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You Gotta Know the Territory

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Field Service continued…

Once you have been assigned to a car group there is the question of territory.

If nothing else, JWs are organized.  They have the entire globe divided up into areas, each of which is presided over by a branch office that reports to the World HQ in Brooklyn.  Each branch is divided up into districts and circuits with a district overseer who reports to the branch and circuit overseer who reports to the district overseer.

Beneath that are congregations (presided over by elders – more on that in coming posts), and each one is assigned a specific section of the map to cover with the preaching work.  Each congregation has divvied up its portion into bite-sized pieces called “territories.”  These territories are represented by a cut-out piece of a map glued to a card and placed inside a plastic sleeve.  Publishers can check out a territory and then turn it back in when it has been thoroughly covered.  The Territory Servant keeps track of the turnover and ensures that the maps are correct.

Of course, some territories are more desirable than others, although it’s not supposed to be that way.  Once the car captain announces the territory in which the group will be working, he may hear audible groans or heavy sighs.  Often, one person in the group will pronounce judgment on the entire population of the territory and others will join in until the car captain snaps the group back to love of neighbor (or joins in himself, saying “Don’t blame me.  The Territory Servant forced me to check this thing out”).  In any case, you’re on your way to the territory.

If the territory happens to be far away, the most beloved member of the group will be the one who has a nearby return visit they can make on the way over.  That way, everyone in the car can start their time and keep counting it during the drive.

“Counting time” is a controversial topic among JWs, especially if you happen to have a Truly Devoted (TD) one in a car otherwise full of Watchtower slackers.  A Truly Devoted JW will obtain to higher standards in time counting than a slacker.  For instance, a TD will not start counting time until they are standing on their first doorstep of the day.  A slacker may start counting their time when they’re brushing their teeth.  A TD will stop counting time when the group takes a break, whereas a slacker will not, no matter how long the break continues.

The reason time is counted in the first place is that the Watchtower Society keeps track of such numbers.  Every publisher is required to report their field service time each month along with placements such as books, magazines, or anything else you can unload on the public.

Each publisher has a card in the congregation file on which their time, etc., is recorded so that, when he visits every 6 months, the circuit overseer can figure out who the “weak” ones are and single them out for “encouragement.”  It’s all a numbers game.  You could be gossiping about everyone, watching dirty movies on HBO, and never studying for any meeting; but if your field service number is good (along with your meeting attendance), you’re a strong publisher who deserves a pat on the back.

So now we’re out in the territory.  The car captain will divide up the car group into pairs of publishers.  People always wonder why there are 2 JWs at their door but only one speaks.  It’s not that one is new and the other is teaching them.  It’s because they take turns.  You knock on every door until you find someone home. Then the other person does the same.  Unless you’re a wimp, in which case you’ll make the other guy take every door while you just stand there like a useless appendage.

Another reason they go in pairs is just in case something dodgy happens.  Nobody wants to sit in the car wondering where that one person has got to while the serial killer they just called on chops them into little pieces in the back yard.  Depending on the neighborhood, a single publisher may go to a door alone, which feels rather like being basted in au jus and fed to the lions.

You’ve knocked on the door and someone has answered.  You have a couple of options.  You could have a free tract handy and simply hand it to them, saying, “We’re here to give you a Bible message.”  In other words, cop out.

A step up from the cop-out is to actually open up the tract and make a few points about the contents.  A step up from there is offering the Watchtower and Awake magazines, highlighting an article and tying it in to some news item that everyone is talking about.  Up from that is to use the suggested presentation in Our Kingdom Ministry (mentioned in last week’s article) and read a scripture.

The Elite Publisher (definitely a TD) will use only the Bible and give a highly polished presentation that practically converts the householder on the spot.  Yeah, there aren’t too many JWs of that caliber around, and nobody wants to accompany that person to the door – he’s offering polished diamonds, but hey, I found this cool rock in your driveway.

About midway through the morning everyone except the TD wants to take a break from the anxiety and pressure to perform.  Oh, and use the bathroom.  Yeah, that’s right.  Gotta pee bad.

If you’re lucky, the coffee shop or convenience store is a few miles away and features sit-down service, so you get to waste a serious amount of time while still appearing (to anyone who wasn’t in your car group) to have been engaged in righteous works.

If you’re unlucky, a TD is your car captain, and he planned the morning so that you’d end up at a tiny gas station with a soda machine (and a bathroom that hasn’t been cleaned since 1967) right at 10:30 so as to maximize your witnessing time.

After the break, the best case scenario is that someone proposes doing some return visits (RV).  This means that everyone digs out their RV book to see where they have a call that could be done.  Hopefully, the closest one is far enough away, but not too far, that it’s feasible to do that rather than returning to the territory.  If it’s a little too far away, someone else has to speak up quickly with another call in the same area, or you’ll all be back doing the door-to-door thing in a heartbeat.

Doing RVs means a break for everyone except the person doing the call.  It also means going to a door where you more or less know the person will not meet you with a shotgun.  It means a nice ride with jovial friends, all of whom feel a bit giddy with relief.

Next week:  Asking for donations and other forms of torture.


9 responses »

  1. Oh, it brings it all back! I do so appreciate the humor that you imbue. The thing of it is, for anyone reading this that is not, was not, a Jehovah’s Witness, please be assured that it was REALLY like this and probably still is! And it was BRUTAL, angst filled, dreadful! This was supposed to be volunteer work but was a fear-driven requirement. Sally nice portrays the Witness hierarchy.

  2. Wow, I’m impressed at the number of “Kingdom Halls” available. There is one just a block from work, and it’s the only one I can ever recall…maybe because it’s quite a large building, and well marked. But browsing thru the website, there are tons! There are way more members than I imagined, and that’s a complicated hierarchy you’ve described.

  3. What an accurate portrayal! Ahhh the memories….and the angst.

  4. William Roberts

    I don’t know where you learned to write, Sally, but you sure can put it down as it was! Good humor, now, but it sure was hell when we were going through it, wasn’t it?

  5. We never took breaks, counted only from first house to last house and didn’t
    waste time by everyone going on a return visit. Only the people involved
    went. This was true of one KH in CA and one in OH.

  6. Just came across your blog and found myself laughing so hard at this. Boy does this bring back memories…I too found I had could no longer look the other way over issues in 2004 and started my journey out after 20 yrs.

  7. So well thought out. That was exactly what it was like! Great post! Glad I found you.


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