Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 27—The International Assembly of 1946
JEHOVAH’S witnesses are not only preachers of Jehovah’s new world of righteousness but also practicers of New World principles. Already they have begun to conform themselves to New World standards of living, rejecting many old-world ways, customs and prejudices. They realize they are passing through a transition period when the old world system of things is to pass completely off the global scene and when the New World system of things has commenced to appear for the permanent control of this beautiful earth. As we noticed before in this historical study, since 1919 a theocratically organized New World society has come to the fore with Jehovah’s blessing. Its foundation and structure are Biblical, being ordained and directed by the true God, Jehovah. His Right Shepherd, Christ Jesus, keeps expanding the enclosure-like organization as a gigantic fold of sheeplike humans, to embrace crowds more of these “other sheep” from every part of the earth. Preaching and Bible education are necessary to identify one as a rescued “sheep,” who then gives evidence of his dedication by water baptism. This means that such a new foundling must thereafter grow up spiritually to become a worshiper of Jehovah and His minister to preach, because that is the chief work at present of all those in the theocratic New World society. Following such right steps there must be a maintaining of clean and regular association with the local congregational unit of the society. Such a rescued sheep no longer conducts himself independently as a wandering lost sheep but, rather, he responds to direction from the shepherding authority. As a properly guided sheep he rejoices in righteous association in the fold.
Wholesome association and fellowship for His sheeplike worshipers is what the Universal Shepherd, Jehovah, has provided through his organization. When God brought the millions of Israelites out of Egypt he guided them lovingly through his undershepherd Moses to whom he spoke: “The seasonal festivals of Jehovah that you should proclaim are holy conventions.” (Lev. 23:2, NW) During their wilderness travels and years later at Jerusalem millions of the Israelites assembled three times a year for as many as eight days of festival at a time. These were happy occasions of mass association and fellowship. These holy conventions were times of united worship of Jehovah their God. Music and singing likewise marked these as occasions of rejoicing. They were times for the hearing of the law and the word of God read and discussed. Many were the arrangements necessary to lodge and feed such a host of conventioners. Young and old met new friends, renewed old acquaintances, and heard exciting reports during these exhilarating days of happy association and celebration. At the close of these vast assemblies the Israelites returned to their local units or communities feeling spiritually refreshed to continue in their faithful course before Jehovah. Truly the living God, Jehovah, is a “happy God” who delights in the happiness of his people.—1 Tim. 1:11; Deut. 14:24-27, NW.
Assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses in these modern times have been an outstanding feature in their growth and development even as in the ancient days of Israel and also those of the apostles of Christ Jesus and other early Christians. These have supplied that need for wider fellowship, for broadening of one’s vision and for spiritual stimulation to greater works of faith and true worship. Prior to 1918 the yearly conventions were rather localized or sectional, none involving attendances over 4,000.a From 1919 to 1937 the largest assembly held at any one point rose to 25,000 in the United States.b In this latter period few of the brothers from outside the United States were able to attend to lend much of an international fellowship to gatherings there. From 1938 to 1944 there were several multicity conventions meeting simultaneously in several English-speaking countries tied together by radiotelephone facilities. This arrangement of assembly began to bring the witnesses together internationally as far as the spoken word for “one-way” hearing was concerned. There was, under this arrangement, no interchange of communication among the respective multicity segments of the far-flung gathering. The largest of these was the fifty-city convention of 1938 with London, England, as the key city, where the combined attendance at the climactic public meeting was 150,000.c All these multicity gatherings gave the administration of the Society much experience in planning for conventions. With this background in mind something new was planned for the period following World War II, a truly international assembly with a massive gathering at one central point where all assembled together in one physically present multitude.
That first of the series of great international assemblies was held at Cleveland, Ohio, from August 4 to 11, 1946. It was called the “Glad Nations Theocratic Assembly.” The city’s Municipal Stadium, its surrounding grounds and the adjoining city Auditorium were all engaged as premises for this vast assembly. Delegates came from thirty-two countries outside the United States as well as from every state inside the country. Sessions were held in twenty different languages. For the opening day there was a total attendance of 50,000. At the public lecture on the final Sunday 80,000 packed out the stadium to hear the talk “The Prince of Peace” delivered there by N. H. Knorr, the Society’s president. Some of the high lights of the assembly were the release of the Bible textbook “Equipped for Every Good Work”, the new magazine Awake! (successor to Consolation) and the new preaching instrument “Let God Be True”. In Lake Erie not far from the convention grounds 2,602 were immersed. Another matter to be long remembered was the president’s revealing of a proposed vast expansion program in connection with rebuilding the Bethel headquarters and also greatly enlarging the printing factory at 117 Adams Street, Brooklyn, New York. Branch offices in six countries were also to be enlarged. This four-million-dollar expansion program in four years was enthusiastically accepted by the 58,000 in attendance at that session.d
Bringing such a mass of people together for eight days of Christian worship at one point poses many problems. An outstanding problem is that of accommodation. A well-designed system was worked out for this Cleveland assembly which has become the pattern for all future national and international assemblies of the witnesses. For weeks before the convention scores of full-time pioneer workers were asked to volunteer and, if accepted, brought to Cleveland for preconvention services. Most of this staff were assigned to the rooming accommodation department. Along with congregation publishers these special workers made house-to-house calls and visited hotels to list accommodations for conventioners at various prices after inspecting the rooms offered. The convention office staff registered these rooms and sent out assignments to the witnesses as fast as the brothers wrote to the Convention Committee specifying their requirements. In this manner almost all conventioners were notified ahead of time as to their accommodations. The practice of arranging for the witnesses to stay in the homes of the local townspeople has proved to be a powerful witness, because it brings the public in close touch with the thinking and clean living of God’s transformed people. The kindness, loving consideration and deportment displayed by these visiting witnesses made a deep impression on the minds of many householders, who themselves have now become witnesses as a result.
At previous conventions held in 1937 at Columbus and in 1941 at St. Louis many American and Canadian witnesses had preferred to camp in tents or bring their trailers (caravans) for convention-time accommodation. So at the Cleveland assembly a large “Trailer Camp of Jehovah’s witnesses” was operated on the outskirts of Cleveland. Large fields were rented for the convention period, on which an orderly designed little city was laid out with streets and small allotments of sufficient size for the erection of tents or the parking of trailers. Sanitation, water, ten miles of electric cable and utility buildings were provided for this nomadic overnight community of 20,000 witnesses. Traffic control and administration of the “city” were in the hands of a staff of 550 volunteer witnesses who operated the entire project within the governmental health regulations of that county. A public-address system was installed to relay the convention sessions at the stadium to those of the “Trailer Camp” who could not get down to the stadium itself.
The feeding of scores of thousands at mealtimes three times a day has become a major undertaking. The cafeteria system of serving meals was found to be the most practical, and this experience had been gained at the many previous national assemblies held in the United States. For the Cleveland assembly a special plastic, sectional feeding tray had been designed, which facilitated the catering immensely. Five mechanical tray-washing machines were uniquely designed, built and operated for this convention. This tray system for cafeteria serving has become the practice at all conventions large and small of the witnesses in many parts of the earth since. Fast-moving lines of thousands of conventioners were directed to pass to one of the several serving lines where, after receiving a tray and cutlery, volunteer workers made servings of prepared dishes into the tray sections according to the choice of the customer. From the serving line the crowds in motion with their trays of food were directed to other halls or tents where waist-high tables were provided upon which the trays were placed for the food to be eaten while standing. Whites and colored, young and old people from many countries mixed together during these pleasant mealtimes to exchange stories and reports of their field-preaching activities back home or discuss matters pertaining to the current convention sessions and happenings. All were in smiles as the vast family of thousands was being fed in a flowing system of orderly helpfulness on the part of everyone. The food was wholesome, clean, well cooked by an amazing kitchen organization of volunteers and offered at a set price per meal to all except the pioneers, who were granted free meal tickets by the Society.
(To be continued)
a Watch Tower 1911, p. 371.
b 1938 Yearbook, p. 47.
c Consolation, Oct. 5, 1938, p. 18.
d The Messenger, Aug. 12, 1946, p. 27.