United Worshipers District Assemblies
WHAT a happy demonstration of unity—the 1961 international series of United Worshipers District Assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses! The chain of thirteen six-day assemblies began with the one held at Yankee Stadium, New York city, June 20-25, this assembly setting the pattern for the whole series, not only as to the program of rich spiritual provisions, but also as to the grand demonstration of Christian unity with which each assembly was crowned.
In keeping with the theme of the assembly series was the title of the public talk that climaxed each one: “When All Nations Unite Under God’s Kingdom.” The Watch Tower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, delivered this heartening address first in New York city to an audience of 89,853, with an additional 3,048 persons attending the Spanish public meeting. At the seven assemblies in North America and the six in Europe, a total attendance of more than 400,000 persons heard this inspiring lecture. Spotlighted was the only true unifying force today—not the United Nations but the established kingdom of Jehovah God!
Each assembly opened with the chairman’s address: “Welcome! All You United Worshipers,” and this talk stressed the reasons for the world-wide unity of Jehovah’s witnesses: Their worship of the one true God, Jehovah, and their living by the one textbook of Unity, the Holy Bible.
HELPFULNESS OF ASSEMBLY RELEASES
Whether the assembly was held in New York, Houston, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Turin, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Milwaukee or San Francisco, those that attended were overjoyed by the helpfulness of the literature releases. Foremost among the helpful aids was the complete one-volume New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. The Society’s president released the Bible following his talk “United Publishers of the ‘Word of Life’” in which he stressed the importance Jehovah’s witnesses attach to the Bible. How helpful the Bible’s convenient size and its concordance of “Important Bible Words for Quick Reference”! At Yankee Stadium and at other assemblies a gasp went throughout the delighted audience as the price of the Bible was announced: Just $1! And just what publishers of the Word of life needed!
Most helpful also were the other assembly releases. The conventioners everywhere applauded the Sermon Outlines as a great aid to Kingdom ministers, enabling them to enter the field of interest of any householder. Another release of major helpfulness was the Watch Tower Publications Index, 1930-1960, a volume that is a master key for unlocking treasures of Biblical knowledge. The volume testified to the fact that all of Jehovah’s witnesses are ministers, all being interested in doing Biblical research for the enlightenment of others. Another outstanding help was the new booklet Blood, Medicine and the Law of God. How helpful for enlightening doctors and other persons as to the reasons why Jehovah’s witnesses shun blood in any form! Documented medical evidence is presented concerning the hazards of blood transfusions, spotlighting the Bible’s wise counsel: ‘Keep yourselves free from blood.’ (Acts 15:29) Another release of tremendous helpfulness was the new book “Let Your Name Be Sanctified.” This volume was released to enthusiastic audiences following the talk “Nations in Fear at the Name Called upon Us.” In this talk the Society’s president stressed how important it is for Jehovah’s name to be sanctified. The new book shows how the work of the prophets Elijah and Elisha has prophetic meaning for our day, in connection with the sanctifying of Jehovah’s name. Completing the list of helpful releases was the new booklet When All Nations Unite Under God’s Kingdom, a copy of which was given free to all persons attending the public talk at any assembly.
Just as the literature releases were so helpful, so were the many assembly talks. How helpful the counsel given in such talks as “Unified Worship in the Family Circle,” “Unity in Worship by Meeting Attendance,” “Improving Personal Study,” and “Joyfulness All the Day Long”! What an aid to unity was the counsel on greeting and encouraging brothers and interested persons and how to welcome back those who may have missed meetings or strayed from the fold! How encouraging the talk by the Society’s vice-president, F. W. Franz, on “United Against Nations in the Valley of Decision,” concerning the symbolic plague of locusts! Outstanding was the talk by the Society’s president on “Loyalty with a Unified Heart,” showing that Jehovah’s witnesses are not only united with one another but that they must be at unity individually, never allowing materialism or selfish desires to give them a divided heart.
SOME “BIGGEST YET” ASSEMBLIES
Vancouver, British Columbia, was the scene of the largest theocratic assembly in Canadian history, with 28,952 persons at the public meeting. Remarkably fine weather favored this assembly, the assembly’s last three days having cloudless skies. The conventioners feasted spiritually against a background of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, towering in all their glory, streaked with snow.
The Houston, Texas, assembly, was the largest yet for the big state of Texas. Previous assemblies had been held in Dallas, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth and also in Houston, but this year’s assembly broke a record for Texas, with 19,141 persons attending the English meeting and 2,159 the Spanish. Spanish-speaking persons welcomed the release, in the Spanish language, of Sermon Outlines, “Your Will Be Done on Earth,” Blood, Medicine and the Law of God and When All Nations Unite Under God’s Kingdom.
The United Worshipers International Assembly at Copenhagen proved to be the largest theocratic assembly in Denmark’s history. Thousands of Witnesses from Norway, Sweden and Finland flocked to Copenhagen’s Idrætsparken for a most thrilling assembly. Several thousand English-speaking Witnesses also attended this international assembly, since thirty-two chartered airplanes from the United States and Canada brought about 3,000 Witnesses to Europe, to attend the European assemblies. Five speakers’ platforms and simultaneous programs in five different languages testified to the international atmosphere that made the Copenhagen assembly so stirringly memorable for those privileged to attend. Signs were not merely in Danish but also in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and English. Programs were printed in five different languages. New literature releases in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Danish thrilled the thousands of Witnesses attending. Despite chilly blasts of wind and rain for the first few days of the assembly, the outcome was successful. Fine weather prevailed the last two days and the public meeting was attended by 33,513 Witnesses and other interested persons. Copenhagen, a sophisticated city where religion is largely frowned upon, had long ignored assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses; but at this remarkable assembly the press, radio and TV gave fairly good reports for the first time.
Typical of the friendly helpfulness shown to the visitors from thirty-four lands that attended the Copenhagen assembly is the experience of a Finnish Witness. He got lost trying to find the assembly location. He stopped his car near a small shop. Using sign language, he asked the shopkeeper the direction. When the shopkeeper tried to explain, it did not help, because neither could understand the other’s language. So the shopkeeper left his store, got into the Witness’ car and drove with him to the stadium, the shopkeeper then returning by tram to his store.
“Never on a summer’s day have the stands at Twickenham been so crowded”—so stated the Reynolds News of July 30, 1961, concerning the London United Worshipers Assembly. Held at the Rugby Union Ground, Twickenham, the assembly teemed with united worshipers of Jehovah. This stadium was also the scene of the 1955 Triumphant Kingdom Assembly, during which 41,970 persons attended the public meeting. Would the assembly this year exceed that peak figure? Indeed it did, for 48,070 persons thronged to Twickenham to hear the public talk. The platform at Britain’s biggest-ever assembly was built to represent a sheep pen, in fitting symbol of the 1961 yeartext of Jehovah’s witnesses, “In unity I shall set them, like a flock in the pen.”—Mic. 2:12.
Italy also was to go on record with its largest assembly of united worshipers of Jehovah God, 6,372 persons attending the public meeting at Turin. It was the first time that a six-day assembly had been held by Jehovah’s witnesses in Italy and the first time that the assembly site, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni had been used for religious purposes. It was also the first time that a theocratic assembly had been publicly advertised in Italy. Not only handbills were used but also twelve large street banners, located at strategic places throughout the city. The assembly was held underground, although not secretly, the exhibition hall having been built underground, above which was a large park. Skylighting provided illumination, and the facilities proved to be adequate and spacious. The assembly proved to be international, with representatives from seventeen nations attending. Remarkable for decoration was the gold-lettered Tetragrammaton that was emblazoned on a red curtain at the back of the stage. Great enthusiasm marked this assembly, and the Italian Witnesses thrilled to the release, in the Italian language, of “Your Will Be Done on Earth,” Sermon Outlines and When All Nations Unite Under God’s Kingdom.
The assembly in Amsterdam turned out to be the largest assembly of Witnesses ever held in the Netherlands, with 23,708 persons attending the public meeting. The enthusiasm manifested by the Dutch Witnesses was appreciated by all the speakers, and the releases in the Dutch language were heartily applauded by the conventioners.
Paris, too, went on record with France’s largest New World Society assembly! The peak attendance in 1955, at the Paris Triumphant Kingdom Assembly, had been 16,500; so the French Witnesses wondered what would happen this time, especially since no publicity was to be given the convention in view of the Algerian crisis. What joy, then, when the attendance figures showed a total of 23,004 persons!
This was not only the largest assembly for many French-speaking Witnesses, but Spanish, Polish and Portuguese talks were held simultaneously with the French. The French Witnesses spared no effort, going to considerable expense to accommodate and provide transportation for their Christian brothers from Spain and Portugal.
A remarkable feature of the Paris assembly was the number of those who symbolized their dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism—1,203 persons, about 9 percent of those present up to that time! A very high average. A total of more than 9,000 persons, at all the assemblies, symbolized their dedication by water baptism to do Jehovah’s will as his united worshipers.
INGENUITY AND ADAPTABILITY
To hold this series of assemblies many problems had to be overcome. The Copenhagen assembly, for instance, presented complex problems in the sound system. The assembly was held in a stadium surrounded on four sides by stands. The Norwegian-, Swedish- and Finnish-speaking persons each had a side. The fourth side was a three-deck grandstand, the ground floor and mezzanine section being for the Danish people; the topmost section was for the English-speaking persons. Talks were to be given simultaneously in five languages. Five talks at one time? “Impossible,” said electronics engineers in Copenhagen. Through ingenuity and adaptability, Jehovah’s witnesses worked on the sound system for one year; it was ready and worked excellently at the assembly.
A beautiful flower arrangement on the grass of the stadium required many containers for the flowers. A giant rectangle made up of hundreds of boxes of multicolored flowers was planned. The problem of containers was solved by using 315 boxes that once were containers for ammunition. When small flower containers were needed to be affixed to the railing on all levels of the stadium, the problem was solved by using hard-pressed containers for mortar shells.
In London the Witnesses preparing for the assembly needed some boilers. Where could they find them? They heard that Britain’s last great battleship, the Vanguard, was being dismantled and that it had a number of boilers. The Witnesses interviewed the firm involved and were able to obtain the use of the boilers at a very reasonable rate. Thus, in solving problems, as well as by their peaceful living, the Witnesses lived up to Isaiah 2:4, concerning true Christians’ turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning shears.
The problem of sound was uniquely solved at the London assembly, eliminating reverberation or echo. How was this possible at a stadium? Because all the speakers were directed from the back of the stands outward instead of being placed on the ground, facing the audience. This meant that one heard the sound from the rear, and it did not bounce back from the walls of the various parts of the stadium.
The Hamburg assembly presented no small problem, and the heart of the problem was the fact that the assembly location was merely a large, beautiful green in Hamburg’s biggest park. Before the assembly there was not a facility there. Working from nothing, using space as an asset, the Witnesses constructed a mammoth stage structure, 180 feet long by 80 feet wide and 15 to 18 feet high. It was simulated stone. The orchestra was in a semicircular shell recessed into the stage. So large was the stage that it housed all the executive convention departments. Outstanding among stage decorations were the gigantic painting of flowers that looked realistic, and an immense circle, on a steel frame, on which was the Tetragrammaton, with simulated rays of light emanating from it. Thus the brothers in Hamburg, as well as in Turin, working independently, used the Tetragrammaton as a most impressive and fitting decoration for an assembly in which one of the major releases was the book “Let Your Name Be Sanctified.”
Being held in the open, the Hamburg assembly had no shelter for the seats. What would happen if it rained? It did rain, every day of the assembly at that! But the downpours did not wash out the assembly. Having been advised to prepare for bad weather and to come with warm clothing, umbrellas and low-heeled shoes, the conventioners obeyed; and the assembly went on according to schedule. As soon as it began to rain there appeared a sea of umbrellas.
Since the Hamburg assembly site was basically an open field, the matter of sanitation was a problem. Before the assembly, tests were made as to how many toilet accommodations would be needed if nearly 100,000 persons attended. (On Sunday 88,338 persons did attend.) It was figured that 1,300 toilets would be adequate. So Witnesses laid a sewage system of pipes in the green; and several months before the assembly, large tents were erected and adequate provisions made for 1,300 stalls with flowing water. City sanitation officials appeared about the second day of the assembly, concerned lest there be waiting lines for the water closets. It was explained that 1,300 toilets had been installed and that no one was waiting in line. The amazed officials said: “You have entirely demolished our objection.”
Another problem solved by the ingenuity of the brothers at Hamburg was the providing for acoustic material to line the back of the orchestra shell. The Witnesses worked hard, and the result was that one rarely heard richer, fuller music from microphones at an assembly. The secret? Egg cartons! The cardboard layers or egg cartons, with their cup-shaped recesses, were used, the young folks of Jehovah’s witnesses collecting them from various sources. By the hundreds these were nailed side by side throughout the whole back of the orchestra shell, resulting in most marvelous acoustic material.
At the Paris assembly tents were needed for the cafeteria. To have rented them would have cost from $30,000 to $40,000. So the Branch office bought 5,000 square meters of canvas, and the members of the Bethel family worked evenings and weekends sewing it into the huge tents needed. It was estimated that about $30,000 was saved by the brothers’ making their own tents! Similar expense problems had to be overcome for the sound system. With the talks being given in French, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish, a complicated sound system was needed. A commercial firm placed the cost for renting equipment at $6,000. So, instead, all the circuit sound equipment was called in and more purchased. The additional equipment was later sold to the circuits and the $6,000 saved in its entirety.
Toward the close of the Paris assembly the stationmaster at the railroad station used by the conventioners remarked to a reporter: “I have never seen such a well-disciplined crowd. Even at the peak hours everybody kept calm. What a difference from when there is a football match! They all seemed happy, regardless of their race and nationality. You people seem to have found the unity that the world needs.”
Yes, the 1961 series of United Worshipers Assemblies was indeed a grand demonstration of unity on a global scale and as such, regardless of weather or other problems, was crowned with splendid success, all to the glory of the Great Unifier, Jehovah God.