Two worlds

After the infamous pastor established his church in the 1970s, he slowly expanded its network to include local private education options from elementary school all the way through college. The college, which enrolls about 200 students a year, offers a “classical education in light of scripture” and is located just a few blocks from the state university in a building on Main Street—though I had no idea it was there until someone pointed it out. It occurs to me that kids born in this congregation whose parents are inclined to send them to its series of private schools could grow up having almost no contact with the outside community.

In addition to the education system, several local businesses are affiliated with the church, some more forthrightly than others. The most prominent is a café (named, I realize now, for an obscure Protestant reformer). The latest is a bustling clothing shop. This business savvy is a realization of Calvin’s belief that every aspect of society, including the economy, could operate in honor of the Lord. My None pals give those establishments a wide berth if they can help it.

When I announce my intentions to attend services at this church, my friend Emily rolls her eyes, “Ugh, that guy.” She’s the only person I know who says she’s seen the video where the pastor made the slavery remark.

I gasp silently as I enter a few minutes before the service starts. The congregation long ago outgrew its previous building. While the members await construction of a mega-church on the outskirts of town, Sunday worship is being held in the gymnasium of the church’s private grade school. Row after row after row of folding chairs—except in the few aisles I’m sure the fire marshal has declared necessary for possible escape.

If fewer people in general are going to church these days, here’s one congregation that’s bucking the trend—although it’s possible its members aren’t attracting converts so much as giving birth to them. So many young children are present that I feel like I’ve been teleported to the part of Disneyland where the rides are for preschoolers. Every woman seems to be pushing a baby stroller or holding an infant on her hip. All around, dads are pouncing on little escape artists. Chains of hand-holding siblings make their way gingerly through the crowd. There have been some children in every church service I’ve attended so far, but I easily could have counted them. I wouldn’t know where to begin the tally here.

But what I find hardest to fathom is that most of the couples here are “hip” in an urban kind of way. The women sport funky skirts with leggings and chunky boots. The men are lanky lumberjacks: close-cropped hair, broad shoulders, plaid. I get the impression they chop firewood and build things. If I saw them in a different context, I would totally peg them for Nones. But their facial hair? Ironic or not?

In a daze, I take the first available chair at the end of an empty row near the front. An angelic young woman with a halo of blond curls asks if the seats next to me are taken. When I tell her no, she nods to a clean-cut man who comes over with a newborn sleeping in a carrier and four small children trailing him like fuzzy ducklings. They file in to the spaces next to me, which is how I end up sitting elbow to elbow with a very well-behaved five-year-old boy whose blond crew cut sparkles under the fluorescent lights. I smile at him.

“Hi,” I say.

24 thoughts on “Two worlds

    • Hi Maureen, That’s a reference to the previous post (in “the other guy”). At some point in the past, the pastor alledgedly said that he questioned if American slavery was so bad because it exposed Africans to Christianity.

      • Christian’s sometimes have an odd way of justifying things (been there done that)….I’m sure he did say something like it….though it may not have been stated exactly as reported to you, and you missed the context…the very thought is abhorrent, of course…. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to what he actually was thinking….you might go to the ‘horse’.

  1. It must be really interesting for you to visit all these different religious services. Before I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses I had attended several different churches, some of them, like the Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian for some length of time, but never joining any of them. Other churches I “investigated” were: Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox. Lutheran, Reorganized LDS (now called Community of Christ), Methodist, Assembly of God, and a couple more.

    Remember, you promised to attend a Kingdom Hall. When you do, here are some things you can expect:
    1. The people will be friendly, but will NOT try to convert you (LOL)
    2. The people will be noisy as they visit with one another before and after the meetings. You will see lots of hugs.
    3. There will be no collection plate passed.
    4. Since we don’t have just one minister, the speaker will likely be one of their elders who give the 1/2 hour Sunday talk. Sometimes they invite another elder from a neighboring congregation to be the speaker. The majority of the speakers are EXCELLENT speakers, and a few not so excellent. There’s no telling if you happen to hear an excellent one, or one not so excellent. But we give all of them an “A” for effort, regardless.
    5. Since usually more than one congregation meets at the same Kingdom Hall, at different times, you might stop by the Hall prior to the Sunday you go to find out which meeting would be more convenient for you. There is a board out in front of each Hall with meeting times. If you live in a smaller community, there may only be one congregation meeting at that Hall, but the time of the meeting will be given.
    6. Everyone brings a Bible to look up Scriptures as the speaker cites, then reads them. Some also take notes.
    7. There will be no rituals, so you don’t have to be concerned about that. The meeting will open with a song. Everyone brings their own song book. If they notice you don’t have one, someone will normally share, or provide a song book for you, or you may choose not to sing. Then there is a prayer, and then the speaker is introduced. As mentioned, the Bible talk will last 1/2 hour. After that there will be a Bible study (again, someone will no doubt provide you with the study information) with a moderator who will provide an introduction for what is to be studied that day (same topic from the study issue of the Watchtower, which is different from the general public edition of the Watchtower) all over the earth in over 111,719 congregations (at last count world-wide. This figure is in our Yearbook for 2013). There are approximately on average 12 to13 new congregations formed EACH DAY somewhere in the world. There is a reader will read each paragraph in turn, and then the moderator will ask one or two questions on each paragraph. Those who wish to answer the questions will raise their hands and the moderator will choose from the raised hands those who wish to comment. It’s very interesting to listen to the comments and how they apply to the paragraph under discussion. Even the children answer from time-to-time. That study lasts for one hour, followed by song and closing prayer. 1 and 1/2 hours total.
    8. You will note that everyone is dressed very nicely–no casual jeans, no shorts. They are dressed very much in the fashion they appear at your door when they are out in “field service” as we call our “door-to-door” activity. Occasionally there may be non-Witnesses there who come dressed casually, not realizing we keep a higher dress code. These folks are always welcome and no one is ever turned away. We’re happy to see new ones regardless of how they are dressed. I recall one man came in shorts and a long robe with his two dogs. He was warmly welcomed and so were his dogs. He told us later that he just wanted to see what our reaction would be.

    I hope this information will be helpful to you.

  2. Notice that at the Watchtower study everyone has a copy of the magazine and the answers given are only what is in harmony with what is written in the magazine. No one will dare to share something they may have learned in a philosophy class or in an institution of higher learning. If they do it will be quickly glossed over and the next question is asked of someone more familiar with the “correct” answer who will be called upon. It will not be much different from a Catholic catichism class. The figures from the Yearbook do not take into account the number who have left the organization during the previous year. If it’s a relatively newly built Kingdom Hall note that there are no windows so that there will be no outside distractions. Notice that they provide their own song book. There will be no singing of “Amazing Grace” or other popular Christian songs and certainly no popular songs like, “The Wind Beneath My Wings”, etc. These folks are in the same bind as the children and adults you describe in the Calvinistic church you visited in terms of the children and adults only getting the JW teaching in their lives and, of course, if there is a JW businessman to do business with they will get the business first. As I’ve said before, “same dance, different dress.” Still, it’s worth a visit.

    • I’m starting to really enjoy the drama of Corinna writing! Religion can spark such deep conviction in so many! I can see why certain forces wanted total control over their subjects using communism to stamp out religion. Of course, then we have humanism being introduced into education around 1933 by John Dewy who was one of the original signers of the Humanist Manifesto and father of modern education at Columbia University. It being a more subversive way to eliminate religion than communism.

      • The older I get the more I tend to appreciate the quieter Christian voices of my youth. I grew up in the state of Rhode Island whose founder, Roger Williams, founded it on the basis of religious freedom. Even in my small town I think we had every main stream church. Yes, people had differences of opinion so sometimes a Methodist family transferred to the Baptist church and vice-versa. It all seemed so much more gentle than it is today.

    • Thank you, Frank, for your comments on my message to Corinna, which was done to give her a “heads up” before attending a meeting at a Kingdom Hall. You have a misconception of the Watchtower study. It is true that we try to keep on the subject, but what you said was way off base. Anyone is free to share anything he read regardless of where it came from–the newspaper, a “philosophy class” or “institution of higher learning” as you said. In fact quotes from “institution(s) of higher learning are often quoted in the Watchtower study when they deal with the subject at hand. I was the Watchtower Conductor for several years and I always appreciated comments from secular sources and never “glossed over” such comments, however, it’s easy to get off-topic, and there is a time restraint, so it’s the conductor’s job to keep things moving so we can complete the study in the allotted time. Your information about this is false and I’m not sure why you would want to misinform any readers about this. Are you a former JW with an axe to grind? What is your authoritative experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses?

      You commented on the “figures in the yearbook” not “taking into account the number who have left the organization during the previous year.” I gave no figures on numbers of JWs, but was talking about the number of new congregations formed during the last year. On average, there were 2,316 new congregations formed last year, an average of 6.34 new congregations per day. I figured wrong in saying 12 to 13 per day, and I appologize for that. Looking back over past yearbooks, that is normally (6-7 per day) the increase in congregations each year.

      We recognize that some leave our organization each year, just as is true in all religious organizations. Some are disfellowshipped and therefore not counted until they are reinstated. Many disfellowshipped ones come back each year, but some never do. Others die, and some just leave. But, in spite of those who leave each year, we do have an increase each year. When my wife and I became JWs back in 1957, there were about 750,000 Witnesses in the world. That number has grown, in spite of those disfellowshipped who are no longer counted, those who die, and those who leave, to 7,659,019 according to the 2012 Yearbook, and the 2013 Yearbook shows the figure of 7,782,346, an increase after those disfellowshipped, those who died, and those who left, of 123,327. So, when you do the math, the actual new JWs in 2012 (as is the case every year) is far more than 123,327 when you figure those who leave or have died. ONLY those who do the actually preaching work and turn in a report of their activity each month are counted as JWs in the above figures. But we’re not looking just for numbers. We’re searching out people who love what is good and want to learn about the true God, Jehovah, his Son, Jesus Christ, and want to help others to do the same.

      Then you speak of our new Kingdom Halls being built without windows. You are right in most cases, although there are some still being built with windows. What’s wrong with that? The main reasons for no windows are security and less distraction. Have you given any thought to how distracting it can be for some individuals, when they focus on what’s going on outside as they peer out of a window? This just helps us focus on the purpose we are there. If you will think about it, seldom do you see windows in any large gathering place, such as a large auditorium, or a sports arena. I remember there were no windows in my high school auditorium, nor in my college auditorium. I really don’t see why you, or anyone else, would criticize JWs for that. As I recall, most churches I’ve attended before becoming one of JWs, had no windows in their auditoriums. Some had stained-glass windows, but they were high up so noone could see through them anyway.

      Is that wrong to have songs that are different than those of other religions? Are we the only religious body that has our own songs? All of our songs are composed by Jehovah’s Witnesses in various parts of the world, and all of them are based on a Scripture that is given after the title of each song and adhere closely to the scriptural though the song is based on. I see nothing wrong with that. Do you—really?

      Is it wrong to try to support our brothers in business? If I am moving to a new city, I would search out to see if there is a JW Realtor to help us find a home. Why not? We know that he/she would be honest in his/her dealings with us, and that’s of prime concern to everyone, whether JW or not. The same is generally true with auto mechanics, heating and cooling men, home builders, etc. Is there anything WRONG with this—trying to help out one’s spiritual brother? If there is a non-Witness professional who is outstanding in his field, we might choose that person as well. We certainly are not bound to work with our brothers, but generally we would, all things being equal. Those are personal decisions for each Witness to determine for himself. One thing we are admonished NOT to do is solicit business, or hand out business cards at the Kingdom Hall. That is not the purpose of the KH. Most JWs abide by this.

      Yes, it is worth a visit, as you said. Our main purpose is Bible education, helping people to come to know Jehovah and his Son, Jesus Christ. (John 17:3) and to help people see how God’s Kingdom will put an end to all unrighteousness, and bring in everlasting blessings. Thanks for your response, but—please be fair in your future (if any) criticisms so as NOT to mislead readers. Thank you, Frank.

      • In a way you might say I have more than one axe to grind with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ll share one. My wonderful mother-in-law was a faithful Jehovah’s Witness to the day she died. She told us she had been baptized in 1942. When I married her daughter, against her better wishes, I realized I had married into a marriage where Mom was a zealous J.W. but her husband was not. Nevertheless she always treated my wife and I very lovingly and I had to admire her zeal for her religion. She didn’t drive but that didn’t stop her. She would have her husband drive her to the train station on his way to work and she would take the train to one village or another in Northern Vermont and New Hampshire and do her door to door ministry Summer and in the cold and snow of Winter. Because the congregation she attended was small she said she had to be a “servant” and to do so she had to wear a hat at the Kingdom Hall to show respect for the men. For more than forty years this woman served faithfully and converted others to the religion. During her last ten years of life she suffered strokes and we had to put her in a Convalescent Center. In the beginning a few “brothers” from the Kingdom Hall would visit. As time went on nobody showed up. We gave her the best care possible. She had written in her Will that she wanted to have her funeral service at the Kingdom Hall. We told her we would honor her wishes. When she passed my wife called the Kingdom Hall and spoke with one of the elders. In a rather harsh voice he responded: “No way. We haven’t seen your mother here for ten years.” My wife explained that she had had a series of strokes and had been in a convalescent home. Still, he gave her no hope of having her mother’s memorial at the Kingdom Hall. My wife became so adamant with him about her mother’s years of service that he finally said: “Well, I’ll take it up with the other elders and I’ll get back to you.” It happened that one of the old elders remembered our mom. When the vote was taken he was the only one that was willing for the service to take place. Because of him the others agreed but there were stipulations: Only immediate family could attend and no outsiders.” To us this was harsh treatment of someone who had given her life to her religion. Believe me, I learned a lot about JW’s through her for the years she was alive. She never talked against them but I could see a lot I didn’t agree with. I didn’t try to change her mind either. We lived in peaceful co-existence.

        • Hi Frank, I can see why this experience has left you with some anger–but what strikes me as most profound and touches me deeply is the love you had for your mother in law, and the love she obviously had for you, despite your differences.

        • Frank, I am deeply sorry re: your experience you had with the elders of your mother-in-law’s congregation upon her death. I’ve never heard of anything like that happening among JWs. To me that was downright cruel and heartless. But, what can I say? I know that such a thing would not have happened in any congregation I’ve ever been associated with. I’ve only heard one side of the story, but for the life of me I can’t see how their side of the story could justify the position those elders took. I’m trying to think of possibilities in my mind. Perhaps during that 10 year period at the end stages of her life, the older ones who knew your mother-in-law may themselves have died off, or left the community and therefore few even knew or remembered her after 10 years. As you said, only one elder remembered her.

          We try to keep up with visitation in hospitals and rest homes, but it is easy for elders who have a lot on their plate to let some people slip out of their minds and hands. (Been there, done that). Keeping in mind they are imperfect humans normally with their own families, their congregation responsibilities, field service, talks and parts to prepare, besides their full-time jobs to support their own families, I can see how one can lose track of people, especially people who have been away from the congregation for an extended period of time. But, even so, to my way of thinking, there is/was no excuse for not allowing the Kingdom Hall to be used for a funeral service. That should have been a “no-brainer”! What were they thinking?

          Let me assure you, Frank, that situation would be an exception rather than the rule. It boggles my mind!

          As far as putting a stipulation on “Only immediate family” attending the service and no outsiders, that boggles my mind too. That, I don’t understand at all. We try hard to encourage “outsiders” to attend our meetings with us. The elders there should have looked upon that occasion to be a “witness” to all those “outsiders” in attendance. Perhaps they would hear something at that service that they have never heard or considered before. Let me say again, Frank, that I have never heard of such a thing taking place in any congregation/Kingdom Hall anywhere. That is not “policy” but was a decision (to OK the use of the Hall, but to put a stipulation on those who attend), by the elders of that congregation—not by the Watchtower Society, or the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which our international organization now prefers to be called.

          What am I trying to express to you, Frank? This: please don’t blame or even become at odds with the international organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses because of the [stupid] actions of a very few. Actions that may not have happened had it been in another close-by congregation whose elders may have been more loving and reasonable. You can’t put all of Jehovah’s Witnesses into the same mold, anymore than you can lump all Catholics or Protestants into the same mold. The Christian Congregation of JWs have made arrangements for special week long schools for elders in all parts of the world where situations are discussed which have been, and will be very beneficial for elders everywhere to stay on the same page, so-to-speak. More of these continuing education schools are scheduled in the near future. With the loving program designed to shepherd the flock in love, things like this experience you had should not arise again. At least that is one of the goals of the upcoming week-long school.

          Again, I want to say to you how sorry I am for that bad experience. Please extend my sincere appologies and condolances to your wife who without a doubt was terribly hurt by this. How long ago did this happen? I can (in a way) understand how you can feel as you do against JWs without seeing the good things to balance out such an experience. Try to forgive those elders, even though some may already have died off, “for they no not what they do” (as Jesus said). To forgive is the best thing we can do for our own hearts.

          You said you have more than one axe to grind with JWS. What is the other, or others? If you prefer to write me personally, my email address is: I’d be happy to discuss these with you, and perhaps point out another perspective.



      • Whoops! In my second to last paragraph I said “for they no not…” It should have been “for they know not…” Sorry. (And, I used to teach English????)

  3. It’s tough for a neophyte to evaluate religion if they haven’t had a reasonable period of time to just digest the scriptures on their own. Let’s face it, just one time through the Old and New Testament need a year. And then to remember what was in the scriptures well enough to evaluate if the “church” they attend is congruent with scripture is another matter entirely. The way Corinna is approaching this is only good if you are looking for a social experience or researching to write a column! Who knows, maybe in the end it will motivate her to seriously search for what Christianity ia really about…so keep on, keepin’ on!.

    • James,

      I have a complementary comment regarding Corinna’s method of evaluating religion. A businesswoman Kathy Kolbe, has penned an interesting book, “Powered By Instinct.” I add an important fact: her father developed a once popular Wonderlink Cognitive Abilities Personnel Test. Kathy Kolbe believes she’s proved her father wrong: it is more important hiring managers test how someone solves a task.

      So as a manager, I would look at four clusters of cognitive problem solving methods: quick-start, fact-finder, follow-through, implementer.

      Without belaboring this, I’ll use an educated guess to say Corinna is gathering facts because she’s a fact-finder. Writing stories because she likes to assimilate facts as a quick-start and then finish her stories as a follow-through.

      What I find interesting. And why I’m following her. Is her journey to find her place out of this world– while still in this world.

      And I can only assume that between her experiences expository writing sets a journalist expounding in honor of her trade.

  4. so…..I just read your post, Corinna….sounds as though you were genuinely surprised at the young and ‘hipness’ of the place….I suppose they were really nice, too? Anxious to hear more. I hope you get to know some of these people simply to get an ‘insider scoop’ on what is going on, and also their thoughts to the pastor’s remarks on slavery. I have some thoughts on the school, but want to read some of the other replies first. Looks like the ‘usual suspects’ are on board”…..

  5. For the better part of my Christian life I assumed that the early church evolved into the Roman Catholic Church which, through Martin Luther’s protests, evolved into the current state of countless denominations, sects, cults and etc.
    But I came across a book a few years ago which presented a differing view. As the early church mainly evolved into the Catholic Church, there were small groups of Christians that gathered on a regular basis to worship, holding to simple worship and the scriptures. The writer maintains there are a few records because they were so severely persecuted and moved from one place to another down through the centuries.
    Starting at Roman Catholic and becoming a “good member”, I have moved through a Pentecostal church of God, Church of Christ, Assembly of God, Southern Baptist, Church of God Anderson, and currently preach and teach at a small Free Will Baptist church. I have found in every one of these folks (not all) that demonstrate the true spirit of Christ in their non-judgmental loving and giving lives. Are they perfect in the eyes of man…am I…who is?

  6. Corinna,
    Thirty-five years of ministry in one church is impressive, especially continuing to thrive and grow. It will be interesting to hear some of the stories of the people you met and I hope you had an opportunity to chat with some of them or someone invited you out to lunch.

    In my congregation are folks who have lived in Korea, Japan, several African nations, and Central America. They work in countries primarily in the Far East, Africa, and Europe. They speak numerous languages. They are teachers, linguists, missionaries, professional storytellers, small business owners, professional musicians, business professionals, military career men, widows, widowers, and average Joes. We have some who are unemployed and are trying to help them find jobs.

    We have a little five-year-old boy who survived a three story fall (onto concrete) when he was four. After he survived, we wanted to do something for the family. So the church raised the money to build a handicapped bathroom in their home. The story is too long to tell here, but he does not need it as he is walking, talking, and attending kindergarten. Another woman had cervical incompetence while she was carrying twins and had to be hospitalized for ten weeks, with a 50% chance of their survival. A woman who had had the same condition but had lost her baby at 26 weeks paid the woman’s salary the whole time. The twins were born at 32 weeks and are now thriving 2½ year olds. Another man and his wife were traveling in their little Honda when a tire blew out and the car veered right in front of an eighteen wheeler. Perpendicular in front of the truck, the rig “drove” it for almost a mile before slowing to a stop in the median. The couple walked away without a scratch. The driver of the rig literally got sick when he saw them. He didn’t know the car was there. He heard the pop of the blowout. Thinking it was one of his tires, he stopped to check his tires and there they were. Others pray for family members who suffer from drug abuse or other types of loss and bondage, and seek their freedom and restoration.

    This is a small segment of some of the people and events in the life of a church.

    The Bible says, “I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails . . . Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 111)

    • I appreciate all that your church does and, in fact, what every church does in behalf of its members and the community. It’s not really about what’s written in the Bible. It’s about having a good heart and being willing to help where needed and living a responsible, productive and fulfilling life in the community. I believe that the general inclination of man (in the global sense) is toward goodness. Occasionally a Mother Theresa or a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Buddha or a Jesus arises and no matter their church or religious background they work toward the same goal, the revelation of our own goodness.

      • Frank, I agree whole-heartedly with you. We are a part of the human race…….and need to see our lives as part of the bigger picture. A good heart goes a long ways toward a peaceful world.

  7. For Chuck………..I have no need to rehash past “axes”. For the most part I have forgiven and transcended them. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Our past experiences remain intact in mind but there is some truth to the saying, “time heals all wounds.” As Witnesses come to my door I wave them on and wish them well.

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