function until such time as appointments can be made.
Within the lines of policy set by the Universal House of Justice, each Continental Board of Counsellors has wide discretion to decide such matters as the division of its continental area into zones and the delineation of the boundaries of the zones. While there is great value in the meeting of a group of Counsellors to consult on the conditions and needs of countries in a specific zone, care should be taken that undue emphasis on zonal groups not turn them into rigid structures.
Each Board of Counsellors determines the procedures in accordance with which its members are to administer the work of the Auxiliary Boards, travel in the area under the jurisdiction of the Board, relate to National Spiritual Assemblies, and interact with Regional Councils, Local Spiritual Assemblies and individuals.
Each Board makes arrangements for the handling of its correspondence, designates its official address and establishes a central office and, if need be, auxiliary offices. Documents pertaining to the purchase or rent of property for offices and ownership of equipment may be held in the name of the Board of Counsellors, if it is legally acceptable, and if not, in the name of a Spiritual Assembly or a trusted individual. As to legal recognition, at present it is adequate for the Continental Boards to benefit from the recognition granted to National Spiritual Assemblies.
The work of the Board’s offices should be carried on in the name of the Continental Board of Counsellors and not in the name of the office itself. The letters of the Board of Counsellors are each signed by one of the Counsellors on its behalf and not with the impersonal designation: “Continental Board of Counsellors”.
Both the Continental Boards of Counsellors, and the individual members thereof, correspond directly with the Bahá’í World Centre on any number of issues related to the work of the institution. Under normal circumstances, all such correspondence is sent to the International Teaching Centre, which shares it with the Universal House of Justice and its agencies at the World Centre as needed. The Counsellors may also write to the Universal House of Justice, or any of its agencies, as individual believers. In addition, they may correspond directly with the Office of Social and Economic Development at the World Centre, whether in the capacity of Counsellors or as individual believers, on matters related to development.
Counsellors may correspond with National Spiritual Assemblies outside their continent as needs may arise.
A Counsellor can send a newsletter to a group of Auxiliary Board members and their assistants or address a circular letter to the Local Spiritual Assemblies or the believers in an area. However, if a Counsellor were to prepare a document in a newsletter format for regular distribution to the believers in a community, this would cause confusion in the minds of the friends. Bulletins put out by the Continental Board of Counsellors, as by National Spiritual Assemblies themselves, are not subject to review by a reviewing committee; neither are the bulletins published and distributed by Auxiliary Board members for their assistants. Nevertheless, it is desirable to keep the National Assembly informed of such publications.
The files of the members of the Continental Boards of Counsellors and Auxiliary Boards belong to the institution; they are not to be regarded as personal files. A Board of Counsellors needs to ensure that provisions are in place for the proper upkeep of its files and for the disposition of the materials gathered by those friends whose term of service on the Boards has come to an end.
The statement that the Counsellors are free from those administrative functions assigned to elected bodies does not mean that they have no administrative duties. The Counsellors carry out numerous such tasks related to the operation of their offices, the funds at their disposal, and the work of the Auxiliary Board members. Further, they may be given assignments by the Universal House of Justice which require them to assume temporarily administrative functions normally exercised by an elected body.
Should the membership of a community drop to nine, a Counsellor may serve temporarily on the Local Spiritual Assembly, and as an officer if so elected, until a replacement is available.
If at any time and for any reason, communication with the Bahá’í World Centre is cut off, the Counsellors in each continent, collectively and individually, are to assist National Spiritual Assemblies to ensure the continuation of the teaching work and the normal administration of the Faith without interruption until communications can be restored.
Should it prove unfeasible at the end of any five-year term for the Universal House of Justice to review and renew the membership of the Continental Boards, the Boards are to continue to discharge their responsibilities, even if one or more of their members are unable to function, until propitious conditions prevail for the House of Justice to consider new appointments.
As appointed officers of the Faith, the Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members should receive the respect of the friends. Regarding the use of the word “Counsellor” to refer to a particular member of a Continental Board of Counsellors, there is no objection to doing this. However, the exaggerated use of titles related to these ranks is undesirable. The title should not become inseparable from a Counsellor’s personal name, as would be the case of referring to a member of the Board of Counsellors as, for example, “Counsellor Jones”. Nor is it advisable to address them simply as “Counsellor”.
It is natural that at times, for example, in introducing someone, his or her past services as a member of a Board of Counsellors would be mentioned. However, it should be understood that “Former Counsellor” is not a title carried by a person.
It is not necessary for a Continental Board of Counsellors to consult with National Spiritual Assemblies on specific appointments of Auxiliary Board members. The decision whether or not to do so is left entirely to the Counsellors.
The Board of Counsellors can make changes in the membership of an Auxiliary Board at any time during the five-year term of office, if it finds that, for whatever reason, an Auxiliary Board member is unable to carry out the assigned functions.
The question as to which of the two Boards—Propagation or Protection—a Local Spiritual Assembly or individual believer should turn to on a particular issue is not a matter to be regulated, but can be gradually clarified as experience is gained at the local level. If an Auxiliary Board member feels that a matter would have been better referred to his or her colleague, this could easily be arranged.
While membership on an Auxiliary Board should be regarded as a valid reason for resignation from a National Spiritual Assembly, if there are special circumstances for which the Assembly feels it would be detrimental to the interests of the Faith for a Board member to resign, but he or she insists on doing so, the matter should be referred to the Universal House of Justice. Pending its decision, the Board member should continue his or her membership on the National Assembly and explain the situation to the Continental Board of Counsellors.
There may be special circumstances within a country that make it necessary for a believer to serve both on an Auxiliary Board and on a committee, or even on the National Spiritual Assembly or a Regional Council, if elected. In each instance, this is seen as a temporary measure, put in place at the instruction of the Universal House of Justice.
There are a number of situations that can arise related to Auxiliary Board members and the electoral process which are left to the decision of the National Spiritual Assembly. These include the procedure to be followed if an Auxiliary Board member declines to serve as a delegate, when elected; whether it is permissible to ask Auxiliary Board members to serve as tellers; and the timing of the election of officers when an Auxiliary Board member elected to the Assembly asks for time to choose one or the other avenue of service. A delegate who is appointed to an Auxiliary Board may continue to serve as a delegate until the next National Convention.
It is preferable for an Auxiliary Board member not to be elected as an officer of a unit convention; however, if so elected, he or she may accept, without having to resign from the Auxiliary Board.
A ballot in the election of a Spiritual Assembly or Regional Council or for the delegates to a National Convention should not be invalidated because it contains the name of a member of an Auxiliary Board.
Auxiliary Board members may be appointed Deputies or Representatives of Ḥuqúqu’lláh.
As with the Counsellors, should the membership of a community drop to nine, an Auxiliary Board member may serve temporarily on the Local Spiritual Assembly, and as an officer if elected, until a replacement is available. An Auxiliary Board member need not ask for permission to serve on a Local Assembly under these circumstances, but should notify the Board of Counsellors accordingly.
There is no objection to the appointment of youth as assistants to Auxiliary Board members. The matter is left to the discretion of the Counsellors.
Officers of elected bodies may be appointed assistants to Auxiliary Board members. Much depends upon local circumstances, and members of the Auxiliary Boards are to exercise wisdom and discretion in making such appointments.
It is not appropriate for Auxiliary Board members to appoint assistants to help them solely in doing clerical and office work.
A Propagation or Protection Board member in an area may use the services of an assistant appointed by the other member, provided it is cleared with him or her first. The two Board members can arrive at an understanding between them so that every case need not be discussed separately.
While it would not be wise to give one assistant a regular supervisory role over other assistants, there is no reason to prevent a member of the Auxiliary Board from asking one of his or her assistants, as and when a need may arise, to extend help, provide guidance, and deepen the knowledge and understanding of other assistants.
Assistants who are members of a Spiritual Assembly, Regional Council, or committee do not function as assistants in the context of that membership, and they have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations as does any other member.
Interactions with National, Regional and Local Administrative Bodies
Although ordinarily Counsellors are not in contact with national committees, a National Spiritual Assembly may authorize a direct relationship between the two for a special purpose and for a certain period of time.
Normally in deliberations between the Counsellors—individually, in groups, or as an entire Board—and a National Spiritual Assembly, the chairman of the Assembly presides. There may be circumstances in which the Assembly invites one of the Counsellors to chair a session. When several National Spiritual Assemblies are represented in a meeting called by the Counsellors, it would be appropriate for one of the Counsellors to chair the consultation.
It is natural for the friends to turn to the Counsellors for advice in case of need, even if the individuals concerned are members of the National Spiritual Assembly. This does not, of course, mean that the Counsellors would encourage the National Assembly members to regularly share with them matters which are the direct concern of the Assembly.
It is within the discretion of a National Spiritual Assembly to share its minutes, or parts thereof, with the Counsellors. However, it is inappropriate for a Continental Board of Counsellors to share minutes of its meetings with National Spiritual Assemblies. If the Board of Counsellors agrees, a National Spiritual Assembly may share copies of its minutes with the Auxiliary Board members in the country.
A Spiritual Assembly or Regional Council may decide to include in its minutes, or to attach to them as an appendix, a record of advice or information given orally to it by a Counsellor. If the Counsellor wishes to review the wording of such a record for accuracy, this courtesy should of course be extended to him or her. Such a verification is clearly not the same thing as submitting the minutes themselves to the approval of an external authority.
Although a National Spiritual Assembly may decide to encourage the Local Assemblies under its jurisdiction to share their minutes with the Auxiliary Board members in their area in order to develop close communication, Local Assemblies are not required to do so. This is left to their discretion.
The Counsellors do not receive instructions about their work from National Spiritual Assemblies. However, as individual believers, they are always under the jurisdiction of the National Spiritual Assembly wherever they may happen to be. If a National Assembly learns of specific instances when something said or done by a Counsellor may be harmful to the work of the Cause, it should deal with the problem promptly by discussing the matter lovingly but frankly with the Counsellors, citing specific examples.
If a National Spiritual Assembly believes that the actions of an Auxiliary Board member are giving rise to problems, it should refer the matter to the Counsellors rather than approach the Board member directly. But where the matter is purely personal, it may be preferable for the Assembly to take it up with the Board member initially in the hope that the problem can be solved confidentially, although, of course, any serious problem with a Board member should be reported to the Counsellors in any case.
An Auxiliary Board member is subject to the same sanctions as any other believer in connection with his or her actions as an individual Bahá’í. In the first instance, however, before the National Spiritual Assembly takes such an action, the matter needs to be discussed with the Counsellors.
If a member of the Auxiliary Board finds any problem with the workings of the National Spiritual Assembly or one of its agencies which he or she feels requires attention, it is his or her obligation to report it to the Counsellors, who in turn, if they agree, will handle the matter with the National Assembly involved.
The administration and education of Auxiliary Board members are duties discharged by the Counsellors, and the training of assistants is a direct concern of the Auxiliary Board members. A National Spiritual Assembly cannot assume these responsibilities. If the Counsellors and a National Assembly conclude in their consultations that in order for an Auxiliary Board member to work effectively in a particular area of endeavour some specific training is required, this could be arranged by the Counsellors.
It is not necessary for an Auxiliary Board member to deputize an assistant to meet with a Local Spiritual Assembly. Assistants may meet with Local Spiritual Assemblies as they pursue the specific tasks assigned to them by the Board members. There are, of course, occasions when an Auxiliary Board member asks an assistant to meet with an Assembly on a particular matter.
An assistant may undertake a specific task requested by a National or Local Spiritual Assembly in his or her capacity as an individual believer, but not as an assistant.
It is inappropriate for assistants to meet with the National Spiritual Assembly in their capacity as assistants.
Auxiliary Board members do not direct Local Spiritual Assemblies or individual believers in their activities, but are entirely free to make suggestions and recommendations they judge wise and necessary. Further, they help Local Assemblies to achieve the level of spiritual unity, activity and development enjoined in the writings. It falls on the Auxiliary Board members to build up a warm and loving relationship with Local Spiritual Assemblies and believers so that they will spontaneously turn to them for advice and assistance.
In the relationship between Auxiliary Board members and Local Spiritual Assemblies, to overstress distinctions is not only unnecessary but detrimental to the spirit of loving collaboration and encouragement which is essential to the progress of the Faith in every locality. The differentials of rank, functions or procedures between agencies of the Bahá’í administration are meant to canalize, not obstruct, the work of the Cause; all these features of the administration are properly viewed in the context of humble service to the Blessed Perfection, which is the loftiest objective of all who gather under the banner of the Most Great Name.
It should not be assumed that collaboration between the Counsellors and their auxiliaries, on the one hand, and Assemblies and their agencies, on the other, implies that they must be actively involved in the same project at the same time. No doubt, in many cases simultaneous participation would be useful and even necessary, but the work of the Counsellors, of the National Spiritual Assembly and of all their subsidiary institutions can well be carried on separately and at different times, provided that they do not conflict and that information on the work done and the results achieved is shared fully and freely.
In general, it is not the task of Auxiliary Board members, but rather that of the Spiritual Assemblies, to deal with the personal problems of individuals and conflicts between them and with disciplinary matters. However, the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants are vital elements of the Bahá’í Administrative Order, with functions which include the counselling of believers. If a believer approaches an Auxiliary Board member or an assistant with a personal matter, it is for the Board member or assistant to decide whether to give advice or ask the believer to turn to the Spiritual Assembly.
In reaching a decision on whether or not to pioneer, a believer is free to consult with the National Spiritual Assembly and its executive agencies or with a Counsellor or Auxiliary Board member. Any one of these individuals or agencies is similarly free to initiate such consultation and offer suggestions, leaving the final decision in the matter to the believer concerned. The role of the Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members in the promotion of pioneering is of particular significance. The Board members are in an especially advantageous position to provide the friends with information from the documents at their disposal regarding the needs of the Faith. Once a believer decides to enter this field of service, he or she should be referred by the Board member to the proper channel, whether it be a national agency or the Continental Pioneer Committee, which will handle the administrative details.
Responsibility for administering travel-teaching projects falls on the National Assembly and its attendant agencies. This does not preclude contacts between travelling teachers and the Counsellors or Auxiliary Board members. Indeed, such contact can assist both parties provided it is recognized that administrative authority in these matters rests with the Assemblies and their committees.
With their continental perspective, the Counsellors can readily identify opportunities for collaboration between neighbouring national communities, especially in areas near their borders, and even across continental boundaries. In such instances the Counsellors are encouraged to arrange consultations between the relevant National Spiritual Assemblies and help them design effective collaborative ventures.
In parts of certain continents, the distribution of Bahá’í literature represents a formidable challenge, in which case the Board of Counsellors may create a mechanism attached to the office of one of its members to disseminate information about literature and monitor the situation in the countries affected. In this capacity, the Counsellor involved would be free to communicate with Publishing Trusts as needed.
Counsellors are alert to opportunities in their areas, both inside and outside the Bahá’í community, for the believers to become involved in activities of social and economic development. They focus both on encouraging individual initiative in this field of endeavour and on creating the capacity within the appropriate organizations to design and implement programmes. Their work entails consultation with National Spiritual Assemblies and Regional Councils on the role that social and economic development efforts are to play in the growth of the community and on how they are to complement activities for expansion and consolidation. The Counsellors’ intimate involvement with training institutes enables them to help these agencies undertake training in the area of social and economic development and even to implement projects, when the institutes are strong enough to do so.
Counsellors present at a National Convention are accorded the freedom to participate in the deliberations. Counsellors also have the right of the floor at the International Convention, but, since there is so little time and so many delegates, they refrain from exercising this right, for the most part.
If no Counsellors can attend a National Convention, they may appoint for that Convention one or two Auxiliary Board members to act as their special deputies. Auxiliary Board members present at a National Convention who are not deputized by the Counsellors do not have the privilege of the floor unless this is given to them by the Convention.
The Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assemblies need to work together to ensure that the sanctity of Bahá’í elections is not violated. Educating the believers in the fundamentals of Bahá’í elections during the year and acquainting the delegates with the sacred nature of their responsibility are activities that can be performed within the framework of collaboration between the two institutions. Auxiliary Board members and their assistants may participate in efforts to help the friends in the elections of Local Assemblies, Regional Councils and delegates. One practice that has proved fruitful is for the National Spiritual Assembly to arrange for a meeting on the day or evening before the National Convention, during which one or more Counsellors speak to the delegates on the spiritual significance of Bahá’í elections and the duties of a delegate.
The Counsellors should watch carefully for practices which might be construed, correctly or otherwise, to be electioneering. When such practices are observed, the Counsellors should bring the matter to the attention of the National Spiritual Assembly in an appropriate manner. In the event that there are significant departures from established Bahá’í procedure in the conduct of a National Convention, the Counsellors or their representatives attending the Convention should advise the Bahá’í World Centre.
There is wide scope for Counsellors to call special gatherings involving a number of national communities, but such conferences should be approved at the Bahá’í World Centre before any implementation. Furthermore, it is appropriate for the Counsellors to suggest to the National Assemblies concerned the holding of international conferences, for example, international youth conferences, and to encourage activities which would generate the enthusiasm needed for the events.
The Counsellors may hold conferences for the Auxiliary Board members in an entire continent or any portion thereof. It may be desirable at times to invite National Assembly members to meet with Board members at these conferences, assisting them if necessary from the Continental Fund.
Within a national community, conferences and seminars are called by the National Spiritual Assembly or its committees, and not by the Counsellors or Auxiliary Board members. This is to avoid an impression of two parallel series of conferences in the same country, one of which is under the aegis of the National Assembly and the other under that of the Counsellors.
An Auxiliary Board member may invite the members of a few neighbouring Local Spiritual Assemblies within his or her area of responsibility to a conference for consultation on projects or problems affecting them. Clearly Auxiliary Board members can also call meetings for their assistants on their own initiative.
Budgets, Subvention Funds and Properties
Counsellors are free to consult with a National Spiritual Assembly about the relative magnitudes of the allocations from the National Fund for various purposes.
An important aspect of the consultations between Counsellors and a National Spiritual Assembly is the use of subvention funds at the disposition of the Counsellors. While the purposes of these various funds are each well defined, there is a great deal of flexibility in their application. Funds to help in the promotion of literature and audiovisual materials can be used, for example, to subsidize partially or fully the purchase, translation, and production of various items; to develop core literature programmes; or to enhance the capacity of Publishing Trusts and agencies to produce and distribute literature and audiovisual materials in an efficient and financially viable manner. Subvention funds for the promotion of teaching can be made available to enable a National Assembly to take advantage of unexpected immediate opportunities, to assist long-term endeavours, or even to support programmes for the growth of the Faith in an entire area. Other funds are placed at the disposition of the Counsellors for the operation of training institutes, the deputization of some of their staff, and for small capital expenses. The mechanisms for the disbursement of all these funds are established by the International Teaching Centre, as needs dictate.
Counsellors or their deputies may consult with Regional Councils in formulating their annual budgets, which are then submitted to the National Spiritual Assembly for its approval. It is also within the discretion of the Counsellors to allocate financial assistance to a Regional Council from the subvention funds at their disposition.
The administration of Bahá’í properties, in all its aspects, is an issue to be dealt with by National Spiritual Assemblies and does not normally fall within the area of the Counsellors’ responsibility. However, if at any time the Counsellors should observe that matters related to a given property are proving to be prejudicial to the best interests of the Faith, they have the obligation to bring their concerns to the attention of the National Assembly.
Each Continental Board of Counsellors submits its budget to the International Teaching Centre at the beginning of the year. If the projected contributions to the Continental Fund do not meet the expected expenditures, the Board receives assistance from the Bahá’í International Fund.
A Continental Board of Counsellors is, in principle, free to contribute from the Continental Fund to any Bahá’í Fund or undertaking as it wishes. It will, naturally, hesitate to do so if its operations are being subsidized by the Bahá’í International Fund.
There is no objection to the Counsellors’ sharing, partly or wholly, the details of the Continental Fund with the National Spiritual Assemblies or the friends in the continent they serve. Although this practice is not encouraged, the decision in such matters lies entirely with the Board of Counsellors itself.
National communities are not in the same stage of development, and circumstances vary greatly from one community to another. Thus, in educating the friends on the funds of the Faith, the Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members may choose to place emphasis on the Local and National Funds in some areas, while in others they also include the Continental Fund in their general appeal to the friends. It would be permissible, and indeed desirable, for many National and Local Assemblies to call for contributions to the Continental Fund.
Auxiliary Board members and their assistants should not ordinarily be involved in the active collection of contributions to the Continental Fund. Such contributions can be made through Local Spiritual Assemblies and the National Spiritual Assembly, as well as directly to the Continental Fund when the Counsellors have made provisions for this. However, an Auxiliary Board member or an assistant who is requested to do so by the friends, particularly in remote areas, may accept from them a contribution for transmittal to the Continental or other Funds, for the sake of convenience.
Expenses for the Auxiliary Board members to carry out their work should, if necessary, be met by the Continental Fund. If the need exists, a Board of Counsellors may decide to provide a budget to an Auxiliary Board member so that he or she can serve the Faith full time for a predetermined period. In making this decision, the Counsellors need to consider the long-term implications of such a step.
Normally, because of the localized nature of the work of the assistants, they are able to perform their duties without support from the Continental Fund.
While it is possible for the friends to channel deputization for a training institute teacher through any Fund that is convenient, the emphasis on the Continental Fund is significant since the Counsellors are in a position to identify institutes needing such support. Earmarked contributions for this purpose channelled through the Local or National Fund would ultimately be turned over to the relevant Continental Fund for disbursement.