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Life In A Congregation – Part 2

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 beatings meetings

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13 responses »

  1. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for letting us know the inner workings of all those strange people, who have been ringing my doorbell.

    Reply
  2. Good grief. 5 days a week! There’s no time for any other life. Which is probably want they wanted to achieve for all of you.

    Reply
  3. As of today, the congregation book studies are alive and well, at least in Florida…..I am reminded about them on a fairly regular basis by family members that try, much to my chagrin, to get me to return to the flock. Bleck, Poo, Yuck, Excuse me…..sorry. Had to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

    Keep on going.

    Reply
  4. Was there any time for any fun activities or maybe sports? It’s sounds stifling. Thanks for the update. Karrie

    Reply
    • Karrie – There would be occasional get-togethers, and depending on the location we might play softball. Extra-curricular activities for kids were strongly discouraged. You went to school for the education only. You weren’t supposed to spend any time with the “worldly” kids after school because they were “bad association.” Parents were supposed to provide recreational outlets for their children, but that was hit or miss. My folks were not athletic and didn’t play with my brother and me. I spent a lot of time reading.

      Reply
  5. OMG..What I really loathed was the slow drag of most of the Kingdom Melodies. I wanted to hear an inspirational choir, or better yet sing in one. No Holy Spirit ran through me singing Myriad of Brothers…LOL. But I did enjoy giving talks, maybe because I loved the stage! It was my time to shine. But the portrayed situations were fake and limited, completely fabricated. There were some “friends” who made the talks entertaining, but some were scolded following the meeting for too much improv and speech.

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  6. Oh how I remember these meetings having to get home from work, rush through dinner, get daughter ready for meeting, leaving my non JW husband behind and off to the Thursday night meeting. Our congregation started timing the parts and appointed a brother to ring a bell if they went over the time, so this would be part of the counsel. One time there was a visiting brother from the society and he gave the 15 min first talk and guess what he went over the time and the dutiful brother rang the bell, everyone cringed!!! You know the bell disappeared after that and it made me think what a robot mentality. It took me another 6 years before I woke up and left.

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    • Totally understand. The bell was hilarious but sometimes horrendous. My talks were always too short. I believe I was rushing through them amid the adrenaline. I may start a blog too! Thanks

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      • OMG, the dreaded bell! I completely forgot about that. My talks usually ran short because I couldn’t breathe. People would comment on how pithy my talks were, but it was just that I had to make the point before I ran out of air!

  7. To shed some light as I left more recently:
    Te book study was replaced with Family Study on the same night. The Head of the House would choose the discussed topid so as to tailor it to the family needs. This was also to prepare for the Great Tribulation as your family should be spiritually strong and know how to have their own meetings. The even said in talks basically ‘it’s your own fault if you don’t survive the GT, you should have done your Family Study.’ as a guilt trip. It has become quite a thing, a mark of Spirituality, if you will.

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  8. haaha the bell lol I forgot about that bell>> I liked doing my talk ..but in the real world how many 13 and 15 year olds would be sitting at the zoo and talking about god and some topic about evolution roflmaooo that was my skit after the little chit chat about the topic it was ..Ok lets go look at the monkees>>>I always cheated in book study i would read the question then look for like words for the answer in the paragraph..wasnt rocket science…my parents were so proud of me they thought i was so smart ..I always had my hand up with the right answer STRAIGHT from the book..Lord knows if I really knew the half of what i was spouting….if i was asked to expound I would have had a problem …oh yes we NEVER missed a meeting..Sometimes sundays dragged on especially if u had a boring speaker with a boring topic and then an extra boring watchtower study after that omg I fell asleep so many times..My mom sat in between us kids to keep an eye out..she would poke us with her elbow if we were falling asleep or maybe my brother would do stupid stuff to make us laugh..I traded meetings for meeting lol at least the 12 step meeting I get something out of it>>>>

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  9. No, not meeting 5 times a week, 1 hr on Tuesday nights(their version of small groups) for book study, 1hr & 45 min on Thursday night(1 meeting was the first hr, the other meeting was the last 45 min), then 2 full hours on Sunday, again 2 one hour meetings back to back. I grew up JW, left at around age 20, 43 now. But not much has changed. My parents are still JW. Im a big Dallas Cowboy football fan and would hate when our meeting time for Sundays was changed to 3pm to 5 pm. I missed the game if it was a 3 oclock kick off. being a TRUE 100% JW meant you were at the Kingdom Hall(church)at least 30-45min before start time to fellowship and stay the same amount of time afterwards to mingle and fellowship, by the time we got the home, the game would be over. If it was a noon kick off, I missed it as well because every Saturday and Sunday morning we met at 9am for a little pre-door-to-door sales pitch training before we set out to a pre determined neighborhood to go sell the Watchtower and Awake,,,and any other Watchtower literature we were carrying. That lasted about 2 hrs(it’s now 11ocock) then another 2 hours of return visits. Basically this is where we would go back to revisit those poor folks that happened to buy some literature in an effort to start a bible study. Most would just buy whatever it was we were selling that day to get us off their porch so they could get back to the pregame show. Little did they know my mom or dad had written down their address and marked it as a RETURN VISIT. So by now it is 1 oclock and Im starving, so we get home get some light lunch a little nap and then head over to the kingdom hall around 2:15(cause we have to be there early). A tell tale sign of a cult is their ability to control and take up over 80% of your time and life. They go so far as teaching from the platform(dont call it a pulpit or stage) that to pursue a college education was a worldly thing and a waste of time since this world is ending, best use these last days knocking and selling their magazines and books,,,dont forget to write down the address to those that buy for those return visits! haha. The only good things that came form all those years of being a JW is that I learned what true Christianity is, and the JW’s are not it. Also it made me a a great public speaker. I was holding parts of 10 minutes infront of the entire congregation(200+ folks all looking at you) during The Theocratic Ministry School at age 13. I became such a good speaker and reader that I would also read the paragraphs from the Watchtower on Sundays. Well all that public speaking lead to a career as a Wedding DJ and public speaker to other Wedding Professionals at bridal shows. I dont shy away from a mic, as a matter of fact I like to think I rock it pretty good. Hence my calender is booked solid with weddings. Maybe someday soon I will post on here when I first stepped into another church after 15 years of having faded from the JWs. That day, I accepted Christ! And that is the only way to salvation, Accepting Christ. Nothing you do will ever earn you salvation, nothing. JW teach that your works determine your salvation. That is why they focus on Christs death and not his Resurrection. Gospel 101(the basics) state that it is by his wounds, his death on the cross, that our sins are forgiven and eternal salvation is attainable. All we have to do is believe he died on our behalf an accept his gift of forgiveness and salvation. Everything else will fall into place. Y’all have a blessed evening!

    Joe –

    Reply

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