The appointment of Shoghi Effendi as Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith in the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came as a surprise to most Bahá’ís, including Shoghi Effendi himself. The general expectation was that after the ascension of `Abdu’l-Bahá, the Universal House of Justice, which `Abdu’l-Bahá had referred to in a number of tablets and talks, would be elected to lead the community. At the time, however, it would have been impossible to elect the Universal House of Justice in accordance with instructions given in `Abdu’l-Bahá’s will. Consequently, both the community and Shoghi Effendi had to adapt to a period of leadership by the Guardian alone.
The early Guardianship can be seen as a transitional period in which Shoghi Effendi only gradually unveiled and utilized his full authority, which was almost immediately challenged by Covenant-breakers and tested by outside opponents of the Faith. In the early months of his ministry, Shoghi Effendi took a number of measures to assess the size and condition of Bahá’í communities around the world and to manage the affairs of the Bahá’í World Centre. He also identified the three areas of activity that would become the focus of his ministry: establishing the Bahá’í Administrative Order; developing the properties of the Bahá’í World Centre; and spreading the Faith around the world. He began or encouraged initiatives in each of these areas in the first few months of his ministry. This presentation will examine the evolution of the Guardianship until the late 1930s, by which time his guidance to and leadership of the Bahá’í community had solidified a foundation on which he could begin teaching plans that would eventually spread the Faith around the world and create the conditions for the election of the Universal House of Justice.