239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
39
 | 
May 19, 1912
Jersey City, NJ
Storify Feature

The Brotherhood Church of Howard Colby Ives

“IT WAS AN IMPRESSIVE, even to me a thrilling sight,” Howard Colby Ives later wrote, “when the majestic figure of the Master strode up the aisle of the Brotherhood Church.” It was Sunday, May 19, 1912.

Although Ives was employed as a Unitarian pastor in Summit, New Jersey, he had started the Brotherhood Church on his own. Every Sunday evening he held a service in the large hall at the Masonic Temple at Bergen and Fairview Avenues in Jersey City. On this evening, 500 people were waiting to hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Ives seated ‘Abdu’l-Bahá directly behind the pulpit and began an introduction. “You know something of his life probably,” Ives told the congregation. “[H]e has spent over forty years in prison. . . . He comes out of this prison and steps into the great societies of Paris, London and America. He finds the world open to receive him. He comes with nothing to back him. He has no great letters of credit; he does not even speak our language.”

Five weeks before, Ives had stood amid 300 people wedged into a crowded home on West End Avenue in the Upper West Side, just a few hours after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had arrived in America. All he could get that day were a few glimpses of the visitor. He peered over a shoulder and saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seated, wearing a cream-colored turban and a white oriental robe, and accepting a cup of tea. But what impressed him the most was the silence in the room.

It was something he often noticed around this visiting Persian. “I looked at this stillness, this quietude, this immeasurable calm in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and it filled me with a restless longing akin to despair.” The pattern runs throughout his autobiography: the middle-aged clergyman thrown into turmoil as he contemplates the inscrutable serenity of the former prisoner.


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He felt it again at the Brotherhood Church on May 19. After Ives’s introduction, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the pulpit. “Because this is called the Church of Brotherhood,” the Master began, “I wish to speak upon the brotherhood of mankind.”

Ives would later reflect: “As that beautifully resonant voice rang through the room, accenting with an emphasis I had never before heard the word Brotherhood, shame crept into my heart. Surely this Man recognized connotations to that word which I, who had named the church, had never known.”

Howard Colby Ives had been unable to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on that first day on the Upper West Side. And so he came early to the Hotel Ansonia on April 12, the next morning. But he didn’t have an appointment and another crowd was already waiting. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s eyes met Ives’s.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s right hand grasped Ives’s, drew him into an adjoining room, and, with his left hand, he waved everyone else out — including his translator, Dr. Fareed. The two men sat quietly for a long while, in two chairs facing each other at the bay window. Finally, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá broke the silence — in English.

“Softly came the assurance that I was His very dear son.” The Reverend began to weep. “A long-pent stream was at last undammed,” he commented. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá pressed his two thumbs to Ives’s eyes and wiped the tears away.

Five weeks later, Ives sat among the congregation at the Brotherhood Church and watched ‘Abdu’l-Bahá look down at him from the pulpit and smile. He listened as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá described the disciples that had circled around Bahá’u’lláh: “Their bestowals and susceptibilities became one, their purposes one purpose, their desires one desire to such a degree that they sacrificed themselves for each other, forfeiting name, possessions and comfort. Their fellowship became indissoluble.”

Howard Colby Ives soon left the ministry. He spent the rest of his life teaching Americans about Bahá’u'lláh. In 1920, he married Mabel Rice-Wray. They answered an advertisement for traveling salespeople so they could set out across America, sold off all their possessions, and lived out of trunks and suitcases until their dying day.

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  • Delores Robinson-Smith

    This stunning account of the spiritual birth of Howard Colby Ives touched my heart..and the actions of truest love and affection Abdu’l-Baha surrounded  Mr. Colby Ives with brought me to a fountain of tears of profound joy that I cannot describe..nor could I stop the tears.  Thank you so much.

  • Duane

    I cannot properly start my day without first reading the daily column on this site. Thank you for writing that is a delightful mix of secular matters of the day with the spiritualizing spell of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. -Duane

    • Rob Sockett

      Thanks Duane. Glad to help you start your day! 

  • Robertahodgin

    A beautiful story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pascal-Molineaux/1203381202 Pascal Molineaux

    The warmth and tranquil serenity of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, his ability to see through one’s soul, transformed Howard Colby Ives into one fully dedicated to the spiritual welfare of his fellow citizens, leaving a moving  and long-lasting testimony of the extraodinary power of ‘Abdul- Bahá’s words and love.  What a gentle and moving gesture, to so wipe his tears! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/estherbill Esther Bradley-deTally

    I adore these posts.  If anyone has not read Portals to Freedom, they must.  I am not a person who pulls out “You Must,” from her side pockets, but now I’m on a roll.  Fires in Many Hearts by Doris McKay, incredible.  Reveals more of the early believers, including Ives, Louis Gregory, May Maxwell, the Obers, living in Pittsburgh during the Depression, and then of course from Copper to Gold, Dorothy Baker, to whom Doris McKay was a close friend.  Sheltering Branch is out of print; find a Baha’i and borrow it.  Small book, with 600 pounds of soul in it by Marzieh Gail.  Not Every Sea Hath Pearls, and of course all the new books which are pricey, but cheaper than an airplane to Mt. Carmel – one on Abdu’l-Baha, one on Tahireh, one, Lighting the Western Sky, and The Maxwells, and oh, Balyuzi’s Abdu’l-Baha.  My Lord, you would think i was going on to the next world and leaving my literary instructions.  Dear ones out there, these are stories that animate the soul, connect you to the loved ones you didn’t know, and you’ll feel somedays as if your soul trusly wears pajamas with feet in them.

    • Marali8

      Esther, thanks for this! i have been hunting for names of the past to read about their lives.  These American Bahais were wonderful and i really would like to know more about them.

      • http://www.facebook.com/estherbill Esther Bradley-deTally

        just saw this – where do you live? the earlier souls sustain me; i love memoir and write and teach, so i love narrative! any book recommendations you want, i’ll give; high regards

  • David Bulman

    “Softly came the assurance that I was His very dear son.”
    How we all wish that we had been sitting in Mr. Ives’s place. Perhaps he was there on our behalf!

    • Tony Bristow-Stagg

       David – I always think it would have been great as well.

      Then I think of how much could have been done for the Faith if the world had not got in the way. I then think I would be ashamed to look into those eyes.

      There is little time for us, now is the time to be active.

      Regards Tony

  • Pdreynol

    While I have read many books about ‘Abdu’l Baha and his travels I somehow missed (forgot?) this lovely tale of Ives discovering his heart’s hidden Master. Thank you for all the hours you dear souls have put into preparing this project.

  • Karridine

    Serving as Groundskeeper to work my way through summer school at the (now-dismantled) Geyserville Baha’i School in the summer of 1967, I was charmed to see the daughter of (Hand of the Cause of God) William Sears playing on the swings with the two sons of (Continental Counsellor) Fred Schecter. I wasn’t ‘mooning’ over her, but I was definitely expecting truly spiritual utterances and deeds from the 5-year-old young lady.

    “Please, may I have MY turn? It is MY turn on the swings…”
    (She is SO courteous! I remarked to myself…)

    “Please! We promised, and you promised, and it IS my turn…”
    (Ah, she is courteously assertive, I remarked to myself….)

    “If you don’t let me swing, I’ll hit you with this STICK!”
    (Urk! rewind, rewind…)

    • Rob Sockett

      Delightful little story. Thanks for sharing. The impatience of youth!

    • Nancy

      William Sears didn’t have a daughter [two sons] and was 56 by 1967, having been born in 1911. He had a granddaughter, Marguerite, and we knew her living in Tucson where he retired.

  • Carmel

    Wonderful read, thank you for sharing.

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