“Clean Worship” Assemblies: from France to Netherlands
THRILLED with the great international assembly at the Wembley Stadium, London, England, the first five days of August, hundreds of the conventioners from many countries, including many Frenchmen, streamed across the English Channel the following Monday and forward, to attend the four-day assembly at Paris, August 9-12. From France itself and other neighboring lands thousands were converging on the same famous, fabulous city. French witnesses of Jehovah were especially excited about it. This was to be their first national assembly in many years. For the first time in fourteen years they would all be met together in one place. In 1937, before World War II, France had just 700 witnesses. Now over 7,000 are reporting active service as publishers. Now many thousands of these would have an opportunity to meet both one another and their Christian brothers who, through publications of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, were invited to come from all parts of the world. Brothers from 28 lands, from as far off as Australia, New Zealand, Philippine Islands, India, South Africa, Venezuela, and North America, were due to be there. The Society’s president and vice-president, together with other representatives from the Brooklyn headquarters and Canada, were to be present and serve on the program. France was thus no longer isolated from the rest of the globe. French witnesses knew this was to be the “best assembly yet”. This proved to be no mistaken conviction.
The Palais des Sports, site of the convention, stands only a block from the beautiful Seine river and a few blocks south of the skyscraping Eiffel Tower. This big sports stadium has seating accommodations for 12,000 and is generally used for bicycle races or boxing and wrestling matches. But now—well, the Sunday newspaper of Paris, Dimanche, in its issue the final day of the convention, spoke of it as “the Palais des Sports transformed into a cathedral”. But we would say, “a Kingdom Hall.” Certainly its interior had been transformed. Besides the thousands of seats which had been especially installed for us in the arena and covering the concave, steeply sloping racetrack, there was now a large, tall platform at the southern end. Hung up for a background for it was a gorgeous red-velvet curtain. Two stage floodlights trained upon this towering curtain made the words stand out in bold relief, “Jehovah’s witnesses—1951—Clean Worship Assembly,” spelled in French with large gilded letters. The palms and colorful gladioli about the stage were just what was needed to complete the setting.
The convention chairman was the Society’s then Paris branch servant, Henry Geiger, and his assistant was the Brussels (Belgium) branch servant, C. H. Holmes. The convention servant was a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, L. E. Smith, and his assistant was also a graduate, a Frenchman, L. Iontès, now the Paris branch servant since September 1. Due to Brother Geiger’s illness it was best to place the responsibility of the branch on younger shoulders. The 16-page program was printed in French, but with the section “information for Conventioners” translated both in English and in Polish. In fact, the program showed sessions to be held in Polish for two hours the Saturday morning of the convention, this because of the large number of Poles in France who are witnesses. But the regular talks given by the international roster of many speakers were not translated into Polish. Those given in English were translated into French by competent interpreters. The program listed 24 departments of service under Convention Personnel, and these saw to it that the assembly was well staffed and served for the convenience, help and comfort of the conventioners. The thousands arriving were met at the principal stations and the air terminal by brothers from the convention Information Department. Upward of 6,000 maps of the Paris Métro and bus routes were given to the conventioners to help them find their way around this metropolis.
The Rooming Committee arranged for 6,000 accommodations in private homes and in 700 hotels. The cafeteria was situated to the rear of the speaker’s platform, on two floors, and served 8,500 hot meals in trays à la américaine, something rarely seen in La belle France. The refreshment stands were popular, with delicious fruit, including grapes and peaches in abundance. Stands for drinks were operated by the staff of the Palais des Sports. An orchestra of 50 musicians led the singing, and the French brothers did sing heartily, to the enjoyment of all listeners, even worldly attendants. As there was no trained personnel with a lot of convention experience to call on, the assembly was like a big experiment for them. This was the first time a hot-meal cafeteria had been organized, the first time magazine bags had been made, distributed and used, the first time special trains had been arranged. But the big job was undertaken with faith, obstacles were surmounted and God Almighty imparted his blessing and help. Result: grand success!
The convention opened Thursday morning and, would you believe it, with 4,026 in attendance. It was some experience to walk into the auditorium toward 9 a.m. and find two-thirds of the conventioners there right at the opening, especially after we had observed the early morning attendances at the recent London assembly. So the convention got off to a good start, and this first morning was highlighted by a new release, the magazine bag in French, something not seen as yet by the French public. The bag added new zest to the street-preaching work.
The program practically duplicated that of the London assembly, though one day shorter. Thursday was “Life-giving Knowledge” Day, Friday “Undefiled Worship” Day, Saturday “Sons and Daughters” Day, and Sunday “Praise Jehovah as King” Day. Many speakers on the London programs repeated their talks here, though somewhat reduced for having to be given through French interpreters. Those from London who understood only English expressed appreciation for hearing the talks again, condensed, whereas the French responded with repeated handclapping to the talks, even though translated from English into French. Their enthusiasm was contagious. The opening day closed with 5,261 hearing Brother Knorr’s talk, “Confidently Facing the End.”
Friday morning saw 351 baptized at the Buttes Rouges swimming pool, 12 kilometers away from the Palais des Sports where a baptismal talk had been given. This extracted comment from the press, which observed that “children are baptized only when they are old enough to understand”. Brother Knorr’s talk “The Triumph of Clean, Undefiled Worship” gave added sparkle to the day, and he told of the new book which had been released in English in London, What Has Religion Done for Mankind? Convention attendance rose to 5,808. Brother Knorr also had a morning meeting with those pioneers who were interested in attending the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. One in every eight persons at this convention was a pioneer, 741 of them from many different lands.
In good accord with the next day’s convention name, the children had their day of it Saturday evening. Three boys and three girls were interviewed for the feature “Out of the Mouth of Babes”. The tots had to be stood on a chair to reach the level of the microphone, and they all got a good hand from their elders at whose heartstrings strong emotion was tugging. In his evening talk on “Making the Mind Over for New World Living”, Brother Knorr wound up with apprising his 6,020 hearers that for health and other reasons the then Paris branch servant, after many years of faithful service, was retiring as such but not from the Paris branch and that a French brother was being installed in his place at the close of that month. The French applauded their appreciation of both the outgoing and the incoming branch servant. They came back with further applause when Brother Knorr announced the new book in French “Equipped for Every Good Work”, a book for their theocratic ministry school course. It had been hoped to place it in their hands there at the assembly, but due to inability to get the shipment of books off the boat in the harbor this was not possible. Nonetheless, they would have them available shortly after the Paris assembly.
The grand climax of the convention was reached at the public event Sunday, the closing day. For this the publishers in Paris had done a lot of advertising work well before the assembly started. They distributed 200,000 “teaser” leaflets giving the public talk title but posing the questions, “By whom? When? Where?” Thereafter to satisfy the public curiosity 300,000 handbills were released, of which 200,000 were distributed in one evening, when all publishers in Paris and its suburbs covered all the mainline and Métro stations at the time when the workers were returning home. Large factories were also covered at exit time one day, resulting in thousands of handbills placed. During the assembly itself much advertising was done by many more participants. In all, 800,000 handbills were finally put out, and 8,000 posters and window signs were used. Attached to the outside of the convention building were three big signs, two 50-foot banners and a 30 x 12-foot sign. These could be seen from the Métro elevated trains while passing by.
Before 3 p.m. the doors to the pelouse (race-track main floor) were closed. It was a gratifying pleasure to have to push through throngs in the lobby and corridor and enter by a side door, climb to the upper gallery, sit on the topmost row, look around and down on a crowded house and see more seats brought in. Printed advertising, personal invitations and assisting good-will persons to the meeting had had their effect: the attendance shot up from 6,188 witnesses to 10,456 present for the announced public lecture.
If the London assembly public talk at Wembley Stadium was an event marked by frequent, vigorous plaudits, the Paris public meeting was still more so. How those Frenchmen did eat up Brother Knorr’s address on that rousing question, “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” even though getting it second-handed through an interpreter! Why, all together, they punctuated and accented that speech with 47 applauses. Sometimes those who understood English broke out ahead of the French interpretation. Those Frenchmen plainly showed they do not like the false religion they have so long observed in operation but do appreciate the clean, undefiled religion, God’s pure form of worship. They hailed Jehovah who had begun to rule as King by Jesus Christ. At the close of the meeting free booklets in French and Polish were distributed. Many were eagerly taken.
The closing sessions followed after a brief intermission, and Brother Knorr gave the elated conventioners good counsel and encouragement in his farewell talk. By this international assembly in Paris the bonds of love already existing between the French brothers and those of other lands were strengthened manifold. The movement particularly in France for reinforcing and expanding Jehovah’s clean worship was given a great push and added momentum. Thanks to Him through Christ Jesus for the rich Paris assembly blessings.
Monday afternoon, August 13, Brother Knorr and several companions arrived by train in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, to be met by Gilead graduates assigned there and other publishers bearing placards announcing in German the public talk “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” to be delivered by him the next day. For the Luxembourg brothers this was a very special occasion, for it was the first visit of any president of the Society to Luxembourg. Brother Knorr and his secretary stayed at the missionary home, being thus able to spend some time with the missionaries and discuss any problems they might have.
For the one-day assembly to be held Tuesday, August 14, they had obtained the Salle d’Armes, a hall in a nice section of the city and which can comfortably hold about 250 persons. Featuring the morning’s field activities was a bicycle parade of about 40 bicycles and in which Brothers Knorr and Henschel and others from North America took part. In announcing the public talk 300 placards and 10,000 handbills were used. Placing all these required much activity. During the afternoon session Brothers Knorr, Henschel and Chapman (Canadian branch servant) and Nathan (Canadian circuit servant) addressed the 138 brothers and good-will persons assembled. That evening the public responded well for Roman Catholic Luxembourg to the advertising campaign, for 205 turned out to hear the Society’s president answer the great question regarding religion’s future. It was an attentive audience, and hearty agreement with the speaker of this forthright speech was evidenced. This convention event is certain to have a telling effect on the increase of the Kingdom witness work in Luxembourg.
Next day, August 15, the president and his party crossed the frontier into Belgium and arrived in Brussels. Passing through the city on their way to the branch office they saw a large sign at a busy intersection announcing in French the public talk “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” to be delivered by the Society’s president the following day. At 7:15 p.m. a meeting for the brothers took place at the Regina Palace near the center of town. Since Brother Knorr last spoke in Brussels the owner has interested himself in the truth, is now an active publisher and offers his hall free to Jehovah’s witnesses. Here about 450 brothers and interested ones listened to the four above-named speakers. Their talks were all translated into French and Hollandish, the two official languages of Belgium.
The one-day national assembly began at nine o’clock next morning at the Stadium, a modern sports hall near the heart of Brussels. After a baptismal talk to them, 64 brothers underwent water immersion to betoken their dedication to Jehovah’s will. By way of advertising, 30,000 handbills were put out, 2,000 placards borne by information walkers or placed in windows, and 200 large signs set up in prominent places throughout the city, while 6 autos bore signs through the streets focusing attention on the public event. During the afternoon three speakers addressed the 1,400 conventioners. The most of the Belgians had never before heard Brother Knorr, because since his last visit here in 1947 the publishers have increased from 1,038 then to a new peak of 3,080 in June this year. They are willing to provide further material for foreign missionaries, for, following a talk by Brother Knorr to the pioneers, 13 filled out preliminary application blanks for Gilead School.
The evening public meeting went off very well, with 1,604 attending. This was very good for a meeting in the middle of the week and in between Paris and the coming Rotterdam assemblies, where about 1,200 Belgian brothers attended. The talk was translated into French to a keen audience whose frequent outbursts of applause expressed hearty agreement with the speaker. All the Belgian conventioners were very happy, for their Brussels assembly, despite its shortness, was a very fine one. They now face the future with joy and greater confidence.
This same week was crowned with a three-day assembly at Rotterdam, the great seaport of the Netherlands, August 17-19. Conventioners from many lands flocked to it and made it truly international. On Tuesday of the week the government-controlled radio station at Hilversum broadcast for the first time a ten-minute interview (1:20 to 1:30 p.m.) with a member of the Amsterdam branch office, on Jehovah’s witnesses, and this afforded opportunity to advertise the national assembly. It created a favorable impression, corrected many misinformed persons, and stimulated a desire for Watch Tower Bible literature. Among the radio listeners favorably impressed was a director of the Ahoy Gebouw, the sports arena in Rotterdam which had been engaged for the assembly.
The Ahoy building proved an excellent place for such a large-scale assembly. It has extensive grounds, beautified with lawns and beds of bright flowers. This provided ample space for a huge encampment designed to furnish lodging for thousands during the assembly. Large tents of varying sizes were erected. Of the six tents surrounding the Dames-Kamp two were 52 meters long by 12 meters, and one 50 by 20. Of the three tents surrounding the Heren-Kamp two were 100 meters long by 10 meters broad. Toiletten were installed for service of each camp. For the bedding of the campers 40 tons of clean hay was bought at 45 guilders a ton, but after the assembly this was to be baled and resold at a reduced rate. A berth on the straw cost 1.25 guilders a night (about 25c). Some 3,600 conventioners slept thus on the straw, but there were about 1,950 put in the homes of the people of Rotterdam and vicinity, even though the city was terribly bombed during World War II.
The arrangement to lodge the conventioners on straw under tents was contracted for before the effort was made to canvass the homes for rooming accommodations. Now it is realized what a great opportunity was missed by not at first working at it to lodge all the conventioners in the homes and in this way locate witnesses of the Most High God right in among the people to testify direct in their homes. One American couple went out and secured a room in a home for just 1 guilder (20c) each a night plus their breakfast. One friendly man arranged at his birthday party for 17 rooms among those celebrating with him. Two English sisters got a room free with a Catholic man who works with one of Jehovah’s witnesses, and one night of the convention they witnessed to him till 3 a.m. One man, whose wife is in the truth, went off on his vacation to Austria but turned over his whole house to five conventioners. One Catholic lady, who at first refused a room, was informed by the lady downstairs that the witnesses are the most reliable people on earth, and so she ran downstairs and out after the canvasser and turned over her compartment with bath to the witnesses, also handing them the key, to occupy during their assembly and her vacation. We feel sure that next time the effort will first be made in faith to procure lodging for the conventioners in the most effective place for witnessing, the people’s homes.
In the main hall of the Ahoy building 12,000 chairs were set out, and 2,000 in smaller adjoining rooms. The cafeteria was in a large room which opened out on the main hall, and good food in good quantity was served at 1.25 guilders a meal. The service department and bookroom were in another adjoining hall. Here literature in 17 languages was available on the counters. A graph drawing showed the theocratic increase of publishers in the Netherlands. From 3,800 in September of 1946 the publishers decreased to 3,000 in February of 1947, and then made a climb up to near 7,000 in May this year. In 1940, when World War II struck the Netherlands with a blitzkrieg, there were 600 Dutch publishers, and 350 of these went to concentration camps. During the war the 250 publishers averaged 60 hours a month. Today the majority of publishers are in Protestant North Holland. In 1947 a public meeting at the national assembly in Amsterdam brought out an attendance of 5,500. What would the public attendance be here now at Rotterdam? As to literature, the Dutch had only the books Children and “The Truth Shall Make You Free” in their language. Would new releases be made at this convention?
The big platform in the main hall was beautified with many flowering plants, backed by a beautiful brown curtain with broad yellow side-borders. On it appeared the 1951 yeartext in Hollandish. To one side of the platform was the orchestra section. From here there was only intermittent orchestra music, much to the regret of many who would have enjoyed hearing more from that group of consecrated players. But the congregational singing lacked nothing: it called for comments on its goodness and earnestness.
The program was very interesting, practical and up-to-date and it afforded both speeches and demonstrations. Four speakers from the American and Canadian branch offices were featured on this program. In this way, too, the Rotterdam assembly heard a number of the London assembly features. Some feared that so much speaking in English with translation into Hollandish as this required would prove boring to the Dutch listeners; but their fears were not realized. The Dutch lent good attention to the talks first rendered in English, and many expressed appreciation of the fine spiritual things they had learned from these and the enlightenment and encouragement they had received. For the most part the Dutch are not disposed to applaud. They like to sit and listen intently and learn without noisy interruption. But, just the same, they can laugh and clap, like others at the London and Paris assemblies; and at this Rotterdam convention they broke out spontaneously at times in laughter and handclapping.
The first day, Friday, August 17, was fine, with the splendid attendance of over 6,000. The day was topped off by the speech of the Society’s president on “The Triumph of Clean, Undefiled Worship”, broken by applause. And, sure enough, there was a new release in Hollandish. They clapped their hands for joy and appreciation when Brother Knorr announced the new 32-page booklet, Can You Live Forever in Happiness on Earth? All conventioners were given a free copy. But they were in for larger joys of this kind the following night, with over 7,000 present. This was when Brother Knorr gave his talk “Making the Mind Over for New World Living”. He led on into telling of the Awake! magazine to be printed in Hollandish, with 30,000 copies to start with, twice a month, in the hope that this will shortly be increased to 100,000 copies each issue. Thus toward the end of this year they would begin to be supplied with four magazines a month, the two semimonthly issues of The Watchtower and now the two issues a month of Awake! in Hollandish. It had been desired to have the Hollandish translation of the recent book “This Means Everlasting Life” on hand for release at Rotterdam, but it proved impossible to get it ready in time. The announcement that it was all set up and ready for printing evoked a burst of applause.
Light rains dampened Sunday morning, August 19. The day’s sessions began with song and a baptismal talk, after which 285 candidates were taken to the Eastern Swimming Pool and baptized.
Leaden skies still sprinkled as the hour drew near for the public address. But the advertising preliminary to this had done its work—advertising signs atop autos and on the side windows, signs on bikes, with a bicycle parade of 22 cyclists, window cards, placards of sizes for grownups and for children, handbills by the thousands, and badges pinned on coat lapels or waists. So the interested Dutch responded and braved the damp weather and thronged the Ahoy Gebouw, till they numbered 10,775. The advertised speaker forcefully handled his subject. Silent, absorbed, with close attention for so serious a discourse on religion, that biggest assembly crowd ever in the Netherlands listened to the end. Then they gave way to deserved applause.
As with its predecessors, this assembly now progressed to a rapid but heart-warming close, with just two speakers. The feeling of the Dutch seemed brought up to a pitch where it must express itself more freely, and the convention servant’s report had them repeatedly laughing and applauding. He asked if the assembly had been a slag! (a hit, a success!) and they roared out Ja! a positive Yes! Then with appropriate suggestions and remarks the Society’s president spoke in farewell and dismissal of the convention. All agreed with him that Jehovah’s witnesses are the greatest optimists, and that those appointed to minister to them in responsible positions should be servants, and not stern, exacting, hard bosses. Love is vitally essential for us all, love to God first and love to neighbor as to oneself; and in love we should help one another in the theocratic organization.
So with song and prayer the finest assembly yet in The Land of Windmills and Dikes concluded. By their beaming faces and words the friends showed that was the way they felt about it. How glad they were they had expended themselves to come, and now how loath they seemed to part! The blessings received at Rotterdam are sure to sustain them in the days ahead, moving them still more zealously in Jehovah’s service, to the increase of the interest of his kingdom in the Netherlands.