The COVID-19 pandemic lent new urgency to Sharon Karnik’s efforts to start a regular devotional gathering in her neighborhood.
Four years ago Karnik found herself with “no one who depended on me.” All she “really wanted to do was serve the Baha’i Faith,” she recalls.
After a lot of prayer she moved into a 300-unit apartment complex in Raleigh, North Carolina.
For some time, though, none of her efforts to invite her neighbors met with success. “I knocked on doors. I baked cookies for people that moved in after me. I even tried to get a drumming group going in the complex,” she says.
Then early this year came the pandemic, bringing “anxiety and stress” as it forced people to shelter in place.
About the same time, every Baha’i household across the country was urged to host a regular gathering for the sharing of prayers.
“After prayer, I was inspired to invite the neighbors in my building to come together in the open breezeway, keeping distance, so that we could check in with each other,” says Karnik.
“I put handwritten notes on attractive stationery on each neighbor’s door and set the early evening date to meet up. I told them that I would wait in the breezeway and hoped to meet everyone.”
Two families came, she says. “One family is a young couple — late 20s with an infant — who lives two floors down from me, and the other family lives across the hall from me — a couple with two college-age children.”
When the gathering ended, “Both families expressed thanks that I had reached out to them,” says Karnik. The following week they met again, and they set up a texting group to communicate between gatherings.
At the third session, says Karnik, “We prayed together, each person — including the youth — offering a prayer from their faith.”
One neighbor suggested the group meet weekly, and Karnik suggested they say prayers together each time. All readily agreed.
“This is what we’ve been doing for 10 weeks,” she says, “ and each week I’ve been introducing a topic of social importance to elevate our conversations.”
The heightened awareness this spring of racial inequalities opened the door wider, so Karnik in early June gave each family a copy of The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue, a 1991 statement from the national Baha’i governing council.
The unfoldment of this gathering “is definitely a learning experience” for Karnik.
“I’m endeavoring to be mindful of responses, reactions and feedback from my neighbors in order to assess opportunities [for meaningful conversation], and we are all becoming increasingly familiar with each other. I look forward to seeing how this develops.”