The Local Spiritual Assembly
Updated: Dec 31, 2018
At its foundation, the Bahá'í administrative order rests on the local Spiritual Assembly, a community governing council elected each year in every community where there are nine or more adult Bahá'ís. It is worth describing in some detail the operation of the local Spiritual Assembly, as many of its features are reflected at the national and international levels.
Typically, the reach of the local Spiritual Assembly is defined by the municipal boundaries established by the government. In other words, all Bahá'ís who live within the boundaries of a particular village, town, city, parish, or governing district are considered to be within the jurisdiction of the local Spiritual Assembly of that locality.
The local Spiritual Assembly is elected each year by secret ballot. In April, all adult Bahá'ís in the given community gather for an election. Those who cannot personally attend are encouraged to submit absentee ballots. After a period of prayer and meditation, each adult then writes down nine names: the names of those nine individuals that he or she feels are best qualified to administer the affairs of the community.
The qualities such individuals should possess are spelled out quite clearly in the Bahá'í writings. Those participating in the election should consider "the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience."
Perhaps the most surprising aspect to this process is the absence of a prepared ballot or of any system of nominations. Instead, every adult Bahá'í in the community is eligible for election to the local Spiritual Assembly.
Those elected to the Assembly need not receive a majority of votes; rather, the nine individuals who receive the highest number of votes are selected. Since everyone in the community is, in essence, up for election, individual voters have the opportunity to vote according to their conscience with an absolute freedom of choice. Accordingly, individuals with a recognized maturity, experience and humility tend to be elected--instead of simply those who might be bold or egotistical enough to run for office.
Although this system defies political convention, it is surprisingly effective in practice. The whole emphasis of the Bahá'í electoral system is to bring forth leaders who possess qualities of selflessness, intellectual capacity and wisdom.
At the present time, local Spiritual Assemblies oversee a wide variety of activities-activities that comprise the essence of Bahá'í community life. These activities include the education of children, devotional services, study classes, discussions, social events, the observance of holy days, marriages, divorces, and funeral services. Many local Spiritual Assemblies around the world also oversee ongoing small-scale educational, economic or environmental development projects.
Local Spiritual Assemblies also supervise the Nineteen Day Feast, which as noted earlier, is the cornerstone of community activity. And, although the Assembly is ultimately the final source for authoritative decision-making in the community, the institution of the Feast provides an important component of grassroots governance.