— By Kenneth Guindon, Envoy Magazine, 1997 —
It’s early 1956, and I’m seated in a long, narrow building in Venice, California, that used to be a laundromat. It still looks like one. The walls are bare of decorations, painted some nondescript pastel color. Small windows near the ceiling let in some sunlight, but the main light comes from the rows of fluorescent lights that hum and flicker above my head. A podium is perched front and center on the stage at the far end of the room. It’s really just a well-furnished, drab little box of a meeting room, but everyone around me calls it the Kingdom Hall.
That was my first visit to what Jehovah’s Witnesses respectfully call “The House of Jehovah.” A large banner hung over the stage proclaiming a Scripture text I can no longer remember. Other than that one prop, there was no other evidence that Jehovah had anything to do with the place. Being raised Catholic, I understood “going to church” to mean prayer and worship, so my first visit to the Kingdom Hall was an experience very different from what I was used to. I had been invited to attend the lecture and remain for a “Bible study” using The Watchtower magazine.
The Watchtower, a slickly-produced, full-color magazine, is the official source of the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the official name for the Jehovah’s Witness religion). Balancing my Bible, a notepad and a copy of The Watchtower on my knee, I waited expectantly for the meeting to begin.
When we were told to stand for the opening prayer, my ingrained Catholic habits took over. Without thinking, I raised my right hand to my forehead and began making the sign of the Cross. Suddenly, realizing where I was, I sheepishly lowered my arm and looked out the corner of my eye, hoping no one had seen me. A few had, but no one said anything. I kicked myself mentally, reminding myself that I still had a lot of Catholic training to forget.
Compared to the Catholic Mass, my first impression of the meeting at the Kingdom Hall was that it was weird and pretty boring. I was neither expecting, nor comfortable with, the dry question-and-answer-style format. It reminded me too much of school. But in some ways, ironically, it seemed a lot better than the Catholic parish I had attended.
The Traditional Latin Mass I had been raised with was far more outwardly impressive than the stripped-down JW “meeting,” but on the negative side, Catholics were aloof. At our Catholic parish, nobody went out of his or her way to greet me, or anyone else for that matter, and why should they have? I was just another kid attending Mass. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were anything but aloof. They smothered me with attention and acceptance.
Here I was welcomed by everyone, and I mean everyone. “Mrs. Jones,” the lady who brought me to the meeting, introduced me to all her friends and to any young person she spotted. (It seemed odd to hear people call her “sister.” She wasn’t a nun, just one of the members, but everyone here called each other “brother” or “sister.”)
I didn’t know it, but Mrs. Jones had already informed most of these folks that I was facing lots of opposition from my parents, who were very antagonistic toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. Armed with that knowledge, the congregation overwhelmed me with hearty glad-handing and a very welcoming atmosphere.
I was warmly greeted, politely encouraged, endlessly patted on the
back and repeatedly told how very glad everyone was to see me and to hear of my “progress in the truth.” JWs constantly use the expressions “in the truth” and “in the world” (cf. John 17:14-19).
The one who is “in the world” or “part of the world” is not “in the truth.” One who is in the truth is one who has come out of the world, which means he has become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At first, the name “Jehovah” was strange to me, but I quickly became accustomed to hearing it and even began using it myself.
Within a short period of time, I wanted very much to become a true worshipper of Jehovah God. In 1956, JWs numbered less than 800,000 worldwide. I was proud and grateful to be part of the faithful few. By becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, I had done something very like joining Noah’s family just before the Great Flood. I would be among the few survivors of Armageddon. . . . (continue reading)