I’ve known Jehovah’s Witnesses all my life. The Andersons lived three doors up the street when I was a kid, and I remember when my hometown Kingdom Hall was built. In Falls City, Nebr., though, we were humanistic little kids, and what someone did on Sunday morning pretty much only affected the rest of us by whether he or she would be available for tree climbing, fort building or football playing.
I vaguely remember something about the Andersons not celebrating Christmas, but that was about the depth of our religious discussion—that and whether cats always fall on their feet, and from how far.
I’ve generally enjoyed chance conversations at my front door or on street corners with Witnesses, but oddly, considering they’re among the most gregarious of missionaries, I’d never been invited to a service in my capacity of church reviewer. Well, that ended when a guy at my gym invited me to the service at the Kingdom Hall on Holcomb Ranch Road.
I get the feeling Witnesses are not as comfortable being approached by others as they are approaching others. Just try to find the times for services on the internet for any of the Kingdom Halls in Northern Nevada. They’re not even all that great at picking up the phone. But once I got on Hall property, everyone I encountered was genuinely friendly, habitually helpful and sincerely happy to welcome me—not overwhelming, but warm. From the couple who met me as I was trying to find the door to the little kid who waited to open the door for an older man as I was leaving, everyone was uniformly accommodating. The couple recommended a 2:30 p.m. service because the topic was a discussion of the trinity—Witnesses do not believe in the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one entity” trinity.
I arrived at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday. I thought I was 15 minutes early, but it turned out I was actually 15 minutes late for the Public Service. Witnesses’ Sunday services, at least the Sunday I attended, have two parts, the Public Service and the Watchtower study group. The Public Service, which lasted until 10, was sort of a lecture about how to raise children. I’d hazard the guess that this part of the service is always some variation of “how to live a Christian life.” The second part, the Watchtower study group, consisted of a one-hour analysis of an article in the study edition of the Watchtower, the newsprint magazine that Witnesses bring door-to-door or hand out in public places.
The service was fascinating. It began and ended with a song and a short prayer, but the biggest piece of it was one man at the front of the sanctuary reading a paragraph, another acting as mediator—calling out questions and the names of people who’d raised their hands to provide answers—while other men carried around microphones for people to respond into. Everyone participated—pre-schoolers to grandparents. The article of the day was “Unity Identifies True Worship.”
I think this was a great topic for me to land on because, essentially, the discussion was “What separates Witnesses from Christendom, and what binds Witnesses together?” So the hot button topics, like eschewing nationalism, politics and war were touched upon. Even things like the End Times and Revelation, which are core topics among the Witnesses, came to the floor. As an ignorant stranger, there were a few things that were said out of context that I knew I didn’t understand, but I imagine there were even more I didn’t have the background to know I was missing.
It turns out there are far more differences with mainstream Christianity than I’d realized. I’m looking forward to my next visit to a Kingdom Hall to hear more of these views of life and death and how to live them.