Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 22—Gilead and Congregational Ministry Schools
THE first one hundred students who met the qualifications were called to come to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead by January 31, 1943. The qualifications for entry into the new school were at least two years of full-time service as a pioneer and also a basic education equal to about high school training. Inasmuch as then the second world war was still being waged, only American pioneers were extended the call to join the first class. The next day, February 1, 1943, the school was dedicated with a plain but impressive program.a It was dedicated as a New World school of highest learning, with God’s sacred Word, the Bible, as the school’s basic textbook. N. H. Knorr, the school’s president, and several members of the Watch Tower Society’s board of directors gave addresses on this historic occasion. Later that day the school schedule of classes commenced. Five and a half hours of schooling are scheduled each of the five days of the week from 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. with one hour off for lunch at noon. Each day four classroom sessions and a lecture session are held. In the afternoon, from 2:40 until 5:40, three hours of domestic duties about the school and farm are assigned for diversion from school routine. Week ends are spent in doing research work and sharing in field service.
The school’s curriculum of studies is a full program offering 26 weeks of higher, college-level training equivalent to one year in secular colleges or universities. After ten years, in January, 1953, the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead was finally officially recognized by the United States Office of Education in Washington, D.C., as offering higher education comparable to professional colleges and educational institutions.b This has enabled the United States Department of Justice and its Immigration and Naturalization Service since January 15, 1953, together with the United States Department of State (functioning through its consuls in foreign countries), to grant foreign students of Jehovah’s witnesses visas to enter the United States to enroll at the Watchtower School under the nonimmigrant student visa arrangement.
Most of the subjects offered at this New World Bible school are Biblical ones comprising the one complete advanced course in the theocratic ministry and missionary service. In the five and a half months of intensified schooling, studies are offered in theocratic records, missionary service, theocratic ministry, Bible truth, public speaking, Bible research, Scriptural facts, history of worship, Kingdom prophecies, Supreme Law, Bible themes and a foreign language.c In the past Spanish, French, Italian, Urdu, Malayalam, Arabic, Portuguese, and Japanese have been taught, depending on what foreign assignment that particular term’s missionaries were to be prepared for. In addition to the Society’s published versions of the Bible as the principal textbooks, almost all of the Society’s other recent Biblical publications well serve as textbooks, including the Watchtower magazine. An excellent up-to-date library is maintained, of nearly nine thousand volumes specializing in the fields of religion and Bible works. A modern combination library building and classroom was completed for occupancy in 1947. Other construction was done and equipment added to bring the school plant up to modern requirements for efficient higher-education purposes. There was a recent installation of an observatory equipped with a 16-inch telescope for viewing the starry wonders of Jehovah’s universe. A delightful school campus has been developed through the years, which has been inspected by thousands of visiting witnesses from all over the world.
Following are some interesting statistics for the first twelve and a half years of operation of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead (1943 to the summer of 1955), during which time twenty-five semiannual student groups have taken up residence for study. In these twelve and a half years 2,721 students have enrolled for study from 59 countries. Of this number, 2,631 completed the prescribed course of study, 90 having dropped out because of poor health, poor grades or for other reasons. Diplomas were awarded for meritorious study to 2,487 graduates, while the other 144 did not receive diplomas, as their scholastic marks were below the minimum standard for such an award. Of the graduates, 1,136 were ministers from 58 countries outside the United States, and 1,495 were American nationals. Of the 2,631 graduates 833 were single men, 796 single women and 1,002 married persons. In view of the fact that the Watch Tower Society pays the transportation of the students to and from their pioneer assignment in this country or abroad and also finances their education at the school, additionally giving them a small expense allowance each month during their schooling, the total expense has amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, covered by voluntary “Your Contribution Prospects” donations made to the Brooklyn headquarters. Upward of fifteen hundred of these graduated ministers are today on active missionary duty in more than a hundred lands in all the five continents and major islands of the seas. Truly a formidable, trained preaching army is this, which Jehovah has blessed in spear-heading the expansion of the New World society to the four corners of this terrestrial globe.
The Watchtower Bible School of Gilead having been successfully launched in February, 1943, the Society was ready to commence the third and most sweeping step in its new educational program. Now the time had come to organize further the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses to undertake a local educational program to train each and every one of the witnesses to become a more efficient minister. This meant the setting up of a theocratic ministry school in every congregation. At first it was decided to establish these ministry schools in the English-speaking countries and afterward encourage congregations in other lands to take up this new program as soon as they could get textbook material translated. To inaugurate this extensive educational program in 1943 the Society prepared its first textbook entitled “Course in Theocratic Ministry,” comprising fifty-two lessons, one to be covered each week. The 96-page book contained full instructions on how to operate the newly recommended theocratic school in each congregation.d
To set this new program into operation the Society arranged for the “Call to Action” Assembly April 17 and 18, 1943, held uniformly in 300 cities. At this mass assembly the surprise release was that of the new textbook Course in Theocratic Ministry. This new proposal to operate local ministry schools was enthusiastically adopted by the witnesses. Suggestions were made for all those congregations that wished to organize such a school immediately to send in their recommendations for a local school instructor or servant.e As soon as the Society returned an official appointment, schools commenced to get started in the Kingdom Halls for an hour each week following one of their other weekly congregational meetings such as the service meeting. In a matter of several weeks almost all the large congregations in the English-speaking world were operating theocratic ministry schools. Brothers young and old enrolled for speech training. Sisters faithfully attended the lectures and participated in the oral reviews and, later, in the written reviews, to take advantage of the practical and helpful education to be used in their house-to-house preaching service. To augment this course other excellent textbooks were released later by the Society, such as Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers in 1945, and “Equipped for Every Good Work” in 1946. During the 1955 summer conventions a fourth ministry-school textbook was released entitled “Qualified to Be Ministers.” In 1944 the congregational ministry schools were encouraged to establish a theocratic ministry library in their Kingdom Halls. This would enable the students to have access to a full collection of the Society’s publications and other Biblical aids to help them to work up their student and instruction talks.f
During the twelve years of operating these congregational ministry schools, scores of thousands of male speakers of excellent training have been prepared for the public Christian ministry. In this continuous ministerial schooling the general field of correct public speaking has been covered, a reading and subject study has been made of the entire King James Version of the Bible (Society’s No. 10 Bible), and likewise of the American Standard Version (Society’s No. 11 Bible) and then of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures and of Volume I of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Biblical lectures on Bible themes have been presented.
Altogether it has been a rich course of practical ministerial training. Religious ministers of Christendom spend three or four years studying in a theological seminary and then graduate, seeming to know everything and not needing to pursue any further studies. Not so Jehovah’s witnesses, who continue their ministerial schooling indefinitely to keep bright and up to the minute their education for the true Christian ministry. This remarkable educational program has been a tremendous success. What other religious organization in these modern times has devoted such prodigious efforts in educating its associates of 608,000 ministers? Not one. The present preaching of the witnesses to congregations and in their house-to-house field service is on a higher level than ever before. This is now commonly recognized by the public, who accord the witnesses a superiority in speaking tactfully and making convincing effective appeals to Mr. and Mrs. Average Man. Jehovah’s witnesses are trained in the conversational style of public speaking, which is the rising style of speech communication, rather than the antiquated oratorical style held onto by the clergy. After 1944 the ten-year preaching campaign by means of phonograph recordings began to be replaced by personally presented sermons at the doors, which the ministers were now well trained to deliver.
After two years of education for the ministry a fairly large male staff of well-trained Bible speakers became available. For this reason the Watch Tower Society decided to inaugurate a world-wide public-speaking campaign commencing January, 1945. It was also well planned to maintain a uniform world-wide public appeal by means of a series of eight timely, striking subjects for talks. Furthermore, a uniformity of platform presentation was assured by the Society’s designing one-page outlines for each of these hour lectures. This enabled all speakers to present and emphasize uniformly certain major Biblical points of argument and information to convey to the world public. “Will Man Succeed as a World-Builder?” was the catching subject of the first public lecture in this opening series. It took time for the congregations to get into gear for this new public work that required special meetings in various public places, also to co-operate in advertising these by means of handbills in house-to-house work and on street corners. In the United States for this first year 18,646 public meetings were held, with a total attendance of 917,352. However, these meetings were conducted by only 1,558 of the 2,871 congregations in the States at that time.g In 1946 the number of public meetings rose to 28,703 for the American field, thus indicating a rolling along with this new preaching feature.h Each year since 1945 the Society has regularly released outlines for a new series of eight public talks, which have stimulated the powerful, world-wide public platform now operated by Jehovah’s people.
Thousands of newly interested ones have been given spiritual nourishment through this important preaching service. The trained theocratic speakers have put forth great effort to make these lectures a continuing success.
(To be continued)
a Watchtower, 1943 pp. 60-64; Consolation, March 17, 1943, pp. 3-16 (complete story of the opening together with pictures).
b 1954 Yearbook, p. 62.
c 1944 Yearbook, pp. 39-43.
d 1944 Yearbook, pp. 63-66.
e Informant, April and May, 1943.
f Informant, January, 1944.
g 1946 Yearbook, p. 43.
h 1947 Yearbook, p. 46.