Sunday #23 – Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witness, 15270 Huebner Road, San Antonio
As I contemplated going to a Jehovah’s Witness meeting this week, I wondered why most of us have such strong feelings toward Jehovah’s Witness. When I mentioned to some friends that this was my weekly intention, some said, “Don’t go.” As with Mormon missionaries, are we afraid of those who choose to witness door-to-door, and if so, why? I must say, this one was near the bottom of my list and I had to kick myself out the door to go. I’ve known no one who is a Jehovah’s Witness and my only dealings were at the door in Kingwood, TX when I’d answer with crying babies attached to my hips. I’d quickly take their Watchtower publication, close the door, then toss it in the trash.
It made me wonder, whether door-to-door witnessing has any affect at all. I learned today that it does. I met two women today who said they had joined with other Witnesses after having their questions about God (Jehovah) answered at the door.
Preconceived Ideas about Jehovah’s Witness
Having never known anyone that was a Witness, I have very few prejudices that reach beyond having my doorbell rung during the day when I’m busy working from my home office. I approach today’s visit with only a few guesses of what to expect.
- People dress conservatively and probably elderly (confirmed and dispelled)
- Bible-toting people (confirmed)
- Watchtower pamphlets everywhere (confirmed, or at least readily available)
- A huge congregational goal of getting my name and address (dispelled)
I’m glad I arrived a few minutes before the meeting, because without an order of service, er uh… meeting, I had no idea what to do. Apparently there aren’t many visitors to these meetings, because they don’t have songbooks lying around the chairs. I knew that the JWs don’t take an offering, but I did see various donation slots as I entered the hall. These reminded me of those I’d seen at the Mosque.
I asked the first man I saw what to expect. We had some serious miscommunication going on. I was calling it a service; he was calling it a meeting, so yep….a bit of confusion on my part as to if I was even at the right place at the right time. I learned that the meeting would start at 10:00 and a presentation would be given for 30 minutes. (I immediately thought: Yay…in and outta there in 30 minutes. That’ll be a record. But the guy followed that by saying the second part of the meeting would be about an hour and fifteen minutes. Okay, so in at 10:00 and out at 11:45. Sigh.
Immediately a woman came over and introduced herself; then three others came over to say hi and to ask if I was visiting. All were extremely charming and delightful. When I commented about seeing the slots out front, one of the women said that they don’t do offerings and that they felt if they had to take an offering, then they weren’t teaching Jehovah’s word correctly. I told them what I was doing there and had just enough time to ask a few questions.
First on my list: Why are there no windows in meeting places of Jehovah’s Witness?
Even though I’d read that the reason stemmed from economy and cost of building, these women told me it was to prevent theft. Then they went on to say that some Hall’s are now being built with windows, so that isn’t always true.
Second on my list: Were you raised as a Witness or how did you come to this denomination? Two women told me that they were raised Catholic, but had lots of questions. The mother of one of the women had found answers when someone came to her door. So, while I expected that many people were raised in the faith, I learned that that’s not always the case and that door-to-door witnessing does work, at least it did for these women.
Third on my list: So what do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe? I usually try to stay out of the realm of beliefs, but I really had no idea and wanted to know. First, they believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. Two, they do not believe in the Trinity. Third, they don’t believe in the fire and brimstone of hell, but do believe in a Satan. Fourth, they most definitely believe in the tribulation and talk about it A LOT! Oh and they most commonly use the word “Jehovah” for God.
The women eventually took their own seats in the auditorium chair-like cushioned seating. I looked around and marveled at the clothing. Never before, unless it would be the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church or the Stone Oak Ward of the Church of Latter Day Saints had I seen people dressed this nicely. Men were all in suits and ties. Women typically had longer skirts on, with a few younger ones in knee-length dresses. Smaller children were with their mothers in two windowed rooms to the back of the hall. I assume this was to hold down the noise so people could hear. I remember a room like this at a movie theatre in Beaumont, Texas when I was on the toddler side.
The Meeting Begins
The meeting started with a hymn. One nice lady quickly went to the back to get me a songbook, while another handed me hers from three rows in front of me.
They sure are nice here.
As the meeting started I looked around again and noticed people of all ages from 20s to 70s. All were well dressed and everyone there looked like they were professionals in business. I saw primarily white people, but also a few Hispanics and African Americans, but no Asians. I had some misplaced idea or other that women didn’t wear makeup or jewelry, but that wasn’t the case. Maybe I confused Pentecostals with Jehovah’s Witnesses. See what you don’t know until you go find out?
The mornings’ talk was on “Who can be saved?” Fortunately, I brought my Bible, because during these talks they do a lot of following along as they read countless passages from the Old and New Testaments.
To start, the speaker talked about many religions having an over simplification of salvation and touched on the various salvation beliefs of different Christians. Then he started talking about the original sin of Adam and how his turning from God made us all sinners and at that point introduced death, and that we would all die now because of him. Then he gave the most unusual twist to the Adam and Eve story. He said that Adam, in reality became the greatest mass murderer of all time, because his actions caused us all to eventually die. That was a pretty bold statement and didn’t sit right with me, but I can’t tell you why without going into my whole religious beliefs. But I was there to understand, not judge those beliefs as right or wrong. So I went back to flipping onionskin pages.
I did like the fact that the presenter offered a few Greek translations of various words in the Bible. That always tells me something. But why did it hit me so wrong that this man kept using the reference to C.E. instead of A.D.? I think I’ve discussed this textual change in an earlier blog. Publishers now commonly use B.C.E for “Before Christ” and C.E. for “After Death” – choosing the “Before Common Error” and the “Common Error” wording versus what I grew up with. I can understand that for the masses in print and wanting to be all politically correct, but in a meeting house of God? Seems so odd. But then that part is quickly over and everyone claps.
Jehovah’s Witness Meeting – Part Two
The second half of a Jehovah’s Witness Meeting involves the study of the Watchtower. We stand again to sing from the songbook. I think the piano music was piped in from somewhere or was on audio CD, because I didn’t see a piano anywhere.
Today’s lesson, which everyone apparently studied during the week, was on Moses and the Pharoah. This part started with someone reading, then a question was asked about the short paragraph. People in the congregation raised their hands and suit men came over to hand off the microphone to the speaker in the audience. Responses didn’t have a huge amount of personal insight but were mainly just reiterations from the text that had been read. Seemed like a way to reinforce the message of the passage being read. The leader called everyone a Sister or Brother and then their last name. For an older man, I was quite impressed with this speaker’s memory, that only slightly waivered a few times. I sure could not have done that.
If anyone from Apple is reading this blog, you might want to take note. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a big market for your iPads. Nearly every one, or at least every family had an iPad that they used to follow along as the readings occurred. I found that astonishing.
Here are a few other Marcia insights, odd as they may be:
- There definitely were more women than men. Is it that more women are at home when Witnesses come calling, so they are the ones that wind up in this denomination?
- So many people had on watches. I almost never see anyone wear a watch anymore because most people get time information from their mobile phones. Is it because they are checking to see when the service will end, or is it the Watchtower publication name. Coincidence or not?
- There’s a huge emphasis on the Tribulation. Now that I think about it, that’s what I remember seeing on all those Watchtower publications that turned me off about learning more. I learned today that the Tribulation is what compels JWs to witness door-to-door.
After the end of the Q&A session, the speaker gave one announcement and we all stood to sing one last song and be led in prayer.
Post Service Commentary
I found the people I met to be warm and open and so genuine. While my personal views are at odds with much that was shared, I felt completely comfortable while learning more about the JWs in their environment versus my home. Parts of this meeting reminded me a bit of the Mormon’s in their dress and formality, a bit of the Christian Scientists in their approach to well-studied scripture and message and a bit of the Muslims in their approach to tithing. It’s odd how similar different religions are, yet most all believe they are the only way to Heaven and to God/Allah/Jehovah. This has become a very interesting journey.
I was reading about Ernest Holmes this week and his early years in the Congregational church. So, I immediately did a search on Congregational churches in San Antonio. Instead of finding Congregational Churches, I found Congregational Churches of Church of Christ. I can’t figure that one out. Are they like the UUs, who combined the Unitarians and Universalists? Somebody clue me in on this one. Can’t find the answer!