Much for Which to Be Grateful
As told by Edgar Clay
1914 marked a turning point. The nations remember it because it was then that the first world war began. Bible students remember it because Bible prophecies mark it as the year when God’s kingdom was established in the heavens. I have an additional reason for remembering it—that was the year I began to understand what the Bible says about God’s purpose for mankind.
I had been a dyed-in-the-wool churchman up until that time. In fact, just the year before, when I moved from Shropshire to Coventry, I made it a point to attend the little church in our suburb. Then in August, 1914, my widowed mother, one of my sisters and I visited an invalid aunt at Stratford-on-Avon. While there we got to discussing the Bible Students, who later came to be called Jehovah’s witnesses. My aunt was not one of them, but she evidently had read one of their books, and she started to tell me about them, the meetings they held in homes and how they studied the Bible. “Well, who are these people that they should know more than anyone else?” I asked. “You will know someday, Edgar,” she replied. How right she was!
TAKING HOLD OF THE TRUTH
Toward the end of the year the Photo-Drama of Creation came to Coventry. It was a remarkable production, including moving pictures and slides, synchronized with recorded talks and music, and setting forth God’s purpose for the earth and mankind, from the time of the preparation of the earth for human habitation down to the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ. My two younger sisters went to see the “pictures” and said they were very good, so I decided to go to the lecture on Sunday evening, on the subject of the Lord’s return and its purpose. After all, I thought, it was only fair to hear what they had to say. My mother decided to come with me. In the afternoon the church warden’s wife called at our home for the first time and, after staying for tea, she agreed to go along with us.
The talk we heard sparked my interest. As the speaker presented reasons and Scriptural backing for the things he said I had sense enough to know that it sounded right and was worth investigating. I could not help but feel gratitude for the things I had heard. At the follow-up lectures, which I also attended, I asked endless questions. About the same time I began to devour that remarkable book The Divine Plan of the Ages, and within a very short time I was “in the truth.” Early in 1915 I was baptized, symbolizing my dedication to God to do his will and wanting to do it forever.
Later that year I had the privilege of assisting when the Photo-Drama was shown in a town about twelve miles away, and it is encouraging to know that a pioneer brother and sister who were following up the interest shown at that meeting are still active in the full-time ministry; they are the oldest brother and sister in the circuit work in England. What a grand record they have! What an encouragement they are to others to hold in high esteem the treasure of full-time preaching!
Those years during World War I were not easy ones. Part of the time I spent in prison because of my Christian neutrality. How grateful I was then that I had studied hard before, both at home and in the meetings; for in prison we had no Watchtower study, no association in any meetings at all—just a Bible in the cell! It was then that I learned to draw on the things that had been stored away in my mind, “the precious and very grand promises” of God that give strength.—2 Pet. 1:4.
In those days there seemed to be no special call, as there is now, to take up the pioneer service, but I knew there was a little band of them in Britain. I think you could almost have counted them on your two hands. It was one of these pioneers that made a call on me with the Studies in the Scriptures after the first meeting I had attended. In 1921, when my family moved out to Australia, I found it very hard to part with them; but I saw what it could mean to me—joining that little band of pioneers, added to by now, but still very small.
Although becoming a pioneer meant leaving behind my comfortable job at a modern printing works in Coventry, there were no regrets. My dedication had already settled the matter; my life was dedicated to God. I remembered Caleb, who entered the Promised Land with Joshua and of whom it was said, ‘He followed Jehovah fully.’ (Josh. 14:8) That seemed to me to be the desirable attitude. I knew that serving God “fully” would make my dedicated life more vital; it would afford me greater opportunity to produce the fruitage that marks a Christian. I also kept well in mind a scripture that we quoted often in those days: “What shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12) I knew that full-time preaching service would make the repaying a joy. I had also been stirred by the Watch Tower article in 1919, “Blessed Are the Fearless,” with its call to action. I wanted to respond to the call.
I wrote to Pryce Hughes, whom I had known for five years, and arranged to meet him at the Manchester assembly that year, in 1922. Imagine my joy when, after telling him that I wanted to go into the pioneer service, he told me that his desire was the same! We joined ranks, and from that time till now we have managed to ‘put up with one another in love’ very well indeed. (Eph. 4:2) How gratifying it was that we were already in the pioneer service when the call went out at the Cedar Point, Ohio, convention a few months later: “Advertise the King and Kingdom”!
Stepping out into the pioneer service was, of course, a step of faith. I knew that I must place my confidence in the One whose service I had taken up. But my! how blessed we were even in those first few weeks! We had been given a tremendous stretch of territory in beautiful North Wales, and since our main work then was a quick placing of Bible literature, we placed a great quantity, caring for any interest during the short time we were in the area.
The very first week I came in touch with a lady who was greatly distressed over the loss of her son in the war. They had been deeply attached to each other, and they being Christian Scientists, she had felt sure that he would not be killed. When she heard of the work we were doing she sent her maid to our humble dwelling to get some literature. That evening I made a call on her and was received very kindly by the lady. Both she and her niece listened with great interest as I explained God’s purpose. As we made further calls on this lady, her interest continued to grow, she subscribed for The Watch Tower and The Golden Age, mailed many of our books to people in high places, and then invited us to stay for a week in her home and work nearby territory before we moved farther away. Although we were used to humble dwellings, this lady who had attended the King’s Court treated us as her honored guests for the week of our stay.
It was also during the first month of my pioneer service that I called at a Roman Catholic college, a training center for young priests. Upon ringing the bell, I was invited in and taken to a waiting room overlooking a beautiful valley. I felt a bit nervous at first. Then the rector came in—a tall, dignified-looking man. As I began to speak, my nervousness vanished, and we went from point to point, doctrine to doctrine. How I appreciated knowing the truth! He then told me that I was in a Jesuit college and he thought I was rather bold to call (I hadn’t felt that way at all), shook hands with me and invited me to call again. The call had lasted an hour and a half, but it provided the basis for many fine discussions with other Catholics in that area.
Looking back over those early pioneer years, do I find anything to regret? No, indeed! From our present vantage point it may seem that we covered our territory rather fast in those days, but since then other pioneers have followed up in those areas and there are congregations in many of those towns now. For this and for the service in those early days I feel grateful. Over the years I shared in various types of service, but there was a big change ahead for me.
One day a letter came from the London office of the Watch Tower Society inviting me to Bethel. This would be a change indeed! From service in the field to becoming a member of the Bethel family. My feelings may have been mixed, but my mind was fixed. I wanted to serve where I was needed, and I knew that, whatever my assignment there, I would find joy and contentment.
SERVICE AT BETHEL
When I entered Bethel in 1926 it became my home, and it has been that ever since. Never has it entered my mind that I would leave Bethel, unless, of course, I was asked to take up another assignment. Bethel has become to me a happy place, enriched with pleasant friendships, many of which remain to this day.
When I went into the pioneer work I did not expect to become a printer again, but that was the reason why I was entering Bethel. Until then the Society’s printing in England had been done outside. Now a Verticle Miehle press was obtained and a cutter that I worked by hand, and so printing got under way in the London branch. We still have the original press but not the old cutter. Later we obtained a small flat-bed press and, in 1940, an Intertype. How grateful we were to have this equipment during those difficult days of the second world war, when it was used to print The Watchtower for the benefit of the brothers here in Britain! For two years we even managed to produce the Yearbook with a stiff paper back, the family working evenings to get it done. Sometimes I wonder how we did it all, but there is a “power beyond what is normal” that God supplies for us according to our need in his service.—2 Cor. 4:7.
In some ways Bethel life may not be quite as exciting as service in the field, yet I knew that it was by no means secondary in importance, and I found much cause for gratitude in the service I was able to perform. In those days when I entered Bethel we used to have Bible questions for discussion at every meal. Now, this taking in of spiritual food and material food at the same time may not be the best thing for digestion, but I did learn a lot from those discussions. I also came to appreciate that field service is very much a part of Bethel service. How well I recall those Saturdays when we spent all day witnessing on the outskirts of London!
As the years passed, there was constant progress within the organization, and those of us at Bethel were in a place where we could quickly perceive the changes and appreciate what they meant in the forward movement of the New World society. I well remember the thrilling moment at the Bethel table when the cable was read saying that the “new name” had been adopted at the Columbus, Ohio, convention; yes, we were Jehovah’s witnesses! By the year 1938 there was ‘gold instead of copper’ in the organization, as foretold at Isaiah 60:17 and as evident in the theocratic direction of affairs. What a blessing this was to us under the trying conditions of World War II! There was no easing up of the preaching work, but even under fire we called on the homes of the people, made our back-calls, conducted our home Bible studies, and were blessed with much increase in those troubled years.
CONVENTION IN AMERICA
In 1946, soon after the end of the war, an international assembly was announced for Cleveland, Ohio. Pryce Hughes, our branch servant, was invited by the Society’s president, and we all rejoiced with him in this. But imagine my surprise and delight when, a little later, an invitation came for me to attend too. How grateful I was!
Although there were many difficulties to overcome in travel in those years, we were finally on our way—down the Manchester Ship Canal to the open sea in a rather small boat. I knew that there was much in store, and I wanted to be able to enjoy it to the fullest extent. I think I did. First there was the pleasure of meeting with the Brooklyn Bethel family, which seemed so large in comparison with our own at London, but it was a time of happy association, getting to know so many brothers, forming many new and enduring friendships. From there we went on to Gilead with the Society’s president, Brother Knorr, and enjoyed meeting another big theocratic family—the students and the Kingdom Farm family. Since the school term had just come to an end, it was our pleasure to be present for the graduation and to hear the warm, friendly and helpful counsel given by all who spoke on the program. Those were pleasant days at Gilead, and further cause for gratitude.
Then a group of us set off through the night for Cleveland and the convention. While it was not so big as the assemblies in 1953 and 1958, which I also had the privilege of attending, it was mammoth to me. I shared with the work in the cafeteria, which was a big job, but a lot of fun, and it was satisfying to have a part in the convention work. How thrilling the whole assembly was! Still vivid in my mind is the fact that this was a “Glad Nations” assembly, for there were happy people from many nations gathered to worship and praise Jehovah. It was here that the book “Let God Be True” was released, and we are still using it to ‘clear out the stones’ and make plain the way for persons of good will. (Isa. 62:10) I remember clearly the evening Brother Knorr outlined the circuit work and its assemblies, which have been such a tremendous joy and blessing to the congregations. I had the privilege of being behind him on the platform that evening, and as he outlined the work and then told about the plans for enlarging the Brooklyn Bethel home and factory, the applause from the vast audience surged in renewed outbursts. While one could see no distinct face from the platform, it was easy to sense their joy. Those experiences are still vivid in my mind, and they are things for which I am grateful.
MORE FOR WHICH TO BE GRATEFUL
Years have gone by since then and our spiritual paradise has become richer. Not all who have been at Bethel have remained faithful in their service. Some lost their sense of gratitude; they no longer appreciated the things that God had given them. This has been a lesson to me to be grateful for the service I am given to perform. Also, there are others, some serving here at Bethel longer than I have, still faithful and appreciative of their privileges—and from these too I learn, for they are a source of much encouragement.
The time came when our headquarters at Craven Terrace in London became too cramped. We needed to ‘lengthen our tent cords.’ (Isa. 54:2) A suitable location near good transport facilities, yet away from the city, was needed. But what a location we obtained! Actually in the green belt, yet having an extension of the London Underground quite near. Here, near the old Mill Hill village, we have our new home—dignified and set in beautiful surroundings. It is like a paradise. My, but what a hive of activity; and our modern printing press turns out the magazines by the thousands. Cause for gratitude indeed!
Now we have the additional pleasure of the Kingdom Ministry School in our home. We enjoy having the brothers from the districts and the circuits and the congregations with us, enlarging our family and bringing many blessings to us, even as they receive many.
I am a little older than I was in that wonderful Kingdom year of 1914 when the truth reached my heart and enriched it; older, too, than when I embraced the full-time preaching work in 1922. But somehow I don’t feel old. I am still able to work the day through with the younger brothers, who show me much kindness, and for this I am very grateful.
From the department where I work I can see the old Miehle press I started with, still turning out work. If it can still work, why shouldn’t I? The psalmist’s words still echo in my mind: “What shall I repay to Jehovah for all his benefits to me?” I am sure that there is still much I can repay, and I want to do it—with gratitude.