I was excited to visit this church. I was excited because I had downloaded a PDF of the Watchtower magazine, the Jehovah’s Witness publication, in preparation for my visit, and the magazine all about ending racism and prejudice.
Seriously, if they had preached this, I would have been quite happy. Because this is the sort of thing I’m looking for. Spoiler alert: They did not preach this. But we’ll get to that.
I had written the address down wrong, and was in haste to get to the Kingdom Hall from the Monastery I’d visited earlier in the morning, and this flustered me a little as I tried to find the place. I set a spiral search pattern, and was finally rewarded, just in time to attend the services.
I went in, and they immediately knew that I was new. For one thing, I wasn’t dressed as nicely as they were. I hadn’t shaved in a few days, and my hair was a little unkempt. Plus, I toted along with my backpack. Nobody else had a backpack. Nearly everyone I came across asked me (in a friendly way) who I was and how I had come to be here. I chose not to tell them that I was an atheist blogger. I didn’t lie, I told them I was visiting lots of churches in my area, and I was looking to pay close attention to the pastor’s message. It was true, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly guilty at the omission.
A lot of people came by to say hi. Some were sent to say hi by other people. Four different people told me that they wanted to talk to me after the service, and one guy tried to get my phone number.
Now, I wasn’t intimidated, or anything like that, everyone was very nice and quite friendly. I think they wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable and that I would be coming back. That’s what they do. They’re pretty good at it. They could have done it a little less.
Inside, this place was the opposite of the Monastery I’d been to earlier that morning. There was only one decoration, a very large vase about four feet tall, filled with colorful spring flowers. There were pews, a stage with a podium… and nothing else. It was like a clean and well-appointed conference room. Nothing to distract you from the presentation.
I told one of the volunteers who were helping organize the meeting (they’re not called sermons, and nobody gets paid, so nobody has a title, it’s all volunteer) that I was excited about the anti-racism message in Watchtower, and was looking forward to that, and he informed me that I had downloaded the wrong thing. They wouldn’t be teaching from that. He handed me the thing they would be teaching. It was about courage and obedience.
Well, okay. Maybe it will be as good as the Catholic service then, I thought. The Priest talked about courage. That was good.
I took a seat in the very front row. I was the only one in the front row. Right before the meeting started, someone handed me a bible, since I didn’t bring my own, and a hymnal, which was helpful. Someone else also gave me a booklet about Jehova’s Witness faith, which was a nice gesture. The whole time I was there, people were constantly hovering over me, to see if I needed anything. At first I felt like a customer in a swanky store, being cared for. But after a while it felt like I had a dozen needy girlfriends, all trying to get my attention. I know they were just being nice, but it creeped me out a little.
Don’t take offense, Witnesses. It’s not you. It’s me.
Things got started. We sang exactly one song, and prayed exactly one prayer, and then got down to brass tacks. These guys don’t monkey around. There was no ritual. There was no “tradition.” There were no Hallelujahs, no offerings, no sick family members to pray over, and no ceremony. There was just a man at a podium giving a talk.
Now, I have to admit something here: If I believed in God, and if I attended a church, this is how I’d like it go. No golden treasures on display, and no loud rock & roll, no chanting in any language foreign or domestic, and no sitting on the floor on pillows getting muscle cramps in my calves. I mean, seriously, if I was a Buddhist, I’d have to start stretching before morning prayers so I wouldn’t pull something.
So, the sermon. The person leading the meeting gave a nice talk, that was all over the map. He read a bit from Exodus, Isaah, Mark, Acts, Luke, Matthew… a little bit from a lot of books. His message was this: Be courageous in your faith and duty to God. Specifically, when you’re out there trying to convert people, be brave. There was some reference to being faithful as well, and what would happen to you if you weren’t (example, Egypt got all kinds of trouble because they wouldn’t work with Moses), and a bit about how courageous Moses was. And then, there was a bit of good old fashioned “end times” talk. We are currently living in the end of days, and very close to Judgement, which puts a bit of pressure on the flock to convert folks. Hence the need to be brave.
The sermon concluded, and someone else got up and started to teach a lesson from Watchtower. The actual lesson, not the wrong thing about racism that I downloaded. What was the actual lesson? God’s name is actually Jehovah. He doesn’t like it when you call him by another name, and you can’t properly glorify Him unless you use the name Jehovah. Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Lord, or God, are not the correct terms at all.
That was the lesson.
A mind-numbingly stupid, pedantic exercise of going through the Bible to places that suggested God’s real name, and how to use it properly. Along with input from the members of the audience, about how they liked to use Jehovah instead of God or anything else. I didn’t stay until the end of the lesson.
I wanted to get home to wash up, have a beer or three, and wait for my friend to come over and hang out. He has a World War II bombing campaign game that we like to play on Sundays, and being late for that because of the Watchtower lesson would not have made my day. (Which by the way, ended up being very pleasant).
I’m not counting the “courage” bit as a positive, because the context was in being courageous in converting other people, and converting other people is specifically excluded from my criteria.
Being good to your fellow human: 0 (no mention)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: 0 (focused on conversion)
At least it’s not as bad as Mars Hill.