JWs place much emphasis on attendance/participation in meetings and field service as a gauge of your spiritual maturity. Missing meetings is a sure-fire way to get unwanted attention from the elders and other congregation members, and you’d better have a good excuse. By “good excuse” I mean something along the lines of, “I was in the hospital on an IV drip,” or, “I was projectile vomiting.” Trifling ailments like a cold or a broken limb are simply not good enough. Inevitably during cold and flu season, there will be a week or two during which the kingdom hall sounds like the end-stage ward at a TB sanatorium due to faithful congregation members dragging their flu-wracked bodies to meetings.
While at a meeting, you must participate. In order to participate, you must come prepared. JWs have at hand the material upon which meeting parts will be based, with the exception of the public talk on Sundays. When I was a JW there was a meeting on Tuesday evening called the Congregation Book Study.
For this meeting, the congregation was divided into smaller groups of about 20 and it was generally conducted in a private home. The bookstudy group was a sort of subunit of the congregation. You would meet for field service on Saturday with your bookstudy group, and the bookstudy conductor (usually an elder) would pay especially close attention to his bookstudy group, paying shepherding calls on them from time to time.
At the book study meeting JWs consider one of the Watchtower Society’s publications. The pages to be covered were assigned ahead of time so that the entire worldwide brotherhood would be considering the same material on the same week. The questions for each paragraph were printed at the bottom of the page.
Ahead of the evening of the book study you would read each paragraph and underline (or highlight) the answers, looking up each cited scripture and making a brief note of that scripture in the margin. Since other members of the group could easily see whether or not you had prepared ahead of time, it was prudent at the very least to have gone through and underlined something in each paragraph, whether or not it had anything to do with the question.
A male member of the group would be assigned to read the paragraphs, and then the conductor would ask the questions. Some of the cited scriptures would be read aloud, and anybody could do that, you didn’t have to be male.
This meeting has been eliminated from the weekly schedule for JWs, which is strange, because over the 30+ years I was a JW, we received repeated admonition not to miss any of the 5 meetings a week.
Often cited was the example of young David who, before he went out to slay Goliath, picked up five stones from an obliging creek bed, and Jehovah blessed him with success. For some reason his picking up five stones was a sign of faithfulness. I can’t remember exactly how they tied that in. Therefore, we needed to attend all five meetings each week in order to secure Jehovah’s blessing. Evidently, the Watchtower Society has adjusted its understanding of David’s actions to those of an ardent rock hound rather than those of a young warrior seeking God’s approval.
Moving along in the week, Thursday evening featured two meetings: The Theocratic Ministry School and the Service Meeting. These meetings were the ones that could ruin your entire week, because parts in these meetings were doled out to the rank and file JWs, even females.
The School Overseer (usually the most recently appointed elder) was in charge of assigning parts and offering counsel. Personal speaking ability was not a requirement. In one congregation I was in, the School Overseer counseled one speaker about his “pronounciation,” repeating the word over and over. I had to bite down on my lip to keep myself from cracking up.
The School featured 7 parts:
- A 15-minute talk, given by an experienced male on an assigned subject, usually something really dry and boring.
- A 5-minute review of the assigned Bible reading for the week (usually 4 or 5 chapters), given by an experienced male. This could be somewhat juicy, depending on the portion of the Bible being read, and which chapter the speaker chose to highlight.
- A 5-minute reading of a portion of the assigned Bible chapters, usually 10 or so verses, which could be given by any male, even a child. The speaker included illuminating comments during his reading.
- Two 5-minute talks assigned to females which were to be set in a field-ministry-type situation. These talks could be assigned to any female, even a child, but the speaker was not allowed to address the congregation directly. Instead, she was assigned a “householder,” and the talk was written as a sort of conversation between the two of them.
- A final 5-minute talk given by a male with some experience, not usually a child, unless they are unusually precocious, in which case either the “awww” factor or the nausea factor (depending on your view of the cutie-pie/snotty little brat) was exponentially higher.
All of the assigned material is planned in advance and a listing distributed at the beginning of the year, so hang onto that schedule.
Most people have a horror of public speaking, so you can imagine that those assigned these talks (you knew about them at least a couple of weeks in advance) were sweating bullets until their parts were concluded. One friend of mine called it “the five minutes that can ruin your week.”
After each student finished his talk, the School Overseer would offer counsel. The counsel points were also assigned in advance, so you knew what to emphasize when you were preparing the talk. For this purpose there was a book specifically about public speaking which discussed in detail each counsel point. An example of a counsel point would be “introduction aroused interest.” Another was, “poise.” (There were around 30 altogether) So, not only did you have to mold the given material into a coherent presentation (and that could be a challenge) you had to concentrate on the counsel points.
Since the original purpose of the School was to train males to give public talks (females were not allowed on the School for some time after its inception) I used to chafe at the fact that I was forced to undergo this torture every month or so when, as a female, it benefited me not a jot. After 18 years of it I finally quit, to the horror of the School Overseer whose face went slack in disbelief. From then until I left, some 14 years later, I didn’t give a talk.
When I attended my very first meeting at a kingdom hall I was 12 years old, and as I looked around the room I thought with a sense of weariness, “These people attend all of these meetings and they’ve been doing it week after week for years and years.” And so would I.
Next week – the other