(Certain details have been altered to protect the identity of those involved)
Although I have never been a Jehovah’s Witness, I have been to roughly 15 of their annual memorial services. The Witnesses celebrate the Lord’s Evening Meal (what most Christians refer to as communion) only once a year. Before I describe the events of the evening, I’ll give a short summary of what usually happens at this ceremony.
Since this is the only religious holiday Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate, attendance at Kingdom Halls for this service is much like Christmas and Easter is for Christians. If you are associated with the Witnesses in any way, and you could only make one meeting all year, this would be the meeting. Parking lots are filled and everyone is wearing their Sunday best. The service starts just after sunset. Since there is limited space at Kingdom Halls, sometimes the Witnesses will rent out public halls or hotel conference rooms. They also have a later meeting at 9:00 to accommodate everyone who wants to attend.
The meeting begins with an announcement for everyone to begin finding their seats. The building is usually packed so they want to make sure everyone is seated before they begin. A very respected man (an elder or someone of greater authority), will stand up in front of the audience and give a presentation that lasts approximately 45 minutes.
The speaker will use an outline provided by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society which jumps from verse to verse in the Bible attempting to prove that the only ones who are allowed to partake of the bread and wine are those of the anointed class, numbered at 144,000 members. Since there are very few Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be of the anointed (Witnesses are STRONGLY counseled against such claims), and there are more than 19 million people in attendance at this event world-wide, the average Kingdom Hall does not have anyone who partakes of the emblems. There was one lady sitting in the row in front of me who partook. More on that later.
So basically, someone will get up and speak about how important it is that Jehovah’s Witnesses attend this meeting while emphasizing that practically no one will participate. They will then pass the emblems around, watch everyone reject them, then go home. It seems pointless, but Jehovah’s Witnesses look forward to this evening almost like high school students look forward to prom.
This year was going to be different for me because my wife and I decided that I should take our two oldest kids. As we were eating supper before the meeting, my wife and I talked to our kids about the meeting and what it was going to be like. They wanted to bring their Bibles and take notes, just like I always do. I was a bit nervous to bring them along because you never know what kids are going to say. Sometimes they can be brutally honest and if asked by someone what they thought about the meeting, I didn’t want them saying something like it was “weird or boring,” even though it is a strange event.
When my kids and I arrived at the Kingdom Hall, cars were piling out of the parking lot and into the street. There was a JW parking attendant who looked like he had no idea what he was doing. Cars were backed up from both directions and we were in the lane where we had to cross traffic in order to enter the parking lot. It took a while before we were admitted into the property.
As we were walking into the Hall, my Pioneer Elder friend walked up too. We greeted each other and I introduced my kids to him. We entered the building and it was abuzz with activity. Since he had a part in the activity of the evening, he had to sit up front. He found a place for me and my kids to sit in the back row. My son was nearest to the wall, then my daughter, myself and a special guest that my friend hand-picked to sit next to me. Let’s just call her, “Sister So-and-So.” Her husband sat on the end.
Sister So-and-So was a prudish looking, but jovial older woman. She was loud and not shy in the least. I thought we were going to hit it off immediately. Before the meeting started, numerous people came over to greet her, me and my kids. Sister So-and-So and I chatted and joked a bit. The crowd hushed when a man asked everyone to take their seats so they could see if there were still any seats available.
After a minute or two the man said, “You can still visit, we have three minutes.”
I leaned over to Sister So-and So and said, “Three whole minutes. That reminds me of a joke.” I really didn’t have a joke in mind, I just thought it was strange that we were told we could talk for three minutes before the meeting started. The man stood silently behind the microphone so I realized he wasn’t kidding. He was going to stand there for three minutes. To pass the time, I decided that I would tell a joke.
I leaned over to Sister So-and-So and asked, “Why did the cowboy buy a dachshund?”
Sister So-and-So: I don’t know, why?
KW: So he could get a long, little doggie.
She giggled and her husband asked if I was telling jokes. She said I was and then repeated it to him. One man in front of us said, “If you’re going to tell jokes, tell it loud enough so that we can hear it.” He then told a joke which Sister So-and-So didn’t understand so I explained it to her. She looked at me as if to tell me it was a dumb joke and then we all sat silently waiting for the man with the microphone to start the ceremony. He announced, “We still have about a minute and a half.”
I sat there in silence for a bit, looked at my watch and then asked Sister So-and So, “So we’re going to start exactly on the dot?
Sister so-and–so: Um-Hmm.
Sister So-and-So: Because Jehovah is orderly and punctual.
KW: And He said to start on the dot?
Sister So-and-So: He is orderly and punctual.
I knew right then and there that I was not going to get along with Sister So-and-So. I looked around the room and saw that everyone was already seated. People were whispering to one another, but we were all ready to begin. Everyone was ready except that clock. I leaned over to Sister So-and-So and asked another question.
KW: Whose clock is the official one? Without missing a beat, she immediately replied, “His,” referring to the guy with the microphone. I looked back at the clock on the wall, the one the speaker was looking at. Sister So-and-So noticed and said, “Well, maybe he is watching the clock on the back wall.” Right then, the speaker officially began the meeting and greeted everyone.
Rules. When it comes to playing a game or driving in traffic, I understand and appreciate rules. They keep people from cheating or gaining an unfair advantage in games and rules can keep us safe on the roads. But when rules are followed for the sake of following the rules, I’m not a fan. At all. This is why I knew I was not going to get along with Sister So-and-So. I could tell from our brief exchange that she was a follower of rules regardless of whether or not they are practical or made any sense whatsoever. I never have been nor will I ever be that kind of rule follower. I detest people who do not want to think for themselves.
The speaker mentioned that the title for the sermon was, “Appreciate what Christ has done for you.” There is that word again, “appreciate.” A number of years ago, my wife noticed that they repeat any form of that word numerous times throughout the evening. I always like to keep track of how many times it is said. Two years ago it was said 15 times, 18 times last year and the new record is, 19 times. In roughly 45 minutes, they mentioned “appreciate” 19 times. I may be in the minority here, but I find that a bit humorous.
The speaker asked everyone to open their song books to song number eight, titled, “The Lord’s Evening Meal.” Since there are no instruments in the Kingdom Hall, the music is fed into a stereo system and the congregation sings along to the music. The singing is rarely anything to acknowledge. The speaker delivering the message tonight was an elder in the congregation. I was able to speak to him after the meeting was over. More on that later.
One thing of note that the speaker mentioned was that last year 19,241,252 people attended the Memorial. However, he did not mentioned how many partook of the emblems. I happen to know that last year 14,121 Jehovah’s Witnesses ate the bread and drank the wine. This number has increased for nine years in a row, ever since they changed their doctrine on who can claim to be of the anointed. The previous doctrine was that you had to be a baptized Jehovah’s Witness by the year 1935 to be considered part of the anointed, but once they reopened the pearly gates to heaven, more and more people are claiming to have a heavenly hope. There was one such lady there tonight.
As the speaker was going through the Watchtower provided outline, I opened two apps on my iPad, a note taking app and my Bible. I got pretty good at four finger swiping back and forth between the two apps. You need to be quick too, because the outline contains no less than 23 verses. The speaker did not ask everyone to go to every verse he referred to, but still, 23 verses in such a short time frame (45 minutes) is way too many for people to be able to listen to the speaker, navigate to the next verse, read the verse in context and listen to the speaker’s next comments before he jumps to the next verse. I believe this is by design.
The speaker mentioned another noteworthy thing in emphasizing the point that the Memorial will no longer need to be observed once the anointed have been taken from the earth. He used 1 Corinthians 11:26 as a proof text. In the Revised New World Translation it reads, “For whenever you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he comes.” After reading the verse, he immediately said, “The memorial will only be observed, as long as Christians with a heavenly hope are on earth, until He comes.”
Do you notice the problem here? The speaker said the memorial will cease once the anointed have left the earth, then uses a verse that says nothing of the sort. In fact, what it does say is in direct contradiction to Watchtower doctrine. The Bible doesn’t say we are to observe the memorial until the anointed leave, it says we are to do it until Jesus comes back. There is a big difference between waiting for a group of people to die and waiting for the risen Lord to return.
One difference that I recognized about this year was that the speaker did not make a big deal about the Watchtower’s view that Judas was not present at the memorial. Although he did mention that Jesus observed the meal with his 11 faithful disciples, there was no specific mention of Judas not being there. Unless you were familiar with this particular Watchtower quirk, it would have been easy to completely miss it.
As they were passing the bread, the speaker starting talking about the sacrifice that Jehovah and Jesus made for us. He asked the crowd to reflect on and think about a way that we can show them (Jehovah and Jesus), how we appreciate what they have done for us. I found that a bit interesting. What they have done for us?
It reminds me of the story about the chicken and the pig who are asked to help with Easter dinner. The chicken is required to provide eggs while the pig is required to provide pork. The chicken complains to the pig about having to give up her eggs. The pig replies, “Hey, for you Easter is a contribution, for me it is a sacrifice!”
That is similar to how I see the Watchtower version of Jehovah and Jesus. Since they do not have a Trinitarian view of God, a serious flaw is revealed in their position. What exactly did Jehovah do for us? Whatever it is, it is more along the lines of a contribution and not a sacrifice. Jesus Himself said, “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends” (John 15:13 RNWT).
So according to the Watchtower, Jehovah created Michael the archangel who then became Jesus. Jesus died for us proving that He had a greater love for us than Jehovah’s does? I personally find it unacceptable to think that a created being could love us more than God Himself does, yet this is exactly the conclusion we must come if Jesus is not fully Deity.
As the plate of unleavened bread reached our row, Sister So-and-So offered the cup to me. I said, “No thanks” and did not take the plate from her hands. She said, “Please pass it down.” I replied, “We’re not going to take it anyway.”
Sister So-and-So: Just pass it down.
KW: No thank-you.
Sister So-and-So: (Insistently) You have to pass it down.
KW: (Losing my patience) No, I don’t.
This was getting ridiculous. The only two people to my left were my daughter and then my son. Since none of us were going to partake, what is the point of passing the plate down the row only to reject its contents and pass it back?
She looked at me incredulously. It was beyond her capacity to understand that someone would refuse to follow the rules. She tried again and probably a bit louder than she realized.
Sister So-and-So: Please pass this down to your children.
You’ve got to be kidding me. I just glared at her so that I didn’t say anything mean. She then tried to reach around me and pass it to my daughter.
KW: Look Ma’am, you are crossing the line here.
I took the plate out of her hands, stood up and handed it back to the attendant. He stood there in shock with a look of horror on his face. I turned to my children and said, “C’mon kids. Let’s go.” My daughter was mortified. My son muttered loud enough for a few rows to hear, “This is weird.”
We made our way past Sister So-and-So, her husband and the attendant. The people near us were looking at us. The people in the very front kept their heads down and didn’t dare turn around. People were loudly whispering to each other, “He didn’t want to pass the plate, he didn’t want to pass the plate!”
At this point, I was so angry that I didn’t try to be quiet. We marched out of there with such force that if I would have had a trumpet in my hands I would have blown it. As we got close to the door, one of the men came up beside me and said, “Sir, are you okay?” He made a motion like he was going to place one of his hands on my shoulder. I put up my hand as if to block his hand and said, “Don’t. Just don’t.” He saw the anger on my face and backed off immediately. My kids and I walked to our car and left in silence.
The above is pretty close to what would have happened if I didn’t follow the stupid rule of passing the plate. Do you see all the blue content above? I know some of my readers are going to want to kill me, but that didn’t really happen. However, it did cross my mind in an instant. Instead of having all of that happen, I thought of my friend and decided to pass the stupid plate to my children. My children were confused. I was angry.
Sister So-and-So was not happy either. Her husband leaned over to her and I could hear him pleading with his wife not to try to make me pass the cup. They were bickering back and forth and I really did hear the people behind me whispering to each other, “He didn’t want to pass the plate, he didn’t want to pass the plate!”
At that point, I began to think about rejecting the cup, but knew that if I did that, it would probably damage my chances of continuing to meet with my elder friend. I have no idea if he knew about any of what had just occurred.
As the cup was being passed, I happened to notice that a lady in front of us took a quick sip from the cup. She had her head down and did it as quickly and inconspicuously as possible. She was pretty sneaky too because I did not notice her taking a piece of the bread.
When the cup got to our row, Sister So-and-So handed it to me and I passed it down to my children. When it came back to me I passed it back to her and spilled the cup on her dress. She exclaimed, “You did that on purpose!” No, that didn’t happen either, but it sure would have been funny if it did. I was not happy with this woman and she was not happy with me either.
Immediately after the meeting concluded, the room became abuzz with chatter from everyone. I turned my attention to the lady sitting in front of us who partook of the emblems. I didn’t know if she was a Jehovah’s Witness or a visitor. Since my desire to know more about this lady was greater than my desire to ignore sister So-and-So, I leaned over and asked if she knew who she was. She called her “sister” and then her last name so I knew she was a JW.
Sister So-and-So tried to make small talk with me, but I was short in my responses. I did not want to encourage a conversation with her unless she was going to apologize to me and I didn’t see that happening. She kept peppering me with small talk so I excused myself to go use the restroom. When I returned to my seat, my friend was there waiting for me.
JW Friend: Thanks for coming.
KW: Sure, thanks for the invitation.
JW Friend: I’m sure you have about a dozen questions.
KW: You know me…
He laughed then reiterated how pleased he was that I was there. Sister So-and-So was standing near and said, “He survived sitting next to me.”
KW: Just barely.
They both laughed, but I didn’t. Sister So-and-So looked at me, stopped laughing, then gave me a look like she wasn’t sure if I was joking or not. I gave her a blank stare. My elder friend, not picking up on my animosity, joked and said something like, “If you can sit next to Sister So-and-So, you can stand anything.” I agreed, looked at my watch and said we needed to leave. I was then reminded about the lady who took the emblems so I inquired about her. He told me with a sheepish look that she thought she was one who had a heavenly hope.
Right then numerous people came up to introduce themselves, including the speaker. I was then distracted because the speaker was standing next to us when someone addressed him mentioning that he really enjoyed an illustration that the speaker used. The speaker said something to the effect that it was in the outline. I asked the speaker a question.
KW: That wasn’t original. Is that what you’re saying?
He nodded his head.
KW: That just blew it for me.
Everyone listening knew that I was joking and we all laughed.
KW: So you said the illustration was in the outline? Where did you get the outline?
JW Speaker: From the organization.
KW: So what part was yours and what part… wasn’t yours?
JW Speaker: I just delivered the message. It is just like Jesus said, “What I speak is not my own.”
I wondered if I should say what I was thinking. Yep, I’m going for it.
KW: I see a parallel there that I am not quite comfortable with.
JW Speaker: Oh yeah? What’s that?
KW: Jesus spoke what God said and you speak what… someone else says.
JW Speaker: Well, how many scriptures did we use?
KW: I have no idea, but I do have them all in my notes. It was hard to keep up with all of them. There were so many verses used that by the time I had written one down, switched apps, looked up the verse, I could barely read it much less look at the context before you were already talking about another verse.
JW Speaker: Yes, that is why I only made reference to some of them and did not read them all. We don’t have all night.
I was thinking of what Sister So-and-So said. Maybe they have to get out at a certain time too because Jehovah is orderly and punctual.
JW Speaker: My point though is that everything I said was based off of the Bible.
KW: I understand what you were saying. It is just that the way you put it, I’m not quite comfortable with that.
JW Speaker: Oh, Yes. I see what you are saying. I am not Jesus.
KW: And the Watchtower is not God. That was my concern.
My elder friend quickly joined in.
JW Friend: Yes, that is correct. The Watchtower is not God.
There was a bit of an awkward feeling from those standing around so I asked the speaker when he actually received the outline so that he had time to prepare. He mentioned that he had it three months prior to tonight. Once we finished our conversation, I made my way out of the building, but was stopped by Sister So-and-So. She started asking about my children and then volunteered that she had three children herself.
Sister So-and-So: I have three children also. Two of them are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Ok. More awkwardness. My Elder friend’s wife and children were standing right there when she said this. I caught my elder friend’s wife looking at her older daughter and rolling her eyes. Sister So-and-So went on and on about her son who wasn’t a Witness. My Friend’s wife looked at me as if she was disgusted with Sister So-and-So. Her children were confused, wondering why this ever entered into Sister So-and-So’s mind and why she thought this was appropriate conversation for someone she had just met. I politely listened while catching the embarrassed looks of those around us.
We finally made our way out of the building and into our car. My kids started asking me about Sister So-and-So. I did my best to be respectful, but at the same time let my kids know that she was a complete head-case. I have no idea why my Elder friend had her sit next to me. He has a lot of explaining to do when we meet next.
Overall, this was a very memorable… memorial, but not for the reasons it should be. I go every year to remind myself of exactly how lost these people really are. I was also reminded of how ugly the organization is and how it turns people into “rule-keepers” in hopes of gaining Jehovah’s approval. What they need to understand is that no amount of rule keeping is going to accomplish that. They need to repent from trusting in the Watchtower and trust in Jesus alone. That is why He came to die for us anyway. He came to do what we couldn’t to give us what we could never earn. Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witnesses friends and the ones you know personally.