Dwelling in the House of Jehovah All the Days of My Life
As told by W. ELDON WOODWORTH
AS I read the invitation for the Bible lecture to be held in my little hometown in Illinois in May of 1911, I had no idea at all what it would eventually mean to me. How could I have known that it would lead me to forty-five years of blessed and joyous service at the crossroads of God’s visible organization?
However, as I listened to that speech, I knew I was hearing something good—unquestionably it was the truth! So the next Sunday I took my mother and eight-year-old brother with me to the theater where the next talk was to be given. There we found answers to the questions that puzzle many people who really love their Creator. Hearing mention of God’s promise to Abraham that “by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves,” we were sure that we wanted to share in its fulfillment.—Gen. 22:18.
In no time at all the three of us were traveling by trolley car to surrounding towns so we would not miss any of the Sunday lectures. Could I keep the Bible truths I heard to myself? Not at all! I remember on one occasion I went up to my Baptist Sunday-school teacher and asked him to explain Matthew 11:11: “Truly I say to you people, Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” Since his church put great stock in John as a Baptist, and here Jesus said that John would not go to heaven, this was a distressing question for a twenty-year-old lad to ask. Of course, the teacher had no reply.
Having been baptized as a boy, I never thought that I might be lacking in this regard. But in 1913 I went to Madison, Wisconsin, for my first convention of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known. It was also a chance to hear Brother Russell, the president of the Watch Tower Society, speak. Many times I had read of the traveling speakers from Bethel, the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, so I looked forward to an opportunity to hear one. When Brother Russell gave the talk on baptism I realized that my church baptism did not picture my full dedication to Jehovah, so I went to the lake with the rest who were being baptized and symbolized what had actually taken place in my life. And I can honestly say that never for a moment in the past fifty-three years have I regretted my dedication to God.
So that we could have regular meetings in our town we rented a small room over a candy store and had a sign painted on the window, saying that here was the place where the International Bible Students met. The congregation grew until we had thirteen attending. However, my thoughts were turning toward Bethel. I knew it was the earthly crossroads of theocratic activity. Would it be possible that someday I could ‘dwell in this house of Jehovah’? (Ps. 27:4) I could only hope.
For some years I had been a substitute mail carrier for the town Post Office, but in 1918 I was drafted into the army. At that time our understanding of a Christian’s responsibility to the “superior authorities” was not clear, so I accepted limited service as a conscientious objector. My assignment was to handle mail on the military post not far from our town. How well I remember when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. It was past 10 p.m. and the camp was dark. Then the lights came on, men began yelling and everything was in an uproar. Yes, the people longed for world peace. I longed for it too, but was confident that Jehovah would bring it, not men.
LIVING IN THE ‘HOUSE OF GOD’
At a convention in Chicago in 1920 I told a brother that I wanted to go to Bethel. Following his suggestion, I wrote to the Society’s president. To my amazement, in four days I received a letter inviting me to come. I still have that letter and cherish it highly. Think of it, just fifteen days after applying, I entered Bethel. And by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness I am still a member of the Bethel family. What a privilege! How kind of Jehovah to let me live in Bethel! Why, the very name means “house of God.” No one can begin to appreciate this sacred place until he has lived here for a time. Individuals may occasionally disappoint you, but Bethel is always far better than your imagination can conceive. And it grows better all the time.
‘They do the impossible here.’ That thought has often crossed my mind as I have seen the dedicated ministers here tackle things that few would ever think of doing. An early example of this occurred shortly after I began working in the Society’s factory. Our plant was first in a store building on Myrtle Avenue. Then in 1922 we moved to our next factory, on Concord Street. Up to that time we had been having the curved printing plates for our rotary press made by an outside firm. We wondered: ‘The technique of making plates by electrotyping is very involved. Could we learn how to do it? Could we make our own plates?’ ‘Impossible,’ many businessmen thought. Electrotyping was a closed trade, and no one wanted to teach us the complicated process.
But Jehovah provided. A brother from Canada who was an electrotypist came to Brooklyn and taught us the fundamentals. Then a few of the Bethel family went on tours of some electrotyping establishments, keeping their eyes open and their mouths closed. Before long we were doing our own platemaking. The man who sold us our first batch of chemicals for the electrotyping said later that he thought it would be our first and last order. He figured it would be impossible for amateurs, as we definitely were, to learn the technique without years of training. But he had discounted Jehovah’s spirit. We made our own plates, and we are still making them.
A PLACE FOR WORK
Though I worked in the plate department for a while, and even helped print some of The Harp of God, the first book the Society printed and bound in its own plant, my main job at Bethel was in the composition department. After the type slugs are set on a Linotype machine, they have to be “composed” into a magazine or book. For seventeen years, from 1938 to 1955, I composed all the foreign magazines printed in the Brooklyn factory. That was up to twelve different magazines a month. I have never been a speedy worker, but always a steady one. Anyway, at the end of the day, I have never been ashamed that I have not done my share of the work. We always endeavor to do our best in the Lord’s organization.
Now I have a job that does not require standing all day. That would be a bit too much for a man of seventy-five years. But still there is plenty to do. Putting my experience in the Post Office to use, I now work at sorting and deciphering names and addresses on handwritten subscription slips.
Last September the Society made arrangements for all of us who work in the Bethel home and offices to spend a few hours one afternoon on a tour of the factory. Instead of three rented floors in a store building, as when I came in 1920, now the Society’s factory takes up three tall buildings, and plans are in progress for a fourth. While I was walking through the composing room, one of the young workers said: “Here, Brother Woodworth. How about cleaning some of this type?” Even after doing other work for the last eleven years, scraping the burrs off the type slugs seemed as natural to me as breathing.
Bethel is a place of variety. Though there is always an abundance of work, it takes many different forms. As long as one is willing to work, and I mean work hard, life at Bethel is a wonderfully interesting experience. Duties in the home or factory, activity in a New York city congregation, traveling out on weekend speaking assignments, yes, there is plenty to do. But I set my heart on Bethel and it has never disappointed me.
Back in 1923 I shared in some extra work that brought a great blessing into my life. The Society obtained a tract of land on Staten Island in order to build radio station WBBR. Many of the Bethel family worked Saturday afternoons and Sundays clearing the land and building the station. While working there on weekends I met Florence Parker. We met again at a convention in Philadelphia where she hoped to be baptized. But she missed the baptism there. Back in those days we had a small immersion pool in Bethel, so I mentioned that we would be having a baptism at Bethel the next Sunday. She said that she would be there.
As it happened, though, the brother who was to give the baptism talk asked me if I would do the immersing. Hence, I baptized the girl who was to mean so much to me from then on. We were married in 1928; after that Florence served in the full-time ministry in the New York city area. She preached to businessmen in the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers on lower Broadway. To me this seemed almost an impossibility, but she did it. For thirty-four years she was everything a good wife could be. Finally, she became ill and, in August 1962, died faithful to the heavenly calling for which she had been working.
APPRECIATING THE CROSSROADS
In the years since her death, I have come to appreciate Bethel even more. As I mentioned, Bethel can be considered a crossroads, the crossroads of Jehovah’s people. We are continually meeting people from everywhere, going everywhere. Twice a year there are a hundred students coming here to attend Gilead School. There are visiting missionaries and traveling representatives of the Society. Also, of course, there are the members of the family itself to meet. That is no small task, since the family has grown from the 107 that were here when I came in 1920 to almost 700 now. So you can see that I have my hands full. Yet I can greet five out of every six of the family by name.
I have always liked to get to know people. With the busy schedule we have here, there is little time for visiting, but think of the joy of being able to talk to people from all parts of the world at the supper table. Why, just recently I received a card from some missionaries who were sent to Taiwan, the Republic of China. After forty-five years here I am always meeting people I know or who share mutual acquaintances. My family of friends spreads round the globe.
Here we are used to big things. Think of the conventions we have held that were so large they stagger the imagination. Often I participated in the immersions at the assemblies. Between two and three thousand persons symbolizing their dedication to God is a sight to behold.
Being at Bethel has not restricted my ability to travel to the assemblies. In fact, it is just the opposite. In 1947 I was able to go all the way across the country to attend a convention in California. Then in 1955 it was my privilege to go to Europe for a series of conventions. We went to Canada and there started our trip on the ship “Arosa Star.” In nine days we reached England for the first assembly. Then it was on to Paris, Rome, Berne, and Nuremberg, Germany, where we used what used to be Hitler’s parade ground for the convention. How wonderful to see our Christian brothers from so many lands in their native costumes and to know that they too had turned to Jehovah’s house and were inquiring of him at his spiritual temple! Would that mail clerk in Illinois ever have gone on such travels as a mail clerk? Quite unlikely. No, I can say with assurance that no one ever loses a thing by being a member of the Bethel family.
There are so many features of life at this remarkable place that, over the years, have drawn me even closer to Bethel, “the house of God.” Imagine being able to start off each weekday with a mature discussion of a Bible text at the breakfast table. In fact, that is one of the “musts” if we are to be strong enough to live under the pressure of much work and active preaching. The head of the Bethel family has always stressed that the right way to begin a day is to hear and share in a discussion of the Scriptures.
A number of the family here have spent nearly all their lives serving the true God. As with myself, their physical strength is ebbing away due to old age, but still they speak about Jehovah’s kingship, “to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts and the glory of the splendor of his kingship.” (Ps. 145:12) The apostle Paul wrote: “Even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day.” (2 Cor. 4:16) This brings us great joy. For example, recently I was standing on a busy street corner offering persons copies of our journals. A man stopped and accepted the magazines. Then he said: “I like you people. You’re a happy people.”
And I am especially happy for having had the privilege to dwell in Jehovah’s house these forty-five years. I am thankful that I attended that first meeting, which opened up to me this full life. Truly, how pleasant it has been to “dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life”!—Ps. 27:4.