Rich Rewards for Sacred Service
As told by Harry Bloor
About a hundred years ago, my grandfather was a staunch member of the Methodist Church. He was also a respected lay preacher, who gave generously to support many chapels in Stoke-on-Trent, England’s pottery town. Then he suffered hard times financially. To help Grandfather, my father arranged for him to operate a small village store. The store had a license to sell beer, and when the Methodists learned this, they immediately excommunicated Grandfather.
FATHER was furious and vowed that he would never again have anything to do with religion—and he kept his word. He had been a policeman, but later he became the proprietor of a tavern. So I was brought up in the midst of the smells and smoke of that place. Religion played no part in my life, but I did learn to play most board games proficiently! Because of Grandfather’s early influence, however, I retained a healthy respect for the Bible, although I knew little about it.
I Learned Bible Truth
In 1923, when I was 24, I moved east to Nottingham and started courting Mary, who lived some 25 miles [40 km] away in the village of Whetstone, southwest of Leicester. Her father, Arthur Rest, had been the organist at a local chapel, but by this time he was an ardent Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Arthur was always talking to me about his newly found faith—with scant success. My interest was kindled, however, when I accompanied him to the local Baptist chapel on Sunday afternoon, July 13, 1924, to hear a lecture by a member of parliament who was a prominent Baptist. His subject, “The Teachings of Pastor Russell Investigated in the Light of Scripture,” intrigued me. I still have the notes I took then.
The Baptists refused a request by the Bible Students to reply to the attack on their beliefs. I was incensed at this and resolved to find an alternative location to hold such a meeting. A nearby barn proved ideal. We swept it clean, dusted down the cobwebs, pushed the threshing machines to one side, and then we were all prepared. We gathered 70 chairs, and we printed handbills.
When Frank Freer arrived from Leicester to deliver the talk, all seats were taken, and another 70 people were standing! Frank’s clear reasoning from the Scriptures appealed to me, as it did to many others present. From that time on, the little congregation of Bible Students in Blaby near Leicester expanded rapidly. It was also the turning point in my life—as well as in Mary’s. In 1925 we both made our dedication to Jehovah, got baptized, and were married.
The following year, I was appointed service director for the Blaby Congregation. My wife and I wanted to follow in the steps of the colporteurs and become full-time evangelizers, but it soon became apparent that Mary’s health would not permit her to keep up such a vigorous schedule. Although she suffered poor health until her death in 1987, she was a fine companion and an excellent minister who was adept at informal witnessing and starting Bible studies. Night after night we were either attending meetings or sharing Bible truths with our neighbors.
I was an engineer and worked with a firm that manufactured sawmill machinery. My work involved extensive travel around Britain, as well as in France, and Mary usually accompanied me. These trips allowed us opportunities to witness extensively.
Foundations for Expansion
In 1925 we put up a fine building for our meetings in Blaby, and from there we organized an effective witnessing program. Every Sunday morning, we hired a coach that took us to scattered villages and smaller towns. Along the way publishers were dropped off to preach, and then they were picked up by the coach on the return journey. During the warm summer months, we had a late Sunday afternoon Bible study, using a recent issue of The Watchtower. Afterward, at eight o’clock, we met in the Leicester marketplace for an open-air public talk. One night 200 people listened. This activity laid the foundations for the many congregations that now exist in and around Leicester.
In 1926 an epoch-making convention was held jointly at London’s Alexandra Palace and Royal Albert Hall. On that occasion Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, released the book Deliverance. The resolution “A Testimony to the Rulers of the World” and Brother Rutherford’s powerful public address “Why World Powers Are Tottering—The Remedy” were printed in full in a leading newspaper the day after they were presented. More than 10,000 heard the public lecture, and 50,000,000 copies of the resolution were subsequently distributed worldwide. That convention served to accelerate the preaching work in Britain.
Large Convention During Wartime
The second world war broke out in September 1939, and by 1941 the war was at its height. German bombers raided day and night, and a nationwide blackout was in force. Food was scarce, and what was available was strictly rationed. Transportation was very limited, even by train. Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we held a five-day national convention on September 3-7, 1941.
Leicester’s De Montfort Hall was chosen as the convention site because Leicester is in the center of England. As I was in the timber trade, I was able to assist with the construction of advertising signs. I also arranged local transportation for the conventioners. By buying tickets in advance and paying more than the regular price, we kept Leicester’s trams running even on Sunday.
Because there were restrictions on travel, our hope was that perhaps 3,000 Witnesses could come. Imagine the thrill when over 10,000 delegates said they would be there! But where would they stay? Leicester citizens kindly invited many to stay in their homes. Additionally, about a thousand were accommodated in tents erected in a field two miles [3 km] from the convention site. Camp Gideon, as we called it, caused quite a stir in the community.
Large white tents were rented to be used for convention departments and to accommodate the huge overflow crowds. When it was determined that in the bright moonlight, the tents might serve as a target for Nazi bombers, they were hastily camouflaged. The war, and especially the nonparticipation of the Witnesses in it, was a matter of public concern. Hundreds of Witnesses were at the time in prison for their Bible-based position on neutrality.—Isaiah 2:4; John 17:16.
The Sunday Pictorial, of September 7, 1941, reported: “It is an astonishing thing to find 10,000 people, mostly young, spending a week talking about religion without mentioning the war, except as a side issue.
“I asked whether the Witnesses had any members in Germany. Yes, I was told, and nearly all of them, some 6,000, were in concentration camps.”
The reporter added: “Oh, yes, the Nazis are the enemy all right, but the Witnesses are doing very little about them, except to sell tracts and listen to speeches.”
Newspaper comments about us were generally negative, and opposers even resorted to violence in unsuccessful attempts to disrupt our convention. Yet, London’s Daily Mail did admit, somewhat begrudgingly: “The organisation was smooth, unobtrusive, and efficient.”
We were accused of being responsible for the city’s short supply of cigarettes. But The Daily Mail explained: “Neither Leicester nor the Tobacco Controller can complain that Witnesses are smoking up Leicester’s cigarettes. They don’t smoke.” Also, the complaints that local inhabitants were deprived of food by the Witnesses were dispelled when it was explained that they had brought most of their own rations with them. In fact, at the end of the convention, 150 four-pound [1.8 kg] loaves of bread were donated to the Leicester Royal Infirmary—a considerable contribution in those times of food shortages.
The convention provided a great spiritual uplift for the some 11,000 Witnesses in Britain. They were thrilled that about 12,000 were in attendance! Delegates joyfully engaged in an unprecedented amount of street witnessing in Leicester, and they visited outlying villages with phonograph presentations.
The principal talks of the convention were recordings made the previous month of talks delivered at the five-day convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A. The recording of Brother Rutherford’s talk “Children of the King” was a convention highlight. Since it was not possible to import copies of the book Children that was released in St. Louis, a special paperback edition was later produced in Britain. A copy of it was sent to all the children who had attended the convention.
Leicester’s Unique Annual Meeting
After the war the growth of Kingdom proclaimers in Britain was marvelous! By the early 1980’s, the number of congregations in Leicester had grown to ten. Then we were informed that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses had decided to hold the annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Leicester in 1983. As city overseer of Leicester, I was soon involved in preparations, including hiring the De Montfort Hall again.
Thirteen members of the Governing Body came from the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters for the occasion. A total of 3,671 delegates—this time from around the world, and mainly old-timers—filled the auditorium. An additional 1,500 heard the program at a nearby Assembly Hall.
Albert D. Schroeder, who had had oversight of the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in London during our wartime Leicester convention, presided at this annual meeting. Looking back at the 1941 convention, Brother Schroeder asked: “How many of you with us today were present then?” Over half the audience raised their hands. “My! What a reunion for all you faithful, loyal ones!” he exclaimed. Indeed it was an unforgettable experience.
At 98 years of age, I still serve as secretary in our congregation and continue to give public talks, although I now do so sitting down. After Mary’s death in 1987, I married Bettina, a widow whom Mary and I had known for many years. I am grateful to be so well cared for, both physically and spiritually. Despite the constraints imposed by Mary’s poor health and now by my own old age, I have found that having plenty to do in sacred service has always been richly rewarding.—1 Corinthians 15:58.
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Prepared to share in the ministry in the 1920’s
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Scenes from the Leicester convention