Loyal Ministers Share a Unique Privilege!
Special Report From Britain
THE end of September 1983, saw an unusual exodus from the international headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. Thirteen members of the Governing Body of this world-embracing religion traveled to Britain. What special attraction brought them across the Atlantic?
Initially it was the annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society to be held for the first time on British soil, on Saturday, October 1. The De Montfort Hall in the English Midlands city of Leicester had been booked for the occasion. Expectations ran high as memories flooded back for all Witnesses who had attended a convention there in 1941. Why was that year of such special significance?
A Nostalgic Return
World War II was then at its height. Austerity, food rationing and persistent bombing made life hard and traveling difficult. Yet in the midst of all this turmoil Jehovah’s Witnesses arranged for a national five-day convention to be held in the De Montfort Hall, early in September 1941.
A young American, Albert D. Schroeder, had oversight of the branch office of the Society in London at that time. Now at this meeting in 1983 he was present as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in company with corporation members from 28 countries! A total of 3,671 filled both the hall and an adjoining marquee, with an additional 1,504 tied in at the West Midlands Assembly Hall at Dudley. All were thrilled to hear Brother Schroeder recall those days of 42 years ago when there were only 11,000 Witnesses in the British Isles.
Speaking of the 1941 convention, Brother Schroeder asked: “How many of you with us today were present then?” Hands shot into the air. “My!” he reacted, “well over half the audience! What a reunion for all you faithful, loyal ones!”
Many who were in the audience are still serving in missionary assignments around the world. There were altogether some 700 spirit-begotten Christians present. “Probably the largest gathering of the anointed in Europe in many years,” commented Brother Schroeder. Realizing that so many would want to attend and that space was limited, the original invitation specified, ‘We will give preference to “old-timers”—Witnesses who have served Jehovah faithfully for about 40 years.’ And these attended in great numbers.
Brother Schroeder concluded his program part entitled “Keep Hoping in Jehovah That You Do Not Tire Out” by telling the enthused audience: “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not live in the past, however, but in the fascinating, fulfilling present, preaching the good news until Jehovah says the work is finished.”
True Ministers of God
Earlier that day, after completing the formal legal requirements of the corporation, Frederick W. Franz, president of the Watch Tower Society, delivered the keynote address of the day. He traced the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the time of the first president of the Society, Charles T. Russell, pointing out that Russell, “because of his activities in shepherding the flock of God, rightly deserved to be called ‘pastor,’ which simply means ‘shepherd.’ But the authority of God’s true ministers has always been questioned, and Pastor Russell was no exception.”
Taking as examples Moses, Jesus Christ and his faithful apostles, Brother Franz illustrated how they were all chosen by Jehovah but rejected by men. “With all of these, their authority was challenged,” he continued, “so we are not surprised that those from the religious world who challenged Pastor Russell are now challenging us. But Jehovah has provided the proof.” Quoting from Revelation 7:9 and 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, Brother Franz exclaimed: “The ‘great crowd’ among the two-and-a-half million Jehovah’s Witnesses today are our ‘letter of recommendation’ that God has his Witnesses who truly are his ministers.”
Faithfulness to Jehovah
The afternoon session was opened with prayer by Lloyd Barry, after which the chairman, Leo K. Greenlees, read a number of telegrams and messages from Witnesses around the world. None, however, was appreciated more than the one from the Society’s Secretary-Treasurer, Grant Suiter, who was lying seriously ill in the Brooklyn Bethel infirmary. It said: “May Jehovah’s rich blessing be with you on this wonderful, spiritually upbuilding occasion. I will miss being with you. Be assured of my love and appreciation.” It was immediately resolved that a reciprocal message of love be conveyed to him.
Later, John E. Barr, who served many years at the Watch Tower branch in London, discussed in detail the 4th verse of Psalm 27, highlighting the theme “Our One Request From Jehovah.” Among the ones he interviewed regarding their experiences in ‘dwelling in Jehovah’s house’ was 89-year-old Edwin Skinner. Baptized in 1919, in the full-time ministry by 1921, Brother Skinner related how he had accepted an invitation to go to India in 1926 to establish a new branch of the Watch Tower Society. “And I have been there ever since. It is my home,” he quietly affirmed.
Keeping a Positive Attitude
The two concluding talks focused on the need to keep looking forward, to maintain a positive attitude. “While it is good to hear the old-timers talk,” commenced Dan Sydlik, “yet it is the will of God that we focus our attention on the future of his making.” Sydlik developed his outline from the apostle Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” He emphasized: “Our hope is in Jehovah; it is not in men. His promises are absolute and sure. God’s organization is here to stay, no matter what men say or do,” he stressed. “And the best is yet to come!”
Milton G. Henschel next encouraged all to go on “Keeping Our Christian Attitude.” With sympathetic understanding he spoke of the problems of health experienced by servants of God who are getting along in years. Yet “they put their little aches and pains aside and they keep on going,” he observed. “And that is a wonderful example for all the young ones in the congregation. Here’s a rainy day; here’s a cold, windy day. But who is at the meeting? Who came through the rain and weather to be there? You see the gray hairs, the older ones, and that’s something for all of us to keep in mind.”
All together, there were representatives from 37 branches of the Watch Tower Society at this truly international gathering. Finally, a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to Jehovah on behalf of the assembled throng was uttered by Martin Poetzinger, also a member of the Governing Body.
On to the London Branch!
The following day, Sunday, October 2, dawned bright and unusually warm for that time of year. Soon the Kingdom Hall at the London Bethel home, in the beautiful green-belt countryside of north London’s Mill Hill, was packed. Upstairs, in part of the factory complex, additional seating had been arranged. Closed-circuit television permitted all to view the proceedings in the Kingdom Hall. Nearly 400 were present. Five miles away, at the North London Assembly Hall, another 1,250 were tied in both audibly and visually to the long-awaited program. After two years of planning and hard work the new extension of the London branch office had been completed and was now being dedicated.
The new wing of the building has 41 rooms, each able to accommodate two persons. The building complex, with these rooms added to those already existing, provides living space for 204 persons. The kitchen and adjacent dining room have both been doubled in size and refurbished with up-to-date equipment. A brand-new laundry and sewing room have been built on the ground floor along with an attractive lounge. On the first floor, a small reading room has already proved to be a popular addition to the existing library with its 2,300 volumes.
The Dedication Program
Promptly at 10 a.m. the program commenced with a brief review of the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the British Isles during the past hundred years. Anecdotes and humor did much to bring the story to life and younger members of the Bethel family particularly appreciated the personal details of those humble beginnings.
Then Karl Klein addressed the attentive audience on the theme “Meeting the Challenge of Christian Loyalty.” Citing Proverbs 2:8 to show that in tests of loyalty Jehovah always gives strength and help to his Christian servants, he observed: “Inanimate objects can be faithful witnesses, but only intelligent creatures can be loyal.”
Drawing from a rich fund of personal experience, Carey Barber next illustrated how Jehovah has taken out a people for his name in these “last days.” But, as he pointed out, the work of preaching is still with us, bringing with it great responsibility. “Jehovah’s people from the year 1919 onward entered into what has become the mightiest preaching activity ever to be conducted on this earth!”
The morning program concluded with the dedication talk by Fred Franz. He recalled that Charles T. Russell, a man of Scottish-Irish descent, established the first branch office of the Watch Tower Society in London, England. As Franz observed, from the year 1900 when the office was opened, it has always served loyally with the international headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. In a spirit of continuing loyalty to Jehovah God, the fine new facilities were dedicated to him.
Lyman Swingle opened the two-hour afternoon session by speaking on the need to ensure that we always glorify Jehovah with all our dedicated resources. “Are we spending our time, our energy, our skills, on trivia, things that do not bring glory and honor to Jehovah God?” he searchingly asked his audience. Next Theodore Jaracz highlighted the theme “Building for the Future,” appropriately comparing the literal extension of the newly dedicated wing with the need to build spiritually. “Build so as to maintain Christian integrity,” he stressed.
When Brother Franz gave his final remarks, and John Booth offered the concluding prayer, it heralded the end not just of a special day but of a unique two-day convention.
Strengthened for Greater Activity
As they toured the premises, visitors learned that originally the contract for the building of the new wing was to have been given to a commercial firm, just as the original structure, completed in 1958, had been. But dramatically the decision was reversed. After consultation with the Governing Body, Jehovah’s Witnesses in England decided that they could handle the job themselves. Immediately a personnel desk was set up and nearly a thousand Witnesses from all over the country were recruited for the work.
Accommodations were provided in temporary dormitories, and more with local Witnesses living within a ten-mile (16-km) radius of the site. This arrangement meant that from 70 to 100 workers could be on hand at any one time. Despite the coldest winter and the wettest spring for decades, the project was completed on time. This included spending many weeks of extra work in refurbishing the existing building.
Thus, during the tour of the premises, everything was found to be in excellent condition. The grounds were freshly landscaped with attractive lawns and flower beds. The 147 members of the Bethel family were indeed happy as they shared the pleasures of the day with their visitors. One of them summed up: “It was the experience of a lifetime!” What especially contributed to this was having so many faithful, long-time servants of Jehovah present, including the majority of the Governing Body. To hear the 13 members of the Governing Body who were present take part in the combined program was a unique privilege.
The grand two-day event will surely give further impetus to the rapidly expanding Kingdom work in Britain. At present there is another extensive building program in progress in the country. Already one “quick-build” Kingdom Hall has been erected in a matter of just a few days, and 15 more such projects are pending. Also, two new assembly halls are in the planning stage. There have been new peaks in all fields of activity, with over 92,000 Kingdom publishers now active in Britain. It is indeed heartwarming to see how God’s people earth wide are determined to press on in their God-given assignment to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom until the end of this system of things comes.—Matthew 24:14.
[Pictures on page 10]
October 1, 1983, De Montfort Hall, Leicester
October 2, 1983, Watch Tower House, Mill Hill, London
[Picture on page 11]
The capacity-filled De Montfort Hall, where over 3,000 persons from around the world met on October 1, 1983, for the annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society
[Picture on page 12]
Albert Schroeder directing attention toward some of the old-timers during the annual meeting
[Picture on page 14]
THE WATCH TOWER SOCIETY’S BRANCH OFFICE IN LONDON, ENGLAND
The original structure, with the circle driveway in front, was completed in 1958. The newly completed wing with the light-colored roof is at the far left. It increases the living space for the branch workers to 204 persons