Theocratic Assemblies in Sweden and Norway
THE Stockholm convention, September 14-16, was foremost in the minds of the Kingdom publishers. The brothers all over Sweden were very eager to get to this convention, not the least because of the enthusiastic reports from the 270 Swedish brothers who had attended the London “Clean Worship Assembly”. The Government Railway Board upon request granted a 25 per cent reduction in the fares for the conventioners and this made it possible for some to go who were short of sufficient funds.
Arrangements for advertising the public meeting included the usual means, smaller placards to be borne on the persons of the publishers in street work and bigger ones to be carried on sticks, 200,000 folders, and ads in the dailies. Besides this the brothers wanted to advertise in the streetcars and buses, and the company in charge of such advertising was very willing. But before a contract is valid the wording of the sign must be submitted to the Street Car Company Board for approval. When it came before them they denied approval.
The streetcars themselves were not carrying any signs for the public talk, but that did not prevent the doing of streetcar and bus advertising, as the chairman pointed out to the conventioners on the opening day. All the delegates were provided with lapel signs to pin on and, since most of them had to make frequent use of the public transportation, the streetcars and buses had to carry living advertisements, and that to no small extent. These slips also served as identification documents in rather unexpected situations. One brother went to a post office to get some registered mail and having no other identification with him he pointed to the slip and declared himself to be one of Jehovah’s witnesses, whereupon his own signature was accepted without further trouble. Another publisher had lost his transfer ticket for the underground but was admitted to the next line on the strength of his wearing the slip identifying him as one attending the convention.
A peak attendance of 4,000 had been anticipated for the Eriksdalshallen sports arena, but it was a glad surprise to see the hall practically filled for the opening session. By Friday night the number had grown to 3,335 and on Saturday the attendance rose to 4,050. That night 141 were baptized. Outside of the public meeting, the greatest attendance for the assembly was on Sunday night, when 4,205 filled the hall and all gangways where loudspeakers had been permitted.
The theme of clean worship showed itself in parts of all the discourses, and the listeners were pointed to their duties and privileges in connection therewith. The brothers gave many expressions of gratitude and joy because of the strong and emphatic expressions brought home to them in Brother Knorr’s discourses on “Making Your Mind Over for New World Living” and “The Triumph of Clean, Undefiled Worship”. Brothers Henschel and Jensen from the Brooklyn Bethel gave excellent counsel and instruction. Three Swedish graduates of Gilead serving in Sweden spoke in a symposium on “Showing Full Godly Devotion”, in the home, in the place of work and in the company of Jehovah’s witnesses. Brother Eneroth, the branch servant, counseled the brothers on how to act in harmony with clean worship when the new law regulating religious freedom goes into effect in January and how it will then be possible to withdraw from the State Church without having to join another church that is recognized by the government. Another much enjoyed feature was the interview with five young publishers nine to fourteen years of age.
The public talk “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” was held Sunday afternoon. Any anxiety as to whether it would be possible to have the overflow crowd seated on the football ground behind the hall was dispelled when the sun shone forth and a light breeze cleared away the clouds that were left in the sky. Every inch of space inside the hall was occupied by seated or standing people and its published capacity number was far surpassed. On the football ground there were over a thousand people and, all together, a crowd of 6,211 heard the stirring lecture and received it favorably.
And then came the last talk by Brother Knorr, the one that every one of those present has since said he will never forget, even if some other things received at this convention may in time pass from the memory. It was the wonderfully simple but meaningful story of the absent Father who wrote loving letters, 66 of them, to his son who was being instructed by his mother to accept and understand these letters, and the searching queries to each one present: “Do you believe that those letters are from your Father? Do you read them over and over again? Do you try to conform to the counsel there given?” This extemporaneous heart-to-heart talk deeply moved the big crowd and all hearts went out to the heavenly Father in silent adoration and gratitude. Then, at the close of his talk Brother Knorr, figuratively speaking, put a big exclamation mark after all the exhortations to continued zealous work in the sacred service of God in Sweden when he sprang the glad surprise on the assembly: Expansion in Sweden was to be marked and supported by the providing of a new and enlarged Bethel Home, which was to be built from the ground up, and a printery installed. A local society was also to be formed to carry on the work on a permanent basis. This good and unexpected news certainly took down the house. Even when the brothers were told they could expect to be asked to help finance the proposition by loaning money toward the building costs they clapped their hands most enthusiastically. They had been expansion-minded in Sweden as in other lands. When Brother Knorr had visited the country in 1947 there were 3,092 publishers, but in 1951 a peak of 5,140 had been reached.
The biggest, most encouraging and best organized convention held in Norway till now! Such a description of the national assembly at Lillehammer is no exaggeration. The assembly was held on September 21-23. Lillehammer, a resort town in the center of Norway, is situated at the entrance to Gudbrandsdalen, one of Norway’s biggest valleys. The Mjøsa lake and surrounding green hills are beautiful beyond description.
A thousand years ago this same valley was the scene of bloody oppressive acts, resulting from the worship of unclean, impure religions. Olaf, a Norwegian viking king, had become a Catholic convert and set out to “Christianize” the country. If the peasants in this valley did not renounce their faith but wanted to worship their old heathen gods, such as Tor the Thundergod, or Odin the Allfather, this red-bearded Catholic missionary-king cut out their tongues or burned their intestines out by placing glowing stones upon their stomachs. By such methods he succeeded in converting the country to Catholicism, and for this he got the name Olaf “the Holy one”.
But now, in the year 1951, another message was heard in this valley, a message of clean, undefiled religion. Jehovah’s witnesses were going from house to house, peacefully preaching to the people and at the same time securing rooms for the big Christian assembly to follow.
Lillehammer is no big town. With suburbs the population will amount to 14,000. The rooming committee had to get accommodations for 1,600. They did it, getting rooms for 900 in private homes. The only reason the convention was held at Lillehammer was that it was impossible to obtain a hall in Oslo that was big enough. At Lillehammer an athletic hall with a capacity of 1,300 was used.
The convention hall could not house the various departments; so tents had to be set up outside the building. The army officers in a military camp nearby proved very helpful and provided big military tents. Some of them were brand-new American tents sent from the U.S.A. as part of the help given to Norway under the ERP. So Jehovah’s witnesses were the first to benefit from this particular aid under the ERP. When the tents had been set up Norwegian army representatives came to study how it should be done!
When the convention time drew near conventioners began coming. On Thursday, the day before opening day, hundreds of brothers poured into the little town. They came by all means of transportation, mostly by trains and buses. From the west coast alone 11 buses arrived. Some pioneers cycled all the way from the west coast over the mountains and through snowstorms to get there. More than a hundred witnesses came the long way from above the Arctic Circle, including the world’s northern-most publishers, who work in the town of Hammerfest.
When the conventioners entered the hall they saw the most beautiful platform they had ever beheld at a Norwegian assembly. As a decoration the same motif as found on the front page of The Watchtower was used. On the background was painted the mountain, the river and the valley, but the tower on the left side was a real one and on the right side a real fir tree had been set up. On the front of the platform a row of beautiful flowers had been arranged on top of a low battlement.
The program got under way Friday morning and proved to be a continuous stream of spiritual blessings. In his address of welcome the chairman mentioned that this was the first national assembly since 1947, that it was the biggest ever held in Norway and that the number of publishers had more than doubled since the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, was here four years ago. Then the peak was 972, now it was 2,066!
After a talk on the practical value of the Bible, Brother M. G. Henschel spoke about how to overcome the different problems that come up in the lives of Christians. The 1,475 persons present surely appreciated his counsel that the only way to overcome their problems is by sticking to God’s Word and service.
In the evening a service meeting stressed the need for more work and more efficient work on Magazine Day. Four Norwegian Gilead graduates took care of that part of the program. Then came Brother Knorr’s first talk to the assembly, “Making the Mind Over for New World Living.” He pointed out how the important thing is to get a knowledge of Jehovah’s thoughts, and then make the mind over according to these divine thoughts. Trying to change the world is futile; if you try, the world is most likely to change you. An audience of 1,603 persons listened to this talk.
Saturday, September 22, proved to be a most blessed day. The weather was fine and in the morning field service was performed while at the same time 89 brothers and sisters were baptized. The greatest number ever baptized at a single convention in Norway!
In the afternoon Brother Klaus M. Jensen, a Norwegian and a long-time member of the Brooklyn Bethel family, spoke on “Our Stand Against Unrighteousness”, explaining why the Society in recent years, as never before, has stressed cleanness in moral matters. His talk was heavily supported with Scriptural illustrations.
Right after this talk the Norwegian branch servant, M. F. Anderson, conducted a very interesting part of the program. He had all the Society’s circuit servants come to the microphone and tell about the need for pioneers in their respective circuits. Besides getting a lesson in geography the audience learned that a large area in Norway gets little or no attention because of the lack of pioneers. In the evening Brother Knorr gave his discourse, “The Triumph of Clean, Undefiled Worship.” This was the keynote talk, dealing with the theme of the assembly, and it was shown how Satan had tried to corrupt the pure religion again and again, but never succeeded. The audience really became wide awake when Brother Knorr began telling how a little group of dissatisfied persons in some Oslo units tried to corrupt the new “sheep” and called the Society “Satan’s organization”. “And if any of them are here at this convention,” he said, “I would like to say that you are not welcome, because we are no part of you and you are not a part of us.” His counsel was that such persons should be disfellowshiped at once. At the end of this talk he released a new instrument to be used in spreading the pure, undefiled religion, namely, a Norwegian translation of the handy tracts that were first released in London. That evening 1,644 persons were present.
Sunday morning experiences were related, and one pioneer told how he had met a young lady who said that her son was very much interested, but on vacation. She showed him her son’s personal copies of “The Truth Shall Make You Free” and Salvation, and he noticed that they were more worn than her son’s schoolbooks. The brother asked how old her son was. “Ten years old,” was the reply.
Another brother had come to a parish priest and they had discussed “hell”. After learning that Jehovah’s witnesses do not believe that God is a torturist tormenting creatures in hell-fire, the priest said: “But in fact, we do not believe in hell-fire either, not that way.” “But the people don’t know that, so you had better tell your parishioners,” the brother retorted. The priest was quite reasonable and after a long discussion he took The Watchtower dealing with “Lazarus” and “the rich man”. “But please, promise me one thing,” he said as the publisher left him. “Don’t use this as an advertisement in the community, that the parish priest bought The Watchtower.”
“Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” That was the question Lillehammer’s citizens had been continually confronted with for some weeks, and at one o’clock more than 700 of them came to get the answer. The total number present was 2,391; a new peak in attendance at a public meeting in Norway.
Two publishers who did not get the opportunity to attend this assembly were the two Gilead graduates living in the world’s most northern missionary home located at Vardø. They went to the assembly in Helsinki, however. From these brothers came the following report:
“We have our missionary assignment near the border to Russia. It is far up in the Arctic zone. Therefore it is a very cold place. In winter it is about 31 degrees below zero, and the average for summer is about 50 degrees above. People are scattered, living in small villages from ten to fifteen miles apart. During World War II the Germans burned down almost every home up here when they were forced to retreat before the oncoming Russians.
“In our work in wintertime we use skis. Because of the long distances we never can come back to our home the same day, and therefore we spend a whole week in the territory. On such a trip on skis in April 1951 during a heavy snowstorm we came to Kiberg, a small village with around 350 people. This village was also called ‘Little Moscow’ because most people there were Communists. We rented a little hall and began advertising the talk to be given in Norwegian. All at once the whole village began to speak about us and claimed that we were American spies.
“The subject of the talk was: ‘Surviving Global War.’ When it took place almost 95 were assembled. They listened very closely and were thankful to hear the facts about Jehovah’s witnesses’ beliefs.
“After the talk one of the leaders came up to us. He explained that he was glad to hear our message and we should not pay anything for the hall. Most of them were now friendly toward us, and they asked us to come back very soon and give new talks. We placed the book ‘Let God Be True’ in almost every house and obtained 39 subscriptions. Now we have studies with many of them and it is a great pleasure to see how they now believe in the kingdom of Jehovah instead of in communism. This shows why the leaders of communism fear the message Jehovah’s witnesses bring.
“Then we went farther on and after 15 miles we came to Skalleelv, a village with about 300 inhabitants. At once we got the school for the public talk and began to advertise. Here everybody spoke Finnish, and therefore Brother Korttila had to give the talk in their own language. The hall was overcrowded and some even brought their own chairs. When the talk began 75 were there. Most of them belong to a Finnish sect called ‘Laestadians’, and are known as very fanatical in their belief of the hell-fire dogma.
“When the talk finished a great dispute began. Many had questions for the speaker and he had a busy time answering them before we could go home. They asked us to stay there one more day and give a second talk, but we were not able to do that. So we promised to be back very soon.”
The lands of the midnight sun have been visited by the workers Jehovah has sent forth. The seeds of truth have been sown and many have fallen into “good soil”. Fruit has been borne manyfold and more will come in the months ahead. (Matt. 13:1-23) The truth has penetrated throughout all the lands of Northern Europe and a great harvesting is under way. Soon the gathering of the sheeplike ones will be finished and then Jehovah will send forth his executional forces to destroy Satan’s wicked organization.—Rev. 14:14-20.