The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Leicester was established in 1957, incorporated in 1963 and has functioned continuously since then.
There are no priests or ministers in the Bahá'í Faith, no clergy of any kind. There are no sacramental duties to perform, so no need of anyone to perform them. There are no positions in the Bahá'í community akin to that of the Imam in the Muslim community or the Granthi in the Sikh. It's an incontrovertible principle of the Bahá'í system that power and authority reside not in individuals, but in the elected institutions. Those people elected as members of these institutions have no rank, power or authority as individuals. Although the media, government and so on may describe individuals such as the chairperson of the local or National Spiritual Assembly "Bahá'í leaders", as a parallel with what is to be found in other religious communities, this is incorrect. The institution is the leader, not any of the individuals who comprise its membership.
One of the clearest description of the duties and functions of the Spiritual Assembly is to be found in this extract from a letter written in 1972 by the Universal House of Justice (the central authority for the worldwide Bahá'í community) to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Bolivia. Although this letter is 40 years old, the guidance is just as relevant today. I've set this below in bullet points for ease of reading here.
Local Spiritual Assemblies are at the present newly born institutions, struggling for the most part to establish themselves both in the Bahá'í community and in the world. They are as yet only embryos of the majestic institutions ordained by Bahá'u'lláh in His Writings.... What we find expounded in the writings of our Faith is the lofty station Local Spiritual Assemblies must attain in their gradual and at times painful development.... Among the more salient objectives to be attained by the Local Spiritual Assembly in its process of development to full maturity are to
In its relationship to the individual believer, the Assembly should continuously invite and encourage him [or her]
- act as a loving shepherd to the Bahá'í flock,
- promote unity and concord among the friends,
- direct the teaching work,
- protect the Cause of God,
- arrange for Feasts, Anniversaries and regular meetings of the community,
- familiarize the Bahá'ís with its plans,
- invite the community to offer its recommendations,
- promote the welfare of youth and children,
- and participate, as circumstances permit, in humanitarian activities.
In its own meetings it must endeavour to develop skill in the difficult but highly rewarding art of Bahá'í consultation, a process which will require great self-discipline on the part of all members and complete reliance on the power of Bahá'u'lláh. It should hold regular meetings and ensure that all its members are currently informed of the activities of the Assembly, that its Secretary carries out his [or her] duties, and its Treasurer holds and disburses the funds of the Faith to its satisfaction, keeping proper accounts and issuing receipts for all contributions.
- to study the Faith,
- to deliver its glorious message,
- to live in accordance with its teachings,
- to contribute freely and regularly to the Fund,
- to participate in community activities,
- and to seek refuge in the Assembly for advice and help, when needed.
At the meeting this evening, we read a few prayers before and after the election, as is customary. We remember our fellow Bahá'ís in Iran, suffering persecution for their beliefs, and our fellows closer to home who are ill or in need of comfort or support. In a little innovation, I read a prayer of Bahá'u'lláh off my iPhone on which I have an app featuring an extensive collection of Bahá'í prayers.