Function of LSA Officers

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Function of LSA Officers

Postby jenniferatemple » Sat Aug 20, 2016 12:43 pm

Can anyone point to any authoritative document or compilation about the actual functioning of an LSA with particular reference to the officers. I have asked our LSA to put such an issue on the next agenda; when the topic comes up for consultation I want to be able to consult with both references and calm reason.

Edited with concern about appropriateness of my commentary.

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Re: Function of LSA Officers

Postby brettz9 » Sun Aug 21, 2016 12:58 am

Hi Jennifer,

As far as an authoritative document or compilation about the functioning of an LSA with reference to officers, if you are in the U.S., the compilation Developing Distinctive Baha'i Communities is maybe the closest thing, and the latest version can be found online within the U.S. Baha'i website at (Baha'i ID and password required) (Under "Resources->Forms & Manuals->Guidelines for Assemblies" if you can't use the direct link).

If you are not in the U.S. or need more info, I've gathered some resources and links at such as some compilations created by the Baha'i World Centre on Local Spiritual Assemblies.

As an Assembly member, you have a right to bring an item to the attention of the Assembly and the Assembly can decide whether, when and how to put it on the agenda.

Regarding the Assembly agenda, Developing Distinctive Baha'i Communities states:

"The Universal House of Justice has made suggestions about the preparation of an agenda for National Secretaries which may also be applicable to Local Assemblies:

"The Agenda is usually prepared by the Secretary, sometimes in consultation with the Chairman or other member or members of the National Spiritual Assembly. Immediately after a Spiritual Assembly meeting, all items not cleared should be transferred to a new draft Agenda in preparation for the next meeting. Then, as each new matter arises, it should be entered under the appropriate heading. In this way the Agenda can be built up gradually. A few days before the Assembly meeting, the completed draft could be duplicated for the members. At the beginning of each meeting, any additional urgent items which have developed or items which individual members wish to raise can be added."

(The Universal House of Justice, in "A Suggested Guide for National Secretaries'", enclosed with a letter dated May 4, 1972, emphasis added)

The By-Laws for Local Spiritual Assemblies make clear that:

"The Spiritual Assembly, in the fulfillment of its obligations and responsibilities under this Corporation, shall have exclusive jurisdiction and authority over all the local activities and affairs of Bahá'í community of .... including paramount authority in the administration of this Corporation."

(By-Laws of a Local Spiritual Assembly)

So based on this, and given that the guidance is not fixed on how other Assembly members may raise issues to the Assembly agenda, it would even seem to me that if the Assembly wished to allow agenda items to be raised by individual members at any time (not only at the beginning of the meeting), it could also do so if it wished.

As far as the chairing of the Feast, the guidance under "Feast->Preparation for Feast" mentions that the LSA is responsible for the conduct of the Feast but often calls upon an individual or group thereof to make preparations, that they can act as hosts, and are sometimes concerned with the selection of devotions and may also attend to the social portion.

However, as far as consultation at the Feast, as per "Feast->Chairing the Feast", the chair is indeed the default person to take charge of the consultation at Feast. There is some additional guidance there, including the compilation editor stating that the Assembly may find it necessary or appropriate to delegate to another person, and that it is helpful to have a chair who can keep the discussion focused and moving and provide all members a chance to share their views.

It is thus within the authority of the Assembly to advise the Chair or Secretary as to how it wishes them to conduct their duties (e.g., to avoid introjecting opinions when reporting on Assembly decisions or to avoid overtaking duties of the Feast host during devotions, etc.) or to correct them if they are not fulfilling their duties according to the guidance from the Writings (e.g., as you say, not letting the Treasurer give their report).

So from the above, you as an Assembly member have the right to propose an item for your Assembly agenda, and if accepted, it is within your Assembly's purview to supervise the conduct of its officers.

Criticisms can even be offered by non-Assembly community members, but note however that such criticism of Assembly members or policy (whether by Assembly members or not) is not to be aired within the community (such as at Feast), but to be addressed to the institutions of the Faith:

"It is clear then that criticism is allowed, but it should be addressed to the institutions of the Faith and not aired in the community where it might foment division and misunderstandings."

Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated May 12, 1988, to individual believers

A decision made by the Assembly about such criticism brought to it, is also to be followed wholeheartedly:

"The Baha'is are fully entitled to address criticisms to their Assemblies; they can freely air their views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the Assembly, local or national, but then they must wholeheartedly accept the advice or decision of the Assembly, according to the principles already laid down for such matters in Baha'i administration."

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, May 13, 1945

(enclosed with a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated January 1, 1989, to a National Spiritual Assembly)

By the way, communities are encouraged, before elections, to discuss qualifications to be found in Assembly members (without reference to personalities). Maybe you could find a tactful way to raise your general concerns to the community about the need for certain qualities within Assembly members without putting anyone specifically on the spot: . As the electorate is to use elections to correct the defects of its members, I think such general discussions may provide a way to get people thinking about what qualities would be beneficial, though taking great care not to even indirectly finger individuals who may be lacking in these qualities.

In regard to reporting at Feast, the guidance from the U.S. NSA at least has in fact mentioned that the correspondence can be abridged, and that it is up to the Assembly to instruct the Secretary on this:

"All correspondence need not be read at the Feast. Instead, highlights of the letter can be read, or the correspondence can be shared through newsletters or placed on bulletin boards for review by the friends. The Assembly instructs the Secretary about what correspondence it wishes to share and whether the entire letter or just portions of the letter should be read."

Best wishes,

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Re: Function of LSA Officers

Postby jenniferatemple » Sun Aug 21, 2016 10:57 am

Brett, thank you for the above quotes. I was in hope of finding guidance from the UHJ or the BWC, specific to officers serving on Assemblies.

Edited for the reason stated in the first post. It occurred to me that the community might be identified by my prior posts.

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Re: Function of LSA Officers

Postby brettz9 » Sun Aug 21, 2016 1:15 pm

Most of the quotes I had given were from Shoghi Effendi or the House and related to the role of officers directly or indirectly. As far as the by-laws quote, while Canada surely has its own by-laws, the U.S. ones were used as a pattern for all of the others, and the Guardian had advised they stick pretty closely to those. Only the last statement I had given was from the NSA (and the first portion of the first quote).

As far as the references on the U.S. site (pertaining to roles of the host and chair at Feast), I'll offer the quotes specifically from Shoghi Effendi or the House here:

If the Feast is to be properly experienced, beyond an understanding of the concept must also be the preparation of it and the preparation for it. Although the Local Spiritual Assembly is administratively responsible for the conduct of the Feast, it often calls upon an individual or a group of individuals to make preparations -- €”a practice which is consonant with the spirit of hospitality so vital to the occasion. Such individuals can act as hosts and are sometimes concerned with the selection of the prayers and readings for the devotional portion; they may also attend to the social portion. In small communities the aspect of personal hospitality is easy to carry out, but in large communities the Local Spiritual Assemblies, while retaining the concept of hospitality, may find it necessary to devise other measures.

(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated August 27, 1989, to the Followers of Baha'u'llah)

The chairman of the local assembly is, if present, the logical and appropriate person to take charge of the consultation period between the assembly and the community members at the Nineteen Day Feast.

(Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 450)

The By Laws of a Local Spiritual Assembly clearly imply the roles of the chairman and vice chairman for meetings of the Assembly. For Feasts, the chairman or an appointed representative of the Spiritual Assembly presides during the period of consultation. However, this is not specified in the By Laws and is a secondary matter left to the discretion of the National Assembly in each country; that Assembly may either adopt a uniform procedure for Local Assemblies to follow, or leave the matter to the discretion of the Local Assembly itself ...

(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated December 23, 1986, to an individual believer, in The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. I, no. 1003)

It would not be administratively proper for a Bahá'í youth under 21 years of age to act as Chairman of the Nineteen Day Feast. However, no great issue should be made of this as it is a purely minor matter.

(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated February 22, 1984, to a National Spiritual Assembly, in The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. I, no. 98)

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Re: Function of LSA Officers

Postby pathfinder » Mon Apr 22, 2019 2:51 pm

Hi Jennifer,

This is a very late reply, I don't even know if you're still interested or even following this thread anymore!

As far as chairman goes, there is a letter dated 22 October 2001 from the Research Department to the Universal House of Justice, Re: Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, section 45.1, and the Role of the Chairman. It addresses an amended passage in that book in all editions after 1997. It deals only with the role of Chairman, which it seems to me has a degree of spiritual nuance that requires authoritative guidance. In my experience, much of the chairman's role depends on the degree to which the Assembly has deepened on the subject of Baha'i consultation. If they do not appreciate the dynamics of this very crucial matter, then a chairman is a glorified "classroom monitor". There is a booklet available on the functions of the chairman, published by the Baha'is of Australia. A web search turned up nothing, but it is commonly available.

As for secretary, most of their duties are determined by the "exigencies" of their particular Assembly. The majority of their work is mechanical in nature, apart from writing letters of possibly sensitive natures, whether to officials of various institutions, or counseling matters within the community. In such cases, the entire Assembly may be involved in such correspondences. As well, an Assembly can choose to have more than one secretary, depending on the workload. For example, one may the recording secretary and the other the corresponding secretary, perhaps elected on their respective talents with these two roles.

The treasurer's main concern derives from the laws of the land in which they reside. They must have an awareness of the expectations of the tax authorities and generally, this will come from the National treasury office. Here in Canada, we have a Fund Handbook that deals with many matters, the bulk of which is concerned with writing tax-deductible receipts, reporting to Revenue Canada, reporting to the community at Feasts and year-end, and of course maintaining appropriate record-keeping. Again, this is mechanical work. It is often assumed that the treasurer is responsible for fund education, but it is in fact the Assembly that shoulders this responsibility, although the treasurer is certainly a logical choice to present what the Assembly has chosen for this matter.

Some time ago, there was a book published in the US entitled Being Joe Strong, which presented very useful and thought-provoking ideas on the roles of the various officers. While not authoritative, it effectively dealt with those tasks to which I have referred as "mechanical". I hope this has been helpful.


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