Jehovah’s Witnesses Gather in Journal Square for Annual Convention

All photos: Edwin Hadi

Earlier this month, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses descended on Journal Square for their annual convention, this year centered on the theme “Remain Close to Jehovah.” Similar meetings will take place at a variety of locations all around the world throughout the rest of 2010 and into 2011. In the tri-state area the gatherings will continue through September.

At the Jersey City location, however, attendees had the unique opportunity to meet in a very special place, the historic Stanley Theater.

The Witnesses acquired the Stanley in 1983 and renovated it in time for the formal dedication of the building in 1985. Remarkably, because no one in the organization is paid, all the work was done by thousands of volunteers.

Though the Stanley is used regularly as the Assembly Hall for Jersey City Witnesses, it was especially effective in providing an elegant as well as spacious setting for the convention, which gathered an estimated 3,000 attendees on each meeting day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Nearly every space of the expansive theater was put to use for the convention, with the main events taking place in the auditorium. There, on any given hour of each day, attendants could hear symposiums and sermons relating to the theme, as well as experience some special events such as baptisms and a drama production.

According to Howard Carroll, a news service overseer for the Hudson County circuit of Witnesses, an effort was made to make non-members in the area aware of the conference and to welcome them, via a flier emphasizing the free admission and the lack of collections taken. “How can you draw close to God?,” it read.

Although it is unclear how many guests responded to this invitation, if they did attend, they’d likely be easy to spot. Even on the balmy Saturday afternoon when I visited the convention, all the Witnesses were dressed in formal attire — suits for the men and dresses for the women. Carroll explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses dress up to show respect, similar to the way people used to dress up for ball games and, appropriately for the venue, movies.

Yet, despite the serious, solemn dress, every Witness I spoke with was full of joy and excitement for the conference.

Many, like 19-year-old Britney from Paterson, cherished the opportunity to reconnect with old friends that they may not have the opportunity to see often. She was born into the organization and baptized 11 years ago.

“I get to see a lot of the friends that I only get to see on these occasions,” she said. “Even if you don’t get to personally talk to them, you do feel a certain kind of spirit just being around them.”

Shawn from Clifton, another lifelong Witness, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Getting to see all the people who are doing the same thing as you is very encouraging,” he said, adding that the actual information was a big draw as well. Many of the other attendees referred to the support that comes from the various speakers, who give them tips and advice on how to be a better Witness.

Perhaps one of the most striking things about the convention from the perspective of an outsider was the diversity represented by the attendees. People of all ages and races filled the theater and the adjoining rooms, including overflow seating for those who could not find a seat in the main auditorium.

Bobby Irvin, a Jamaican musician and old friend of the late Bob Marley, summed up the experience of the convention using a famous phrase of Marley’s.

“Everybody is just in one love,” he said. “In Oneness.”

Irvin looked around the theater as crowds began to pour out of the auditorium and as a line of new converts shuffled into a shallow pool for baptism.

“It’s very beautiful,” he added with a smile.

a writer and educator living in Jersey City with his wife Stephanie, a painter. He teaches composition at New Jersey City University and works as a Writing Center Specialist at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. He is the managing editor of Patrol.

  • Margarett

    Thank you for the wonderful article.

    To all. Here is our blood brochure “How Can Blood Save Your Life”

    Here’s our intro “Jehovah’s Witnesses—Who Are They? What Do They Believe?”

    Here’s our official website.

  • Michael McDonald

    Hate to say it but this sounds more like a propaganda piece than reporting in my opinion.

  • marcus

    Why because it reports someone’s positive experience? Not enough gotcha journalism?

  • Margarett

    The propaganda reportings are the ones featuring irresponsible configuring of “statistics.” and coming up with “thousands dying from lack of blood transfusions.”

    However, dying ‘after’ refusing blood doesn’t equal dying ‘ from ‘ refusing blood.

    Decades of real information from bloodless hospitals show the significant advantage of refusing blood.

    On the other hand, ‘one’ blood transfusion wiped out Mr Paul Michael Glaziers family, and it would have even been worse had he been the one transfused.

    These same ones are busy fudging all the negatives in our brotherhood, so please let a trees ‘own’ leaves be examined to reveal its condition. The pages of our publications. Regards.

  • Synonymous

    Religion is all bunk. – Thomas Edison

  • CMD


  • RMS

    To CMD,

    Witnesses do not ring people’s doorbells with the intention of disturbing or harassing anyone. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the early Christian’s who not only taught in the synogogues, but also went from house to house to reach people who want to learn what the Bible really teaches and to better understand what is in God’s word.

    Matt. 24:14 places upon us an obligation to reach as many people as we can. People move and change residence often, and that is why it seems like you may be getting repeated visits. We respect our neighbors and do not wish to upset them, so if the visits from Jehovah’s Witnesses are truly unwanted you may request to be put on a do-not-call list. Unless you are on the list, we really have no idea of who is on the other side of the door when we ring your bell.

    Believe it or not, many people ARE eager to hear what the Bible really says and are also eager to understand what the Bible teaches. Just as surprising to some, those who often opposed what we had to say did not have a correct viewpoint of our message. Once actually hearing what we believe, many have accepted a free home Bible study and this is shown by the increase of Bible studies in the U.S. Would it surprise you to know that over half a million people just in the U.S. alone are interested in learning more about the Bible…in fact, the actual number of Bible studies was 628,699 in 2009 and this number has increased this year as well. While many DO want to learn, still some do not. If you are one that does not, please understand that we do not ring your bell out of maliciousness or intent to anger.

  • Synonymous

    People really eager to hear what the bible says will buy one or seek out someone who can tell them. Knocking and ringing may not be malicious, but it is an inconsiderate intrusion on privacy. The fact that your book obligates you to annoy doesn’t excuse it.

  • CMD

    Saint Nutone said to the doorknockers in the square “knocketh not on thy neighbor’s door on the sabbath morn for his head may hangeth over from an abundance of wine and merry making and he may be in repose or watcheth Face The Nation in his undergarment”. Remember this before you push that button.

  • cmd2face

    We are encouraged not to knock early in the morning or if we see blinds closed to go to next door.
    Its freedoms like being able to knock on another citizens door is what make America a relatively free country. We should tell everyone in your area not to knock on your doors or maybe you should just put a nice sign for anyone not to disturb your lovely place of zen.
    Eg: “Jehovah’s Witnesses please don’t knock on my door.”

    With freedom comes responsibility. Use your God given brain that is one of the most complex constructs in the universe. Its easy to complain but not so easy to use your brain hey? LOL. Cheer up emo kid.

  • GoodNeighbor

    The issue is not legality, rights, or courtesy. The doorknockers are being disingenuous when they frame the issue that way and those who get caught up in those issues are falling for a circular argument.

    The issue is the arrogance of the true believers who think it is their mission to “save the world” for their “truth.” It doesn’t matter what view of the world they are promoting. The compulsion to press one’s beliefs on another person, even with courtesy and social restraint, lies at the heart of much of the world’s troubles and violence.

  • Danny Haszard

    The Watchtower first published in 1879 had the slogan: advertise,advertise,advertise the King and his (1914) Kingdom.

    JW are a spin-off of the second Adventist which all came from the Millerite movement.
    American war of 1812 army captain William Miller is ground zero for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Yes,the “great disappointment” of Oct 22 1844 has never died out… it lives on in the Seventh day Adventist (who admit it) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny it. The central CORE doctrine of the Watchtower,yes the reason the Watchtower came into existence was to declare Jesus second coming in 1914.When the prophecy (derived from William Miller of 1842) failed they said that he came “invisibly”.

    Ergo,no 1914 then there can be no 1918 inspection and sealing of the ‘anointed’ so the entire Watchtower Bible and Tract Society doctrinal superstructure comes crashing down like a house of cards.

    Danny Haszard
    The Watchtower is a truly Orwellian world.

  • Margarett

    1914 was a marked year. Compare the synchronized events of that year and after with Jesus statements on the Mount of Olives and Revelations 4 horsemen.

    The “last days” will have its conclusion before Earth succumbs to man. If any are still taking “the doomsday clock” seriously, (instituted after WW2) it will happen before it strikes 12.

    For ones foo fooing the end, or ones of the other extreme thinking earth will end, neither is true. It’s going to be a clean new beginning where the meek will inherit the earth. Satan’s existence and his adverse effects will prove temporary soon after. Please open your doors. Regards.

  • Jerie Elliott

    This is one fine piece of Jornalism. It is very detailed and truth filled.
    Jehovah’s WItnesses are actually good people who stand firm by their faith!

  • Sean

    This report was intended for the local community and of course it is written with them in mind. I’ve been to this theatre and it IS absolutely beautiful. Anyone familiar with the history of the building knows that it was dirty and neglected and an awful eyesore for many years. Jehovah’s Witnesses worked VERY hard to restore and enhance its beauty. God’s word has a way of bringing out the best in people and this just a physical example. Those who oppose God would argue about anything, even resorting to false claims in the process. God’s people IMITATE Jesus, rather than oppose him. (John 10:4,5) . Thank you Jonathan, for the well-written commentary. I’m sorry that the detractors can’t give you credit for the story but sadly, it is a familiar refrain.

  • Freedom

    well if you were in a hurricane affected area, you see how these Jehovahs, come n help n rebuild the homes cities help with food nice good hearted people, all i can say there religions ok with me, they speak always with respect and if i dont want to hear what they say, i tell them, i have a lot of respect for people who leave there homes to go help other n dont get paid , they came from Ny NJ MICH< AL. GA Tenn to help hurricane destroyed area for free no pay, n gave from there heart. what did you do to help. you must look at the good of the people what they do how they do , i see them always doing more good then bad,

  • D.Chadwick

    Getting back to the original purpose of this article, the Stanley Theater, I was privileged to visit it in the early 90’s and to this day I have to say it was one of the most beautiful places I have seen. The fact that much of the original decor was restored was fascinating and the absolutely stunning reproductions of Bible characters and events added to the beauty of the place.
    I too, thank Mr. Fitzgerald for the well written article and the honest evaluation of what he witnessed. Jehovah’s people are loving, kind, thoughtful, generous and yes, imperfect and often fall short of what some might deem appropriate behavior but you can NEVER take away the fact that they are sincere in their love of righteousness and the doing of God’s will. Mr. Fitzgerald witnessed that and wrote about it. He didn’t do it to invite insults from several obviously ignorant individuals who have nothing better to do than attack other religious beliefs. Read your Bibles .. you might learn something.

  • Synonymous

    The Bible is fiction. Fiction can entertain, but it can’t always teach. Read your math books.