1954 District Assemblies World-wide
An outstanding series of more than 80 gatherings this year
JEHOVAH’S witnesses were on their way. All over the world they were getting together. By air liners and chartered trains, by private automobiles, by boats and in some places even by bicycle and on foot, they were assembling for a world-wide series of more than 80 district and national assemblies, which had a total attendance of over 427,000 persons.
These assemblies were held in many places, and therefore under vastly different circumstances. In large cities there was often the convenience of a fine auditorium; in places in the South African “bush” they were held right out in the open. Ball parks were made into “hall” parks and great stadiums were converted to theocratic use. There was the floor-level cafeteria in Japan, the warm-water baptism in Puerto Rico, the assembly in four major languages in Honolulu (English, Ilocano, Korean and Japanese), and the beautiful weather at Villach, Austria, where some of the brothers chose to sit outside the hall on the bank of the river to listen to the talks.
In some places transportation was a problem. In Northern Rhodesia the Society’s van carried sound equipment to the assemblies in the “bush,” driving 2,000 miles over dirt roads through wild territory, and, in one instance, being only the second vehicle over that particular road this year! In order to get to the assembly in Seoul, many Korean witnesses, some with babies strapped on their backs, rode all day or all night standing all the way in hot, humid coaches. A ship was hired at half the regular cost by the Bergen, Norway, congregations to transport 300 of the brothers to the Stavanger district assembly. These instances illustrate the great effort that was put forth to get to the assemblies, but, as a brother of 65 years, who reported having walked a hundred miles in three days to get to one Northern Rhodesian assembly, said: “It was worth it!”
THE VALUABLE PROGRAM
Yes, the program was rich. It was made up of practical, Scriptural, theocratic discussions that heightened the hearers’ already great appreciation for Jehovah’s provisions through the New World society. At most assemblies the program was basically the same. On Thursday afternoon the chairman’s address of welcome showed the importance of proper appreciation for what was to be heard, of proper deportment at the assembly, and served to remind the conventioners that the welcome at such gatherings actually comes from God. Other Thursday talks outlined the practicalness of showing the principle of love by loyalty, showed the importance of helping new interest to mature, and of being mature oneself through regular participation in all the congregation meetings. On Friday practical advice was given on the best ways to reach the people of good will by means of the magazines, through expanding our service and by using the Bible in our house-to-house ministry. That evening such topics as dispelling the spirit of complaint, theocratic family conduct and the importance of recognizing Jehovah’s organization were discussed.
On Saturday the importance of daily blessing Jehovah, of keeping integrity and of showing true love was stressed. The vigorous fight for freedom to preach world-wide was recounted, and in the talks “Lies Lead to Loss of Life” and “Christians Live the Truth” the need for Christians to be honest and upright in all their dealings was stressed.
Sunday morning the necessity of speeding up the flight of an ever-growing multitude of persons into Jehovah’s organization was outlined in the discourse “Speeding Up the Flight to the Mountains,” and, through tape recording at many assemblies, the Watch Tower Society’s vice-president and president spoke on “The Sacredness of Our Warfare” and “Sanctity of Christian Warriors Guarantees Victory.”
Then came the climax, the widely advertised public lecture “God’s Love to the Rescue in Man’s Crisis.” Did the public respond to the invitation to attend? Indeed they did! More than a quarter of the attendance at Brebach in the Saar were people of good will. The 13,800 in Denmark were nearly 6,000 more persons than there are Jehovah’s witnesses in that entire land. And in the tiny Caribbean republic of Haiti the excellent attendance of 1,679 was eleven times the approximately 150 brothers who were present!
This public lecture related the ways Jehovah has proved his love, which ways include his provision of a ransom and of a righteous Government and of the opportunity of everlasting life for man. It concluded with an appeal to the audience to band together with the New World society to receive everlasting life, and so that “God’s love in coming to our rescue will be vindicated.”
The Watch Tower’s enthused Canadian branch wrote: “The entire program of the convention was a combination of spiritual explanation and instruction, along with logical, practical advice of the best way of reaching the people of good will with the wonderful message that Jehovah has entrusted to his people to deliver.”
UNITED STATES ASSEMBLIES
Seventeen of the year’s district assemblies were held in the United States. The largest of these was in Boston, Massachusetts, in the thickly settled East; the smallest were in the sparsely settled areas of the West. Yet all had the same spirit of love and Christian brotherhood that is always manifested at assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses. The Boston assembly was held in comfortable Fenway Park, home of the local baseball team, and it had a peak attendance of 17,910. There were three other assemblies near the east coast, one at Mooers Field in Richmond, Virginia, another at the large Johnson-Hagood Memorial Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, and the southernmost assembly was in Plant Field at the fairgrounds in Tampa, on the west side of Florida.
The nation’s second-largest assembly (attendance 17,588) was held in the convenient Cincinnati Gardens arena in Cincinnati, Ohio. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city put a large electric-lighted sign on the City Hall tower. Visible over a considerable area of the city, it proclaimed: “Welcome Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The New Orleans, Louisiana, meeting was in Pelican Stadium, a place of considerable local pride, being the home of the city’s victorious baseball club.
Assemblies at Sioux City, Iowa, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, were held in modern, air-conditioned municipal auditoriums, with stage settings appropriate for New World society gatherings. The San Antonio, Texas, district assembly had a Latin-American touch, with discourses on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Spanish language, and 1,637 in attendance at the Spanish public meeting.
It was a hot but happy group that assembled along the Mexico-United States border in the El Paso, Texas, Coliseum. The Pueblo, Colorado, meeting, held in the grandstand at the state fairgrounds, suffered some difficulty with regular afternoon windstorms, sometimes accompanied by rain, but none of the program was missed, for the speakers continued their talks from the press box located across from the stands.
Billings, Montana, is in an area that is mostly just wide-open space, and here there was a true cross section of western brothers: ranchers, sheepherders, farmers, miners, oil men and business people—all zealous servants of Jehovah. Salt Lake City, Utah, is the capital and headquarters of the “Latter-day Saints” or Mormon church, which practically controls all the large places of assembly. However, the Utah State Fairgrounds Coliseum was obtained. Two Hopi Indians from Arizona, who recently accepted the truth and have been actively spreading the good news of the Kingdom among their tribesmen on the reservation, were among those baptized here.
The three remaining United States assemblies were held on the west coast, in San Diego and Oakland, California, and in Portland, Oregon. The Portland assembly was held at Portland Meadows, which is a race track. The acting mayor, who extended the city’s wishes for a most successful convention, said he was glad to see these facilities being used for such purpose.
The largest Canadian assembly was in Toronto, Ontario. Here the meeting was for five days, rather than four, so that the graduation of the 116 students of the twenty-third class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead could be held on the assembly’s third day.
After song, prayer and reading of telegrams from many parts of the world, Gilead’s five instructors briefly gave parting words of counsel. It was pointed out that trials reveal whether one is truly dedicated or serving out of selfishness, that something is wrong when one seeks social contacts outside the New World society, that for safety we must ‘hold fast to the organization,’ never losing sight of or acting independent of it, that we must be kind, for sheep may need a rod at times but never a kick, that we radiate spiritual good health by sticking close to God’s Word and his visible instrument, and that by ‘holding fast to quality service’ quotas would take care of themselves.
Next F. W. Franz, the Society’s vice-president, developed the theme of the missionaries’ happy lot, for they are “taking the lead in showing men how to love.” We need love to be happy, and by giving generously—missionaries have so many opportunities to give—we shall be loved spontaneously. Then the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, gave admonition on “Think on These Things.” He pointed out that failure to think on right things will cause one to lose the truth, and contrasted the fruits of old-world thinking with those of right thinking. Stressed also were the need of keeping clean in thought and conduct and the importance of going to God’s Word and to God in prayer in forming proper mental habits.
Four other assemblies were held in Canada, in the extreme east in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Halifax, Nova Scotia; out in the prairie provinces in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and on the Pacific Coast in beautiful flower-decked Queens Park in New Westminster, British Columbia. This latter meeting served brothers from as far north as the Arctic Circle.
Four assemblies were held in Britain. One was in an ice rink in Dunfermline, Scotland, across the well-known Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. The rink was made into such a cozy Kingdom Hall and the brothers had such a friendly atmosphere that one landlady said that nowhere had she seen religious instruction given under such natural conditions of fellowship, and added: “I intend getting in among these people.” A generous sprinkling of local people who had been impressed with the organization came to hear the message. A school headmaster, seeing a fellow teacher in the crowd on the way out, remarked: “We are always learning, aren’t we!”
The second British assembly was in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Here, where the deep-rooted feud between the Protestants and Catholics flares up periodically into open conflict, the orderliness, dignity and courtesy of the New World society were characteristics that could be noted both out in the field and at Ulster Hall where the assembly was located.
The assemblies at Nottingham, in the Midlands, and at Luton, some thirty miles north of London, were held in athletic grounds. In Britain these are built to house an active and often boisterous crowd for an hour or so, therefore only limited seating is needed and provided. But there are plenty of concrete terraces for standing. Volunteers built enough benches at Nottingham to more than double the seating capacity, and newspapers throughout the area commented on the transformation that had taken place at Luton. A national newspaper added: “Just a ball of string kept the thousands to the three-foot cinder path and not one foot was placed on the pitch.”
Assembly publicity was tremendous. Many radio and television stations carried quarter-hour or even half-hour interviews with the visiting speakers. One Cincinnati radio station alone broadcast five interviews. A number of television stations showed parts of the descriptive film “The New World Society in Action.” A Toronto broadcaster said: “If you want to know about Jehovah’s witnesses it won’t cost you anything to go down to the Grandstand and find out.”
Newspapers of all sizes and descriptions reported on the assemblies. In the Boston, Massachusetts, area alone 120 newspapers carried assembly reports. In Sioux City, Iowa, the assembly’s best coverage was in a two-and-a-half-pound Centennial issue of the Sioux City Journal—a souvenir item that was sent all over the country. The local newspaper in Billings, Montana, carried assembly information into a wide area that is normally off the beaten path, helping to acquaint people in unassigned territory with the activity of Jehovah’s witnesses.
In Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, the paper carried front-page photographs and a write-up. From Cuba comes the report: “The newspaper publicity included a splendid interview with the Society’s vice-president.” From Puerto Rico: “The principal newspapers of the island carried information concerning Jehovah’s witnesses and the assembly. A radio station broadcast the entire public lecture free of charge although it lasted one hour and twelve minutes.” The conventioners in Denmark were waiting anxiously to see if moving into the Forum, Denmark’s largest indoor hall, would make a difference with that conservative land’s newspapers that had ignored former Danish assemblies. Indeed it did! They carried nearly 1,500 column inches of material and fifty pictures. One article speaking of the tremendous crowds, proclaimed: “Billy Graham Can’t Hold a Candle to This.”
Assembly publicity in Luton, England, goaded the Anglican bishop to write a letter to the churches calling the witnesses heretics and schismatics and generally trying to minimize the effect of this Christian gathering. The local press carried the text of the bishop’s letter, together with the Witnesses’ reply, and it also published a good report on the assembly.
Assembly publicity in the Netherlands was the best the press had ever given in that land, though the local clergy apparently thought that curbing the preconvention activity would be as easy as writing a smear article or two in their religious papers. However, some Dutch Reformed people became so indignant over these articles that they volunteered to provide conventioners with rooms, some even offering them free.
In the United States many brothers were thrilled to see the Berlin assembly brought right into their own living rooms through means of television newscasts on the Thursday following that assembly. Movies showed the immersion, including close-up shots of sisters being lowered under the water. The announcer mentioned that more than twenty thousand witnesses were in attendance, and that two thirds of them came from the East Zone of Germany at the risk of their lives. This he referred to as a real demonstration of faith.
Proper Christian behavior is easily recognized and makes a good impression. The sergeant of police of Fenway Park in Boston said that Jehovah’s witnesses were the most orderly crowd in the park in his eighteen years there. The practice of applying the principle of love to everyday living was being explained by one of the witnesses to a group of Naples policemen on duty at the theater where the Italian assembly was being held, when one of the officers admitted: “We are here only to increase the attendance. I can’t understand why other religions don’t teach what you do.” The explanation came from another policeman: “That’s simple. They have the truth and follow it, while the other religions engage in politics.”
An example of this Christian love was shown in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Forum was packed to the doors a half hour before the public talk was to start. At twenty minutes to three it was requested that some of the brothers wearing lapel badges vacate their seats so as to make room for the good-will persons still outside. The response? Almost two thousand brothers and sisters lovingly stood up en masse and quickly moved out into the streets, allowing many guests to find a place and to hear the high point of the assembly.
After the assembly was over, the Oakland, California, Tribune said: “Lindsley Lueddeke, director of Oakland Auditorium and Exposition buildings, will welcome Jehovah’s witnesses with open arms should they decide to hold another district assembly in Oakland. . . . There were no problems of any kind, and when the assembly ended the buildings were left spotlessly clean, largely because a committee of 50, moving about the arena, picked up every discarded scrap of paper almost the instant it hit the floor. ‘Be REALLY glad to see them come back,’ says Lueddeke.”
An unusual aspect of this year’s assemblies was the warm attitude of city officials. In the United States it started off at Cincinnati, one of the earlier assemblies. When the speakers from Brooklyn arrived at the airport, Dorothy N. Dolbey, the acting mayor, was present to extend an official welcome and to drive them into town. The mayor or one of his aids also came out to welcome the assembly officials in Charleston, South Carolina; Sioux City, Iowa, and Portland, Oregon. In Toronto, Ontario, a member of the City Council said they were “proud to have this Christian organization coming to Toronto,” and mentioned especially its good work among young people.
In a number of cities the officials granted permission for large advertising banners to be put up across principal streets, and police escorts were frequently provided for car-sign parades through the heart of the city, each car bearing an overhead sign announcing the public talk.
The assembly chairman at Tampa, Florida, asked: “Why the change in attitude toward Jehovah’s witnesses since former days? Undoubtedly the two record-breaking assemblies in 1950 and 1953 at Yankee Stadium, New York city, where demonstrations of law and order, peace and Christian unity rocked the religious world, contributed much to this changed attitude.”
The effect of this truthful publicity was specifically evident at Tampere, Finland, where reports in their Finnish newspapers about the 1953 Yankee Stadium assembly prompted the directors of the Tampere Hippos to volunteer it for assembly rental. It was used for this summer’s meeting.
The total number baptized at the district assemblies was 14,509!
In Seoul, Korea, the baptism was held in the swimming pool at the school that was rented for the assembly. However, since the war this pool had been filled with rubble and debris. The brothers cleaned out the bricks, stones and mortar and then got a sister’s husband to haul several fire truckloads of water to fill the pool. The school and the children of the community are grateful to Jehovah’s witnesses for holding their baptism there and restoring the pool for them. When the baptismal candidates were asked to stand at this Seoul assembly, everyone was astonished to see almost a third of the audience rise!
In Copenhagen, Denmark, the police would not give permission for one continual car parade from the assembly hall to the immersion pool, but they broke it down into groups of ten and fifteen cars, then provided a police escort for each group. This arrangement merely called additional attention to the assembly, because every three minutes a new group of cars would pass the amazed sidewalk onlookers. Each car carried a sign identifying it as part of Jehovah’s witnesses’ baptism.
Perhaps the most unusual baptism, though, was in the Luapula River at Kashiba, Northern Rhodesia. It is infested with crocodiles, so a number of brothers first went out in their boats (which are hollowed-out tree trunks) and formed a ring around the immersion place. The crocodiles kept away and the immersion of 580 brothers went ahead smoothly.
To hold assemblies of such size, many rooming accommodations must be obtained, not only from hotels, but also from private homes. Almost everywhere this year sufficient accommodations were obtained in good time and the rooming work was completed well ahead of schedule. In New Westminster, British Columbia, the chief of police had asked where the thousands of conventioners would stay, since all the available rooms would be taken by the visitors who came to the widely advertised British Empire Games, which were to be held at the same time as the assembly. It was discovered, however, that the landladies had become room-renting conscious and were happy to have Jehovah’s witnesses stay with them, while the other visitors did not have such a good reputation. The rooming work was finished in just ten days, and many more offers of accommodations had to be turned down.
In Kyoto, Japan, another source of accommodations was found—Buddhist temples. One temple provided accommodations for ninety brothers, and received a good witness. One brother who stayed at a temple talked two and a half hours with his host, the Buddhist priest, who is a Watchtower subscriber and who came to the assembly and said that if he can gain faith in Jehovah he will abandon his Buddhist religion.
Assembly places of the right size are often difficult to find, and to make them satisfactory considerable work is sometimes necessary. In Salt Lake City, Utah, more than a hundred brothers and sisters spent several days cleaning the auditorium and converting it into a suitable assembly location. The manager was dumfounded. Never in all the thirty years that he could remember had the place been so clean. Mooers Field in Richmond, Virginia, is now generally used for midget auto racing, and was pretty well run down. Preassembly work included painting the main entrance building and the boards surrounding the field. By assembly time it looked very nice.
In Honolulu the brothers could not move into the school building where the assembly was to be held until 9 p.m. on the day immediately preceding the assembly. The Adventists were using it up until that time. Brothers were notified of this and about 400 of them moved in as soon as the Adventists moved out. First came the sweeping compound, then about a hundred with brooms and mops. In a very short time the auditorium was spick-and-span, chairs were being set up, flowers were arranged on the stage, the yeartext appeared, sound equipment was installed, and in less than four hours this volunteer labor had transformed the place into a large Kingdom Hall. This proved to be a good witness to those watching and an encouragement to new ones who saw the unity of Jehovah’s witnesses and the evidence of His spirit upon the organization.
In Lahore, Pakistan, an outstanding impression was made on the Moslems by the sight of Europeans, who, in these lands, never stoop to menial tasks, working side by side with their darker brothers in the kitchen of the cafeteria and in street advertising work. Street work, which was done for the first time in this strongly Moslem town, forced many to take notice. Said one high-placed Moslem official who attended the public lecture: “You can sense the spirit of God with these people. You find a restful and happy atmosphere where they are and you always feel welcome.”
The final chapter of the assemblies cannot yet be written, because their real success will depend upon how the conventioners apply to their own personal and congregational activity the things they learned and the suggestions that were made at these assemblies. Weak points were stressed. The importance of meeting attendance was driven home. All were encouraged to more zealous service. From Indonesia comes the report of a new peak in publishers the following month. From Puerto Rico it was reported that attendance at the congregation meetings has increased considerably, sometimes as much as twenty-five per cent.
Also, Jehovah’s witnesses are thinking of next year, when brothers from many parts of the globe will assemble in conventions in North America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands. When the Italian branch servant at the Naples district assembly enthusiastically announced that one 1955 international assembly would be in Rome, tears of joy were a common sight. Although many of Jehovah’s witnesses in Italy are very poor materially, yet the thought of having brothers from other lands come to associate with them in Christian assembly has made them determine to be in Rome next year to praise Jehovah and to enjoy the sweet fellowship of their brothers who are coming from overseas.
Now all eyes are turned to 1955 and the witnessing work ahead, with the international assemblies just seven months away!
[Chart on page 720]
1954 DISTRICT ASSEMBLY FIGURES
This chart does not include all the assemblies, because some in the Southern Hemisphere were held later in the year, after this chart went to press. (Totals are given for the country if it had four or more assemblies.)
Broken Hill, N.S.W. 401 8
Kalgoorlie, W. Aus. 945 42
Rockhampton, Qld. 340 16
Toowoomba, Qld. 1,520 58
(More assemblies later)
Bregenz 776 29
Linz 1,217 49
Villach 1,166 68
Ghent 1,998 59
Liège 2,464 96
Belfast, N. Ireland 1,055 20
Dunfermline, Scotland 2,672 47
Luton 11,839 305
Nottingham 9,620 171
Total 25,186 543
Halifax, N. S. 1,801 60
New Westminster, B. C. 9,632 205
Saint John’s, Newf. 436 33
Saskatoon, Sask. 6,232 125
Toronto, Ont. 22,201 564
Total 40,302 987
Havana 4,212 50
Holguin 1,761 35
Copenhagen 13,800 523
ETHIOPIA 251 0
Kuopio 2,000 44
Tampere 4,750 118
Amiens 4,317 69
Lyons 1,584 96
Nancy 960 67
Paris 3,300 124
Total 10,161 356
Berlin 22,500 1,022
Bielefeld 6,498 189
Bremen 6,534 292
Cologne 8,567 315
Freiburg 6,070 184
Hof 3,780 197
Munich 8,149 283
Neumünster 4,709 152
Wiesbaden 7,750 220
Total 74,557 2,854
Guatemala City 751 59
Port-au-Prince 1,679 3
HAWAII, Honolulu 1,120 38
HONG KONG 190 7
Djakarta 204 11
Surabaja 185 7
ITALY, Naples 1,260 106
JAPAN, Kyoto 536 22
KOREA, Seoul 1,245 284
LUXEMBOURG 252 1
The Hague 11,800 283
Broken Hill (African) 11,069 466
Chingola (African) 8,678 317
Kashiba (African) 7,121 580
Luanshya (African) 15,000 589
Mankoya (African) 1,017 126
Mulilo (African) 2,375 339
Mwanza (African) 2,779 200
Nkana-Kitwe (European) 133 6
Total 48,172 2,623
Hamar 1,327 43
Narvik 326 26
Stavanger 632 17
Vardø 50 0
Total 2,335 86
PAKISTAN, Lahore 335 9
PUERTO RICO, Arecibo 777 24
SAAR, Brebach 1,058 20
Bloemfontein (African) 718 33
Bloemfontein (European) 1,520 75
Durban (African) 1,903 122
Durban (Non-European) 141 13
East London (African) 607 47
East London (Non-European) 87 3
Johannesburg (African) 5,641 280
Cape Town (African) 420 40
Cape Town (Non-European) 414 21
Total 11,451 634
Bulawayo 8,025 153
Salisbury (African) 3,370 280
Salisbury (European) 371 17
St. Gallen 3,120 62
Vevy 746 13
THAILAND, Bangkok 231 10
Billings, Mont. 1,796 75
Boston, Mass. 17,910 424
Charleston, S. C. 4,351 88
Cincinnati, Ohio 17,588 440
El Paso, Tex. 1,279 32
Milwaukee, Wis. 12,618 368
New Orleans, La. 5,482 134
Oakland, Calif. 11,460 387
Oklahoma City, Okla. 5,389 136
Portland, Oreg. 9,439 330
Pueblo, Colo. 4,761 120
Richmond, Va. 11,460 247
Salt Lake City, Utah 1,573 73
San Antonio, Tex. 7,543 180
San Diego, Calif. 14,538 414
Sioux City, Iowa 5,257 142
Tampa, Fla. 6,764 170
Total 139,208 3,760
VENEZUELA, Caracas 829 62
TOTAL AT THE ASSEMBLIES
LISTED HERE 427,057 14,509
[Picture on page 715]
City Hall tower Milwaukee, Wisconsin