By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
For more than 100 years, the annual convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses packed venues like the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Yankee Stadium in New York, and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the religious organization’s Governing Body canceled the annual gatherings and, for the first time, moved the event to a virtual platform.
Congregations, families, and guests can now view the convention titled, “Always Rejoice!” during July and August on the organization’s website, www.jw.org.
“The convention will continue to teach us that joy is a quality of the heart. It is something that we have inside even when things around us maybe crumbling,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “This message for our community is absolutely vital.”
Hendriks added that the two Christian principles that guided the Witnesses’ historic decision to cancel their annual convention are respect for the sanctity of life and love of neighbor.
“As much as we long to meet together, life is far too precious to put at risk,” Hendriks stated. “Life trumps a place, and a building. Life transcends our desire to meet together. Life is paramount and we recognize that even if one life was taken because of a public meeting, that would be one life too many. We love our brothers, and we love our communities so when you think of carrying the virus, that is contrary to love of neighbor. The principles that move us to knock on doors and talk to our neighbors about the gospel and to invite people to our public gatherings, are the very principles we used to stop the convention and hold it virtually.”
In 2019, more than 14 million people in 240 lands attended conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including roughly 2 million in the United States.
“Our worship is centered on our mutual love for our God and for each other, irrespective of where we are physically,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “This year’s convention program underscores the unity of our international family and the joy that people can have against a backdrop of stress and despair.”
The conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are usually held over three days – Friday through Sunday, with a morning and afternoon session each day.
Witness officials said they would release the program on their website in six installments, each corresponding to a morning or afternoon session. Many congregations and families have already viewed the first convention session, which debuted July 11.
The final weekend of the virtual event takes place August 29 and August 30.
Hendriks noted that this year’s program explores questions that include, what contributes to finding and sustaining joy? How can you cultivate joy in the family? How can you remain joyful in difficult times?
A key feature of the program is a Bible-based drama that considers Nehemiah’s life and how he helped the ancient nation of Israel find joy in their worship of God.
Those interested in viewing the convention can contact their local congregation or access the program on www.jw.org, available under the “Library” tab.
There is no charge for viewing the convention, sign-ups, or email addresses also aren’t required.
Each year many who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses attend the annual conventions, Hendriks said, adding that there are more than 8.6 million active Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Yet, the 2019 conferences had a peak attendance of more than 14 million.
“With the program available online in hundreds of languages, this may be the most attended convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses to date,” Hendriks stated.