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Category Archives: Ministerial Servant

Adventures With Elders

Very shortly after we became Jehovah’s Witnesses my father rose quickly through the ranks to the position of elder in the congregation.  His life became much busier, and we saw less of him.  However, as he reminded us on the night his appointment was announced, the rest of the family had responsibilities too.  He sat us down and sternly told us that we had to be good examples to the other kids in the congregation.  He never wanted to hear that someone’s kid said, “But Brother Long’s kids do it and their father is an elder.”  I had to wonder why he was being so stern.  My brother and I were, if not model children, very well behaved indeed.

Dad had elders’ meetings to attend every so often.  Since he heaped verbal abuse on my head when he was at home, I was always elated when he picked up his book bag, straightened his tie, and left the house on a week night.  It meant I could spend the evening in the living room instead of holed up in my bedroom escaping to Avonlea or hanging out with the March sisters.

There was also a huge cloud of secrecy that hung around his activities as an elder.  When the phone rang and he answered it we were not allowed to ask who had called.  If we answered the phone and someone asked for him we would be severely scolded if we asked the caller to identify themselves.   We could never dig around in his book bag or any of the drawers of his desk.  We were to squelch our curiosity about anything he did as an elder.

Besides all of that, inevitably every meeting turned into a marathon session as he lingered afterward until we pretty much closed the kingdom hall down.  This led to some pretty late school nights and droopy eyelids the next day.

Since I married a ministerial servant, the workload wasn’t quite as heavy on my husband as on my father, and that situation continued for 10 years.  It was when dear hubby (DH) decided he desired to ascend Olympus and “reach out” for the office of elder that the pressure ramped up.

First, he had to qualify for recommendation, as defined by our body of elders.  It was well known around the circuit that you had to be practically Superman to get recommended by our body of elders, and some brothers had even departed for other congregations where less stringent requirements prevailed in order to get the desired promotion.

Along with him, I had to qualify too.  That meant I had to be putting in more than the congregation average in field service hours per month (which meant I had to go out every Saturday morning and at least one Sunday afternoon in the month), I had to keep a spotless home, entertain regularly (called “hospitality”), get to every single meeting and comment frequently, and accompany DH to the Wednesday evening field service meeting – all while holding down a demanding full-time job with a 45-minute commute each way.  That Wednesday evening thing meant that I didn’t get supper until afterward, maybe as late as 8 p.m.

There are a million other little things you have to do, like entertain the circuit overseer and his wife during their visit, take part in cleaning the kingdom hall, participate in any kingdom hall maintenance projects, visit sick JWs in the hospital or at home, and sometimes drop in on lagging publishers.

An example of this kind of unpaid extra work occurred during a month when I foolishly decided to add auxiliary pioneering (60-hour requirement) to my already bulging schedule, while still working full time (minus the commute – I had taken a job closer to home).   DH and I had been assigned to assist a sister in the congregation who had five children and a husband in rehab.

The phone rang at 2 a.m.  This sister’s daughter had been involved in a car accident and she needed help.  We jumped out of bed and drove the 20 miles to the hospital where we found our sister in a state.  They were admitting her daughter, and she needed us to take the baby and her 3-year-old son.  Ignoring my horrified expression she handed me the diaper bag and hurried away.

I need to pause here to inform my readers that I have never been the maternal type.  I never babysat, never sought out babies or toddlers, and I had most certainly never changed a diaper in my life.  I wasn’t even sure what year-old babies could eat.  Did they eat?  Our home was not baby-proof and contained not even a single toy.

Back home at dawn’s early light I found myself with an infant and toddler both sitting in the middle of the living screaming their lungs out.  I sure as heck didn’t even vaguely resemble their African American mother.  As soon as I thought people might be stirring I called a friend who had a couple of kids to ask if she could babysit these two.

Unfortunately, she was going to a wedding that day, but after laughing at me heartily, she offered to come over and give me a diapering tutorial.

DH rushed to the store and bought a passel of toys, none of which appealed to our young charges.  Mom came flying by at about 5 p.m. to nurse the infant and to tell us that she couldn’t take the kids back until the next day.

After she left I drew DH into the bedroom and with trembling hands and tear-stained face begged him to find someone else to take these children.  I could not face babysitting overnight.  We didn’t even have any baby gear!  Luckily, we found a family who, after finding amusement in my distress, happily took the kids for the night.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that baby didn’t soil her diaper even once during that day.  I still haven’t changed a diaper.

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Life in a Congregation – Part 1

All JWs are assigned to a specific congregation.  Usually this is determined by the location of your home; you will attend the congregation that covers that area.  In special circumstances, some JWs will be assigned to a different congregation, and some will just get themselves into a huff over some perceived slight and make their own choice.  The latter circumstances indicate spiritual weakness.  The former indicate spiritual greatness.

Each congregation is overseen by a body of elders.  Elders are “appointed by holy spirit,” which is a special process that begins with the local elders deciding which males in the congregation are “reaching out” for the privilege of increased responsibility.  “Reaching out” is considered to include such actions as increased participation in the field ministry, increased commenting at meetings, showing up for all kingdom hall maintenance projects, and showing hospitality.

At its best, “reaching out” is a show of spiritual maturity.  At its worst it’s a popularity contest involving a lot of sucking up to the existing body of elders.

If the male in question is a family man, his wife and children have to pass muster as well.  The wife must be in subjection to her husband (read: immaculate home, smile on her face, toeing the party line), must be exemplary in her conduct, and must be very active in the field ministry.  The children must be obedient to their parents (read: bright, shining faces happy to be at the kingdom hall – this requires careful training at home).

If the candidate meets with approval from the body of elders as a whole, he will be “recommended” to the circuit overseer at his next visit to the congregation (usually twice a year).  If the circuit overseer approves, he will include the recommendation in his report to the Watchtower Society.  From there, it’s pretty much a rubber-stamp process.

So where does the “appointed by holy spirit” aspect come in?  It doesn’t.  That’s a myth, although you’d be hard pressed to find an active JW who would agree with that statement.  It would be disloyal to suggest that the Watchtower Society is making that part up.

Below the elders are “ministerial servants” who handle practical matters such as literature, accounts, territory, sound, and so forth.  Depending on the number of ministerial servants in a congregation, some might have very vague duties amounting to “first assistant coat hanger.”

Ministerial servants are appointed in the same way as elders, but they can be much younger.  Elders are usually over 30 years of age, but servants can be as young as 20.  They have to meet the same requirements as elders in all respects except spiritual maturity.

Elders are shepherds charged with keeping the congregation (flock) safe and clean from bad influences.  This means that they are on the lookout for any evidence of independent thinking so that they can quash it, usually by figuratively whacking the offender with their figurative shepherd’s crook (the Bible and the Watchtower Society’s publications).  The “whacking” can occur either by hauling the offender into the kingdom hall library or on a personal “shepherding” call.

If the sheep does not respond well to the “whacking” (they continue to use their brain to think for themselves), the shepherds will convene a judicial committee, which in most instances is a kangaroo court where the verdict has already been decided and all testimony from the offending sheep is for naught.  The sheep is expelled from the congregation (disfellowshipped) and once the announcement is read at a meeting, the other congregation members (including their own family members) will shun the offender.  The shunning has the objective of making the offender feel the effects of his sin so that he will return to the congregation.

Other offenses that could merit disfellowshipping include:

  • Fornication.  This is a broad category that includes sex between unmarried persons (hetero- and homosexual), bestiality, child molesting (okay, I’m kidding – you can’t get kicked out of JWs for pedophilia), unnatural sexual acts between married people (including penetration of alternative orifices), and incest.
  • Uncleanness.  This is another broad category, open to interpretation by the elders, but could include viewing pornography, self-pleasuring, making out with your honey in the back seat of the car, oh, and so much more.  Really depends on how prudish the elders are.
  • Apostasy.  Oooooo, scary!  This would include questioning the teachings of the Watchtower Society, celebrating an unapproved holiday (in the U.S. that’s all of them), participating in interfaith, voting, joining a political party, etc.  Those last two may come under a different category, but it’s all pretty much the same thing:  Disloyalty.
  • Lying, stealing, cheating, using foul language, etc.
  • Eating blood (to be considered in another post).

You might wonder how on earth the elders would ever find out if you were, for example, employing unconventional techniques during marital intercourse.  Often, a guilty conscience will drive one of the offending parties to the elders to confess.  It is thoroughly drummed into the heads of the rank and file that God is watching them and knows even what is in their hearts, so there is no escape.

Much of the material presented at the meetings is designed to make congregation members feel like hopeless pieces of dirt that don’t deserve to be noticed by God, which means that joining JWs is perfect for people with low self-esteem – no other religion reinforces self-loathing better.  Not even Catholicism.

Other times, the offender may get caught.  Let’s say the wife is sick and the elders visit and happen to notice naughty literature or a sex toy carelessly left out in the open.  Gotcha!

The congregation is supposedly a haven for the righteous, but watch your step!  God and the elders are watching you.