History of Baha'is in Oak Park
The Baha'i Community of Oak Park, Illinois is one of the oldest Baha'i communities in the United States. Believers of the Baha'i Faith lived in the Oak Park area since 1898, when the Faith was little known and followers in the West were few. These individuals were active participants in the growing Baha'i Community in the Chicago Area.
In 1912, Abdu'l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Faith, Baha'u'llah, visited North America and in particular Chicago. He spoke on many occasions and he met with the Baha'is in the area. One special occasion that he attended was the laying of the cornerstone of the Mother Temple of North America, the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette. The 75th Anneversary of this historic day was celebrated recently. The present seating plan in the auditorium of the House of Worship was designed for its dedication in 1953 by an architect from Oak Park who was a Baha'i.
Abdu'l-Baha's visit to North America was a significant step in the growth of the Faith in both the United States and throughout the world. He spoke at many distinguished gatherings in the area such as the Theosophical Society at Northwestern, Hull House, and the NAACP bringing the message of the unity of mankind and world peace.
The burgeoning Baha'i communities in the Chicago area continued to grow and 1940 saw the establishment of the first Spiritual Assembly of Oak Park. A Spiritual Assembly is established in any community that has nine or more members and it is the 'grassroots' portion of the administrative body of the Faith. Since there are no clergy in the Faith, the Spiritual Assembly conducts the affairs of the community, provides guidance to the individual members and is the communication channel to other Baha'is in America and in the world. For the still small national Baha'i community, the establishment of a local spiritual assembly was a landmark event and the national administrative body, the National Spiritual Assembly, sent a representative to witness its formation.
In 1954, the Spiritual Assembly of Oak Park became incorporated in the State of Illinois, one of the earliest assemblies to do so in the United States. This incorporation provided legal recognition which allowed the Assembly to perform marriages and burials as a legal entity.
The Oak Park Baha'i Community holds a distinguished place in the early history of the Baha'i Faith in North America. This community has produced many individuals who have risen to prominence in the Faith in administrative service, both nationally and internationally. The first Baha'i civil marriage in the United States was in 1934 for an Oak Park couple. Many former Oak Parkers moved to locations throughout the world and became exceptional teachers for the Faith and contributing members to their adopted countries.