The “Triumphant Kingdom” Assemblies of 1955
En Route to European Assemblies
SHORTLY after midnight the chartered plane bearing the president and other servants of the Society took off from Idlewild airport with England as its destination. This was one of forty-two of such flights in planes especially scheduled and chartered by the Watch Tower Society to transport conventioners to England, there at London to begin the series of European assemblies. The flying together of conventioners was a pleasurable experience for them and apparently also for the plane crews. For instance, at the close of the flight that landed passengers at the airport outside London at 12:55 p.m., Tuesday, July 26, the Pan American World Airways plane’s captain said over the loud-speaker: “This has been the happiest group of people we have had aboard in a long time.” The seventy-two conventioners aboard applauded in appreciation.
The sea voyage by passengers on the chartered ships, T. S. Arosa Kulm and the Arosa Star, was specially enjoyable and profitable. The ships became in fact floating convention halls. Thursday afternoon, July 14, the passengers, from all parts of North America, boarded the ships at Quebec City, Canada, 795 the Kulm and 794 the Star. The Kulm got away first, about 5:15 p.m., and the Star about an hour later. Next morning the ships were still proceeding down the mighty St. Lawrence River, the passengers enjoying the grand river scenery. Meals were served in three sittings. Right from the first morning arrangements were made to conduct a morning worship program for each of the three sittings, the same as at the Brooklyn Bethel home. Bethel brothers were scheduled to lead these programs, which consisted of reading the day’s Bible text, followed by questions and answers in discussion of the text, after which the sum-up was made by reading the 1955 Yearbook comment. The Bethel brother then offered prayer for the entire assembled congregation. The ship’s waiters did not serve the food until the ten-minute program was over. This began a daily program specially arranged by a committee appointed by the Watch Tower Society. For instance, aboard the Star the very first afternoon a series of lectures and other educational features began to be given in the ship’s lounge and café parlors. During the nine days the lectures offered instruction on the Bible, on health, travel, money, convention photography, care of teeth, the Watch Tower Society’s history, legal and field-activity reports, and there were half-hour studies on elementary conversation in Italian, German, French and Swedish, the foreign languages the conventioners would encounter on the Continent. On the third day of sailing the passengers were treated to the rare spectacle of fourteen icebergs. During the night the ships passed fourteen more, all detected by the radar system. The ships’ crews were thoroughly witnessed to and became very friendly, finding out directly and personally that Jehovah’s witnesses are not fearsome Communists as they had been misinformed. So the farewell party with the crew, carried on under theocratic supervision, was an altogether happy, upbuilding time for everybody.
Friday, July 22, at 6 p.m. the Star came to anchor in the harbor of Southampton, and the Kulm arrived later. Next morning not only the immigration officers came aboard but also a reception committee made up of Jehovah’s witnesses. They made general announcements pending the conventioners’ train journey to London. Ashore, the immigration authorities and the customs service gave rapid clearance to the arriving delegates, the luggage of these not even being looked through by the customs. Unusual courtesy was manifested. Even the sea had been kind, the Atlantic being as calm as a millpond during the entire trip across. Noah and his seven theocratic fellow passengers in the ark would have enjoyed this trip with modern witnesses of Jehovah. On the Southampton docks boat trains awaited the disembarking witnesses, to convey them speedily to London.
LONDON, ENGLAND, JULY 27-31, 1955
For the London international assembly delegates from fifty-six foreign lands converged on the world’s largest city, even from Japan, South Africa and Argentina, South America. In one of the greatest mass movements of people in history chartered planes and ships brought 4,500 assembly delegates from North America alone. Rooming accommodation requests, 21,000 of them, far exceeded those for the international assembly at Wembly Stadium four years ago. The London Bethel home put up twenty-five of the Society’s long-time servants from abroad. Delegates in general were put up in the many hotels and in the homes of brothers or of hospitable outsiders. “The rooming work was a delight,” commented one worker who had gone from house to house in quest of rooms for conventioners.
The place of assembly for five days was the Rugby Union Ground at Twickenham, Middlesex county, which is adequately served by London’s transport system. Devoted to amateur Rugby football games, the Twickenham Stadium is maintained by a group of wealthy men and is not rented out. But now it was. A clergyman complained: “You do not rent the stadium, and now, when you do, it is—of all persons—to Jehovah’s witnesses.” The secretary of the Rugby Football Union warned him not to attack the renting witnesses of Jehovah: “If you put out one pamphlet against them, they will put out twenty.” One night in the month preceding the assembly, as reported in the British news, the Church of England, Roman Catholic and Free Church leaders in the Twickenham area issued a joint statement referring to the rally Jehovah’s witnesses were to hold on the Rugby football ground at the end of July. The statement was sent to all ministers and priests in the area. One of the three signers, the leading Roman Catholic priest in the borough, said: “We felt that it was necessary to make it clear to people that ‘Jehovah’s witnesses’ have no connection with any of the Christian churches and that they in fact reject our common belief.” Most likely these three clergymen were specially sent a copy of the booklet Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”? after the London assembly was over. Millions of copies of this booklet had been distributed in thirty languages in eighty-eight lands by a special campaign of Jehovah’s witnesses during April and May, 1,173,106 copies being distributed then in the British Isles alone.
Volunteer preassembly workers to the number of 250 gave the stadium, with its three grandstands east, north and west, and its concrete steps at the south for standees, a face lift, scrubbing the place out. Tenting was erected outside to the west to house a cafeteria capable of supplying 125,000 hot meals during the five-day assembly. There were two kitchens and serving marquees with a boiler on wheels at the dishwashing tent; also there were four marquees, each 205 feet long and with a total of one mile of tables for the eaters. There were eighteen serving lines to fill their food trays, and a good dinner was served at 2/6, or 35c. During the convention, at recommendation of the American army, which had inspected the cafeteria at Yankee Stadium, Major Faulkner of the British War Department came accompanied by his wife and inspected the cafeteria service. He said he could see that love ran the cafeteria here. Here, as at Vancouver and at American assemblies, the military or civil defense authorities inspecting were impressed with the general organization and efficiency.
The Twickenham Stadium assembly set the pace for all the European assemblies as to the high pitch of enthusiasm and warm appreciation of Jehovah’s provisions through his visible organization. This was true from their reception of the chairman’s address of welcome and from the president’s initial talk. How that crowd of 23,041 occupying the three stands of the stadium did applaud his talk and, thrilled, what a welcome they gave to his release of Volume II of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures! Four movie cameramen were out on the green field taking shots of the president for Movietone News. Twelve countries had requested pictures of the assembly here and so Movietone News was obliged to act. They covered Brother Knorr’s entrance on the field and his release of the Bible Volume II.
Thursday afternoon Brother Knorr’s talk received special applauses as he injected into his discussion of “Qualified to Be Ministers” references to the ministerial case that had lost out in the appeal court in Scotland just the preceding week and that was now being appealed to the British House of Lords. The 22,659 intent listeners gratefully received the new book for ministers released at the close of this talk.
Not just the thousand estimated, but actually 1,183 were baptized Friday morning. The march of the candidates to the immersion at the Twickenham Municipal Baths, less than a mile away, amazed the observing police along the route, especially at their crossing of a main thoroughfare on the way there. At the afternoon session the attendance rose to 23,110. The book Jehovah’s Witnesses—the New World Society was announced as obtainable at the close of the session for a guinea (or 21 shillings) a copy, and the 4,000 copies available “went out like a shot” before the evening session. Tonight the 22,398 hearing how to triumph over wicked spirit forces prolonged their applause at Brother Knorr’s release of the new booklet against spiritism, which has such a following in Britain.
Saturday morning the last of the Flying Tigers from America got in with its load of eager conventioners. This afternoon, among those giving experiences from the platform was a man on a week’s parole from Wakefield prison. While in prison on his fourth conviction as a housebreaker, he got the good news of the Kingdom from a fellow inmate. After three months he applied to the governor asking to change his religion, then he stated his reasons to the Church of England vicar, had the Watch Tower Society’s prison minister visit him and was allowed to change his religion. As the assembly neared he applied to the governor to be let out on parole in order to take advantage of this assembly and be immersed. Contrary to his expectation, his request for a week’s parole was granted and yesterday morning he was one of the 483 men immersed.
Attendance was up to 24,675 this afternoon. Brother Knorr’s speech “Jehovah Is in His Holy Temple” evoked repeated, warm, sustained applauses more than anywhere else heretofore, and when he released and named the book You May Survive Armageddon into God’s New World they applauded to the echo, for more than a quarter of a minute. Tonight a still bigger crowd came, 26,009. Although the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) newsreel men had run out of film in taking convention shots, still there was no showing of any of the scenes on the national television tonight.
Ideal convention weather continued over Sunday, the climactic day. The morning attendance was 25,154, which excited the question, Will the public meeting this afternoon surpass in attendance the 36,315 at Wembley Stadium four years ago? Besides all the other publicity two million handbills had been provided for distribution in and around London for advertising the lecture “World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom.” In preparation for a still larger crowd, thousands of cushions were provided for the free taking of those who might have to occupy the standees’ section of unroofed concrete steps to the south of the green football grounds. Not in vain! These “bleachers” behind the speakers’ stand were quite filled for the public talk. The biggest crowd yet warmed up to the talk with more than the usual applauses, and when the public attendance was announced as 41,970 there were waves of applause. The secretary of the Rugby Football Union, an army colonel, was pleased with our large attendance and orderly gathering. He spoke of our coming again. The crowd applauded for God’s blessing upon Brother Knorr as he prepared to depart for the Continent on his public lecture tour. They did not seem to want to stop applauding. Hundreds were still occupying the “bleachers” when he gave his “closing remarks” to 31,535. They rejoiced to learn that plans were under way to build a new Bethel home and printing plant for Britain on the outskirts of London.
During the evening hour between 7 and 8 for the first time Jehovah’s witnesses made news on British radio and television. The BBC broadcast an interview with a convention official and also excerpts of Brother Knorr’s public talk, to be transmitted to America. Also for a minute and a half BBC newsreel televised shots of the baptismal procession and of the immersing of candidates. Both at 9 and 10 p.m. the BBC news gave short details of the Twickenham Stadium assembly. Hitherto the then noncommercial, monopolistic BBC has treated Jehovah’s witnesses with silent contempt as being an insignificant group. Now all this vocal and visual publicity by the BBC is expected to heighten somewhat in the minds of the British public their estimate of Jehovah’s witnesses. It was equivalent in value to millions of pounds spent in commercial advertising and was more potent than all newspaper reports (of which there were unusually many for this assembly) to change the public attitude favorably.
Tonight Brother Knorr had a mimeographed letter, which he had composed, airmailed out from the stadium to all the branches and missionary homes throughout the earth. In it he gave a brief description of the six assemblies of the series thus far. This letter was highly appreciated in the several hundred places where it was received, and brought much joy.
The London assembly now over, a great tide of 7,500 conventioners began to sweep across the English Channel by plane, by special trains and boats to share in the remaining assemblies of the summer series, those at Paris and Rome being next.
(To be continued)