Watch Tower Society and Congregation Meetings
ALREADY in the 1870’s the Bible Students saw the need to come together and strengthen one another in the spirit of Hebrews 10:25. In the Watch Tower of May 1880 this observation was made: “Our readers are scattered, some places 2 and 3, and on up to 50. Many places they are totally unacquainted with each other, and thus lose the sympathy and comfort which our Father designed should come to them by ‘the assembling of themselves together as the manner of some is.’ It is His design that we should ‘edify one another,’ and build each other up in the most holy faith.”—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Then Charles Taze Russell proposed that he make a tour of certain cities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, to gather together the readers in various towns so that they could become acquainted with one another and arrange to meet regularly.
By this time there were about 30 classes, as congregations or groups were called, located in these states as well as Delaware, Ohio and Michigan. Brother Russell made regular visits to these, and at each place many hours were devoted to intensive Bible discussion.
Further encouragement for Watch Tower readers to meet together was given in the April 1881 issue: “We desire to make a list for our office of all places where our readers hold regular meetings and services of any kind, whether in churches, halls or private homes . . . If you have no gathering of this sort, let me recommend you to establish one in your own home with your own family, or even a few that may be interested. Read, study, praise and worship together, and where two or three are met in His name, the Lord will be in your midst—your teacher. Such was the character of some of the meetings of the church in the days of the Apostles.” Continued encouragement was given to readers of the Watch Tower to meet together regularly.
The Bible Students in Pittsburgh established the pattern of meeting together two and eventually three times a week. Meetings on Sunday were public lectures held in a rented hall, such as the Curry Institute Hall on the corner of Penn Avenue and 6th Street in Pittsburgh. Apart from the lectures on Sundays, meetings were held in private homes—in the beginning at the home of the father of Charles Russell, J. L. Russell, 80 Cedar Avenue, Allegheny City. These came to be called cottage meetings.
Group meetings in private homes on Wednesdays consisted of Prayer, Praise and Testimony Meetings, which have developed into our Service Meetings of today. Later they also arranged “Dawn Circles” on Friday evenings where they studied from the early books of the Society called Millennial Dawn series. At these home meetings all in attendance were encouraged to share in the discussion by giving comments. Meetings also included prayers and the singing of hymns.
As groups increased in size various meeting halls were rented, sometimes even available church buildings being used. However, whatever halls were used were not considered churches but meeting halls for presenting talks and other forms of Bible instruction. Sometimes suitable buildings were purchased by the Bible Students locally, but generally the halls were rented, some on a permanent basis. Various names were given to these, such as a local designation followed by the word “Tabernacle,” for example “Brooklyn Tabernacle,” “London Tabernacle.”
However, the Watch Tower Society introduced a unifying feature with regard to meeting halls of Jehovah’s people. In 1935 arrangements were made to construct a meeting hall in connection with the new branch building being erected in Honolulu, Hawaii. The president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford, was visiting there, and it had been decided to call the meeting hall “Kingdom Hall” so as to keep God’s Kingdom to the fore. From that time on Jehovah’s Witnesses the world over have called their congregational meeting centers Kingdom Halls.
Today, there are thousands of these Kingdom Halls around the world, built by voluntary workers of Jehovah’s Witnesses and financed by voluntary contributions. These halls are not ornate, churchlike buildings, but rather modest meeting halls with comfortable seating, good lighting and ventilation, suitable for gatherings of people to receive Bible instruction. In recent years, by means of good organization and cooperation, Jehovah’s Witnesses have in some instances built such a meeting hall on a two-day weekend. Though property and building costs have skyrocketed, the building of needed meeting halls in the United States and Canada is now being aided by a special building fund administered by the Watch Tower Society.
[Pictures on page 14]
Early group meetings of Bible Students
Long Beach, California
[Pictures on page 15]
Some Kingdom Halls