The end of the world is coming.
Funny no matter how strange your life is, it’s easy to get used to it. My life seemed pretty normal back then. Life in the Nineteen Fifties was pretty simple. As a kid it was school, meetings at the Kingdom Hall and field service. One of the fun things to do happened twice a year. They were called “Circuit Assemblies.” All the congregations in a circuit would meet for a four day assembly. Because of the financial hardship on everyone they were shorten to three days. Now they are only two days. They would rent a building somewhere central in the area, 800 to a thousand people would show up. Sometimes we would travel to different cities and get a hotel or motel there. Now, not all the witnesses have to rent buildings in different towns. They have built “Assembly Halls.” These large buildings that are owned by the society and are set up perfectly to handle their conventions. Even though they have been paid off for many years, the brothers are still encouraged to contribute as if there was money still owing on the buildings.
The meetings are pretty much the same as the ones in the Kingdom Hall. There are talks about how to be more effective in the “field service” and how to get more converts. “The Ministry School” helps everyone to be a better public speakers. It’s not unusual to see a child of ten years old or less standing before a thousand people and giving a five minute bible sermon. There were talks about the evils of materialism and the sin of immorality. There are always talks about the “Last Days” and how we are so close to god’s day of vengeance. There are experiences about how people found the truth. They call their faith “The Truth.” So you are either in “The Truth” or out of “The Truth.”
There are talks about being “A Pioneer.” A full time minister for the Lord. This is something all young adults were encouraged to do. “Yes, it is time to serve the Lord. The end is coming very soon.” In the late nineteen sixties the society started talking about “1975.” The witnesses have predicted the end of the world as we know it many times over the years. This date was pushed almost as hard as 1914 was.
The conventions provide “spiritual food” to the “brothers and sisters.” They also provide an opportunity to meet other witnesses from other parts of the state. Everyone is dressed up in their finest attire. It’s also an opportunity to meet members of the opposite sex.
Another thing the Witnesses had besides the circuit assemblies was big district and international assemblies. In 1958 my whole family went to “The Divine Will” International convention in New York City. This convention toped them all. This was the biggest convention of all for the Witnesses. New York City has never had a convention like this one before or since. Most the Witnesses in the United States and thousands of Witnesses from 122 countries from around the world came to New York City.
This was an eight day assembly. We set in the sun for hours on end, listening to talk after talk. Most of us dressed up with white shirts and ties on. Some of the “brothers” never took off their dress coats. They told us that we needed to make a favorable impression on all the outsiders. Yes, we were all good Witnesses and would do anything to get more “spiritual food” including sweating our asses off.
It started every day at nine fifteen in the morning and went to nine at night. It could go even longer, if “Brother Knorr” the president of the society decided to give one of his famous concluding prayers. Over 100,000 people standing there after twelve exhausting hours with crying babies. We were all praying too! We were praying for him to finally say the word “amen.” So we could all get out of there and get on those hot subway trains for our commute home. Some people didn’t get back to their accommodations until 11:00 or 12:00 at night. Many of the poorer “brothers” had to go all the way to New Jersey to their tents in camp grounds. Then it was up at 6:00 in the morning to do it all again. For Knorr and his crew it was a 15 minute limo ride back to their luxury accommodations at Bethel.
The last day was Sunday August 3rd there was so many people there that they let us sit on the playing field. We ended up sitting in the middle of center field of Yankee Stadium, listening to Brother Knorr telling us how Jehovah would make the Earth into one big paradise, one day very soon. The final attendance there ended up being over 258,000, including the polo grounds. Yes, Knorr gave the mother of all prayers at the end. It was almost like he didn’t want to let us go. Almost sixty years ago and Yankee Stadium has never broken that attendance record. Also no one has ever broken the record for the longest prayer ever given there either.
The conventions is where they would release their new publications. These books would be bought to be read and studied at the congregation book study. Eventually they would be taken from door to door to be placed in the hands of those who wanted to get the “good news” for a small donation. The books were never sold, that could be illegal in some states. Instead people were asked to make a small contribution or donation to help defray the printing cost. A lot of the time the witnesses would buy their literature at the Kingdom Hall and just give it away to people they met.
They would release two to three books every year. The society has written hundreds of these Bible study aids over the years. The witnesses could hardly wait to get these books. They desperately wanted to get the “new truths” or as the society calls it “new light.”
Every week we would meet in a private home for a one hour meeting called, you guessed it “The Book Study.” These books would be studied line by line, paragraph by paragraph. We would study only ten to fifteen paragraphs a week, looking for hidden treasure in every word. Sometimes it would take years to get through these books.
I’ll never forget one of the books that we got back there in 1958. It was called “From Paradise lost to Paradise Regained.” book. There are drawings in it of god’s final war called “Armageddon.” In this book the society drew pictures of buildings falling down on people as they run around in terror. One picture had the Earth opening up and people falling into this large chasm. It showed a dog and a little girl trying to hold her doll as they fell into the open abyss. Thank god we couldn’t see her face. I was only nine years old but thought Jehovah is not messing around. I needed to get with the program or god could kill my dog.