Part 4—The “Triumphant Kingdom” Assemblies of 1955
New York City, N.Y., July 20-24, 1955
It was a testimony to the desirableness of their patronage that for the third time in five years Jehovah’s witnesses were invited to hold their 1955 international assembly in New York city’s great stadium run by the Yankee baseball team. With a play on baseball language, the New York Times published a partial view of the great crowd there on the opening day under the caption “Jehovah’s Witnesses Bring a Different Kind of Teamwork to Yankee Stadium.” Printed under that was the legend: “With second base transformed into a flower-banked pulpit, Jehovah’s Witnesses open their ‘Triumphant Kingdom’ Assembly.”
Yes, it was theocratic teamwork of the New World society that made all the preparations for the assembly, then got the stadium ready and equipped for the five-day meet, and finally carried on the assembly to its successful conclusion. This turned out to be the greatest of the series of five summer assemblies on the North American continent, and the attendance surpassed the preliminary estimate. Though international, this was not a single world assembly; so no Trailer City was needed this time as in 1950 and 1953, but Yankee Stadium itself proved ample for the total attendance.
Opened officially with a ringing address of welcome by the Canadian branch servant, P. Chapman, this fifth assembly of the series moved along with an enthusiasm and a verve that showed the assembly series was by no means growing stale anywhere. Many were the missionaries and delegates present from foreign lands to relate experiences, and the list of speakers was most varied. The assembly’s being in New York city allowed for many of the Society’s headquarters men to serve on the program besides N. H. Knorr, the president. This opening day attendance ran up to 29,972, giving promise of a good crowd for Sunday’s climax.
Hundreds of French-speaking brothers were here, especially from Quebec Province, Canada, and also many Spanish-speaking. So meetings were arranged and held in French and Spanish at opposite ends of the grandstand, lower decks, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, of two hours’ duration each. The first all-French meeting was attended by 375, and the simultaneous Spanish meeting by 245.
The Watch Tower Society’s radio station, WBBR, had a department at the center of the mezzanine deck of the grandstand and made recordings of select speeches. These it began reproducing on its broadcasts from Thursday morning forward.
It was about two o’clock this Thursday afternoon that the convention chairman opened a cablegram from the Society’s branch office in London, England, reading: “Adverse decision. All three against us.” Thus this day the three-judge court of appeals, the Second Division of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland, affirmed the January decision of the trial judge, Lord Strachan, against Jehovah’s witnesses, namely, that the young witness, a pioneer and at the same time servant of the Dumbarton congregation, was not a “regular minister” within the meaning of the 1948 National Service Act and so was not exempt from call-up for military service. This left an appeal to the British House of Lords at London as the only next human step to take. This adverse decision against Jehovah’s witnesses in Britain provided an excellent background against which to speak for the Society’s legal counsel and attorney, H. C. Covington, when he addressed the assembly this same evening at 7:30 on the subject “Activity and Life versus Inactivity and Death.” In introducing him the temporary chairman advised the assembly of the adverse decision of that day and remarked that, if the appeal to the House of Lords should fail, then the only course left would be to appeal to the highest court of the universe, that of the living God, Jehovah, and there we, His witnesses, would win without fail. Though this was the hottest July in New York’s record and the temperature rose to 96 degrees F., the record for 1955 till then, the assembly attendance also rose, to 32,045 for this powerful speech.
Friday morning the conventioners rejoiced to see 1,374 present themselves acceptably for water baptism, a number far in excess of that anticipated. Tonight, after releasing the new booklet against spiritism to his audience of 34,258, the president directed some words specially to these newly baptized ones, that this booklet would be of particular help to them as they had now taken sides with Jehovah against Satan the Devil and all his demons. Today the convention made news even in New York’s Chinatown, and the Chinese Journal came out with a sizable article about the assembly.
This evening the Society’s chartered convention ship Arosa Star anchored at Southampton, England, with its 794 passengers, including two instructors of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and also the farm servant of Kingdom Farm on which the school is located. So these three could not attend the Yankee Stadium assembly. Later in the day the other chartered liner, Arosa Kulm, put in to the same port with its 795 passengers.
The Yankee Stadium assembly was following the general pattern of the entire series of summer conventions, but Saturday morning something distinctive was added—the graduation exercises of the 25th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead.
At 10:15 a.m. the exercises began, with the president, Brother Knorr, presiding. On the grass to the right of the platform sat the 102 members of the graduating class, in bright sunshine from a cloudless, azure sky. At the school most of the students had studied Spanish, but others from Canada, French, and six had studied Japanese under a fellow student, a former Japanese Buddhist. First to be introduced to speak to them was the Spanish instructor. He said: “You do not have to fear depression and loss of gains as do persons who graduate from schools of the old world.” Nonetheless, he warned them that “you have to put up a fight to stick to your work from here on out.” He urged them to aim at the immediate goal of their special training: to be active and fruitful in God’s service. The mathematics instructor next gave farewell remarks. “Today you graduate, but you don’t have to look for a job. . . . What you have is more than a mere job. It is a profession, your life’s career, and you put your heart into it.” He urged them to advance in knowledge and in teaching ability, to excel as servants of God, always recognizing and co-operating with the Society.
For the Kingdom Farm family with whom the graduates had worked after school hours the assistant to the farm servant now spoke. He held before them as graduates the picture of ultimate triumph. For their work’s sake they should pay constant attention to themselves and their teaching, never losing out on love, zeal, devotion, joy, not letting themselves be disturbed in foreign assignments by health, homesickness, loneliness or worldly attractions. May their class picture hanging on Gilead’s wall make him glad, yes, make Jehovah glad, by their always being triumphant.
The next speaker, the vice-president, reminded the graduates to be always a sweet odor to God and to life seekers by everywhere making the fragrant knowledge of God perceptible. They should learn to love the assignment to which they are sent, not fleeing from it like Jonah, but remembering that there, too, God leads them in his triumphal procession. Their faithful work will never be in vain.
Other words of greeting and well-wishing followed, but they were from absent ones whose messages were read by the president’s secretary. From former graduates and others in widely scattered lands they came. From the Arosa Star came the radioed message that was held for reading on graduation day: “In mid-Atlantic our thoughts with graduation class. May Jehovah use you trained ministers to bless multitudes.” This was signed: Schroeder, Friend [Gilead instructors] and Markus [farm servant].
Then the president himself spoke. He based his loving counsel on 1 Peter 1:12-14. Prophetic witnesses of old had interested themselves in Jehovah’s purposes. Even the angels of heaven desired to look into these things and to know their fulfillment. These same important things should call forth the same keen interest on the part of these graduates. They should always keep this interest at high pitch, thus be always moved to study into these matters, and be enthusiastic and zealous for working in harmony with these things and making them known to others, to Jehovah’s praise. “Let us never be stingy with what we have to offer our heavenly Father. The responsibility rests upon you to bring about the vindication of Jehovah’s name.”
Came now the time for the president to hand out diplomas. In the alphabetic order of their names the graduates filed onto the platform from the right and around before the microphone where each received the precious graduation envelope, the president announcing the graduate’s future assignment as he handed out the envelope. Encouraging and appreciative applause rose from the great audience of more than 23,000 as each assignment was heard. The graduates had come from sixteen different lands; they were now assigned to serve Jehovah in twenty-four lands, north, south, east and west. For the first time two were assigned to missionary service in Taiwan or Formosa, where the eighteen-year-old ban against Jehovah’s witnesses had been lifted only this past May.
It was now the turn of the twenty-fifth class of Gilead to respond. They did so, with a resolution read by a brother in the graduating class. The resolution expressed heartfelt thanks for all that had made their training at Gilead possible and it voiced their resolves for the future. They would make Jehovah more known, walk faithfully in Christ’s steps, hold fast to God’s Word, fearlessly keep separate from this old world till it ceases to exist forever, work with Jehovah’s visible organization, fulfill all responsibilities and privileges bestowed upon them, and humbly serve their brothers and all good-will persons yet to be gathered “in one loving and united New World society destined, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, to live through Armageddon and endlessly in God’s new world.” A fellow student seconded the motion to adopt this resolution. The entire graduating body applauded in its united adoption. A song was joined in by all the assembly, then a prayer by the president brought the blessed graduation exercises to a close at 12:20 p.m.
The temperature of 100 degrees F. was defied this afternoon by 35,753 who heard the president talk on “Jehovah Is in His Holy Temple” and then release the new book on surviving Armageddon. Comments were heard, such as, “Oh!” “To think we are living in this day!” “That’s wonderful!” and “You can see that Jehovah is in his holy temple just from this talk.” Increasing appreciation of the assembly showed itself in a still larger crowd of 36,280 tonight.
The rain Sunday morning ceased before the morning sessions at the stadium began. At the French meeting at noon there was an enthusiastic crowd of 443, and at the public lecture in Spanish there was a crowd of 500 to hail the release of the new booklet in Spanish on the same subject. From Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic, under a Roman Catholic dictator that has banned Jehovah’s witnesses, the brothers telephoned in their greetings to the assembly, saying: “All here wish you Jehovah’s blessing there.”
The skies continued cloudy, but the public turned out to hear “World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom” at 3 p.m. The listeners numbered 55,009, or more than five thousand above the number expected. At the close of the president’s talk there was sustained applause, and on being informed of his flight tonight to Britain the great crowd clapped out a “God speed” to him. A few minutes before the closing session, the “closing remarks” by the president, it began to rain, becoming quite heavy for a while. The remarks that rewarded the 45,144 that remained were greatly enjoyed. They took to heart the reminder that children are not to be considered too cute to be corrected; that it is inconsistent with Isaiah 2:2-4 for parents to provide children with war toys; and that children should love parents and not think they are entitled to charge their parents money for services their parents want them, or ask them, to render. Young witnesses follow bad examples when they copy the notoriously worldly movie stars as to their dress, their conduct, etc. We are a separated people, smelling differently by exhaling godliness and the knowledge of God. God has not been stingy with us; at this series of summer assemblies we have received five new releases, five new theocratic publications by the Watch Tower Society. We are experiencing an expansion period and building new factories and branch buildings therefor. Till now, at the five assemblies, a total of 3,976 were baptized, and there was a total audience of 171,701 for the public lecture. But now the European assemblies were before us, with a great participation expected. Word from Germany many advised that already requests for rooming accommodations for 61,000 at the Nuremberg assembly had been received from fifty-three lands. Thoughtfully appreciation was expressed toward all who had joined in making the third Yankee Stadium assembly such a success; song and prayer followed, and the assembly was all over at 6:19 p.m. The rain, too, had stopped.
(To be continued)