Editor's note: We ordinarily would not allow a report on Jehovah's Witnesses as they are non-trinitarian. However, we have made an exception due to the special nature of the event and the remarkable experience the reporter seems to have had. The convention was held at the Echo Arena, a vast, modern stadium for cultural, musical, sporting and corporate happenings opened in January 2008. Among other things, the arena has hosted the MTV Europe Music Awards, Davis Cup Tennis, GB Judo World Cup, and European Team Badminton Championships. International superstars such as Sir Paul McCartney and Beyoncé have performed there. In addition to the main stadium, which can be set up in a wide range of seating configurations to accommodate any kind of event, there is a smaller auditorium (smaller only by comparison, as it can seat anywhere from 850 to 1350 people depending on the setup). There are also eight refreshment kiosks and ample parking. The stage, I might add, had a simple banner with a globe of the earth and "The Kingdom of God" in big black letters emblazoned on it.
Jehovah's Witnesses, quoting from their website, "above all ... want to honor Jehovah, the God of the Bible and the Creator of all things... Because we witness, or talk, about Jehovah God and his Kingdom, we are known as Jehovah’s Witnesses." Kingdom Halls can be found in many towns throughout the world. They are purpose-built by the Witnesses for sole use by them. I have seen many Kingdom Halls in my time but have never been inside one. The premises are always gated; the grounds are landscaped. Everything is neat and well-ordered.
The Echo Arena is situated on the waterfront close to the Albert Dock and the famous Royal Liver Building. The Liverpool docks were renovated in the 1980s. Bijou shops, eating establishments, bars, gift shops, and the Mersey Maritime Museum are only a few of the attractions awaiting tourists and locals alike.
I didn't have the names of the two speakers who spoke in the hour I was there. They were both male.
What was the name of the service?Jehovah's Witnesses Convention.
How full was the building?
Echo Arena has a stated capacity of 11,000 and was very full indeed. I had never been in the Echo Arena before. There were a few empty seats near the stage area. The upstairs atrium (reserved for the disabled) was jam packed, as were most other areas. There appeared to be zoned areas for families with children, the less able-bodied, visually impaired with guide dogs, etc. I was speechless when I saw the assembled congregation: people of all ages, all in their best clothes: suits, nice dresses, jackets, very smart and well turned out children and babies, all listening attentively to the chap on the stage talking about the Kingdom. Helpers wore red tabards and kept an eye out to give assistance where needed. Also in attendance were ladies and gents in white coats. "Oh no! They've come to take me away!" (The thought did cross my mind.) I must have stuck out like a sore thumb dressed in Saturday afternoon tat and mismatched sandals!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had heard on local radio about the convention but I didn't know if it was for ordinary people or JWs only. I'm neither ordinary nor a JW, but I'd gone along to have a look and to satisfy my curiosity. A well-dressed man wearing a smart suit and tie, with JW Convention badge, spotted me hanging around. Actually I was dithering about, wondering if the place would burn down if I went inside (I often feel like this when I enter a place of worship). "Hello," he said in a very pleasant manner. "Welcome. Have you come to the convention? Come in. My colleague will take you inside and find you a seat." Unfortunately there were no seats left that I would have found suitable but read on.
Was your pew comfortable?
I had been standing, leaning against a wall, taking notes as best I could. After about 15 minutes someone brought me a chair. "I'm sorry about that, you having to stand," he said. It was a folding chair, like the sort you can get in Ikea, with a blue upholstered seat and back rest. I was very glad to sit down. Another gent appeared with a notebook for me to write in. "Can I get you some water?" someone else asked.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Proceedings had been underway all day before I arrived, so I can't say.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Again, I can't say. The speaker introduced several people on the dais. These were pioneers, as it turned out, the people who go out and spread the word of Jehovah God the ones who go around knocking on doors and having them slammed in their faces by us. (We've all done it, haven't we?)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just a hymn book. Most people had brought their own Bibles with them. Jehovah's Witnesses prefer their own translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, for (quoting from their website) "its use of God's name, its accuracy, and for its clarity."
What musical instruments were played?
Orchestral music over the PA system.
Did anything distract you?
The rustling of pages as people turned to this passage and that in their Bibles, pages flying backwards and forwards.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Lively. The speaker quoted several passages from the Bible one that comes immediately to mind is Psalm 34:8 ("Taste and see that Jehovah is good. The happiest are those who are seeking.") When the conference attendees weren't busy rustling their Bible pages, you could have heard a pin drop, so intently were they listening. I appeared to be the only one there who didn't have my own Bible. A very pleasant, friendly, sweet-smelling Chanel No. 5 well-dressed young lady, Jane, came and sat next to me (bringing her own chair!) and offered to share her Bible with me. She whispered, "I saw you didn't have a Bible." I didn't dare tell her that I could not see, my specs being elsewhere ("Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened"). As the sermon was about to begin, Jane whispered in my ear, "This will be a very good talk!" When the talk was over, music came over the PA the tune was that old Victorian parlour chestnut "My Grandfather's Clock." I'm sure the words people were singing were not "But it stopped ... short ... never to go again, when the old man died," but exactly what they were singing I couldn't tell. That ended and everyone sat down again. The helpers in the white coats lifted a man out of his wheelchair and onto a sheepskin-covered examination couch, just like the chap in the Bible who couldn't get close enough to Jesus. Finally there was a quick prayer from the man on the stage to round things off.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Who knows? 20 minutes? 25? A day or two?!! (As it turned out, the speaker had been talking only for about 20 minutes.)
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – A gent in a smart grey suit said, "I'm going to put 20 questions to you. We've all got hands, we've all got legs, and feet and eyes. What do we use our hands for? What do we use our feet for? What do we see with our eyes? What does the Bible say about the things you see that you don't like? If your right eye offends you, what do you do?" "Pluck it out!" I called across the stadium – quick as you like; I never even thought about it. "Well done," said Jane. "You know the answers." So did 7000 others in the audience! Let's face it: I was so enthralled that time seemed to stand still. When I finally glanced at my watch, I was surprised to see that he had been talking for only a relatively short time. The Bible quotes came thick and fast. I was leafing through the Bible with the rest of them!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The speaker went on: "Where do your feet take you? To places that you shouldn't really go? And your hands: are our young people texting instead of reading their Bibles? Jehovah God knows what we are doing. It says so here: 'I know your down-sitting and your up-rising' (Psalm 139:2). What can we do with these feet? You can't cut them off, really. But we can make sacrifices." He then said that we are in the last days, but just when we think it can't possibly get any worse, Jehovah God will rescue us that is his promise!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I felt at one with these people even though I didn't know them.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I suffer a bit from vertigo and I was quite near the edge of the balcony, looking over it and down into the forum.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were gently reminded to take all our property and personal possessions away with us when we left. "Make sure you take your Bibles with you. After all, you do not want to be without your Bible." A buffet supper was announced, but I really had to make tracks and so I took my leave of Jane. She gave me a nice hug and said, "If you'd like to study the Bible with me, just give me a ring anytime." She gave me her name and number on a piece of paper (which, I confess, I've since lost). As I made my way out, the man who had showed me the way in passed me a leaflet entitled What is the Kingdom of God? He said, "Thank you for coming in. Nice to meet you. I hope you enjoyed the talks this afternoon." Not pushy. Friendly. Caring. Interesting.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I went for a bit of a walk, ending up on a bench in the sun. I must have nodded off, because the next thing I remember was a woman saying, "Ooh, look up there! A zebra in the sky!" I looked and there was a kid's large helium balloon, zebra shaped, floating up into the ether. We watched it go. Blimey, I thought, what an afternoon! And then I spotted the Witnesses pouring out of the Echo Arena in droves, all smartly dressed, looking like office staff heading home after a busy day. I headed toward Kim's Mobile Snack Bar, where I had tea and a hot dog with onions. Kim asked me where had I been. I told her. "You a JW then, luv?" she asked. I caught the famous ferry cross the Mersey, the evening sun glinting on the water. It had indeed been an afternoon to remember.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
N/A – I would really have to find out a bit more about them, as I've heard things that I'm not sure I could agree with. But although it might seem a bit odd to us, JWs do seem to care for one another in a big way. They live their religion, whole families together, and seem very keen to tell everyone about Jehovah God. It really matters to them. It is more a way of life than a one-hour slot for worship on a Sunday.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The great respect for a non-JW and their friendly welcome to me.