HARLINGEN — Last year, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses gathered in La Feria to attend their annual convention. This year, followers will do so from their own homes.
For the first time, the Jehovah’s Witnesses community has cancelled its global conventions and opted for a new alternative.
By using its online platform and app, anyone wanting to tune in can do so from the comfort of their homes.
Robert Hendricks, National Spokesperson for the JW community, said before March leaders were sending new criteria for meetings. In the middle of March, Kingdom Halls were closed and affected 13,000 congregations, Hendricks said.
“These were firsts for us; we had never done this in our history. Stopping the knocking on doors, which is really our signature, was a difficult decision. But protecting life was the paramount issue,” he said.
After that happened in March, brainstorming for ideas to keep the convention ongoing started to occur. Planification began and the main goal was for the conventions to still be held.
“Even through depression and the great wars we haven’t missed a year. It was a big question to what are Jehovah’s Witnesses going to do with their conventions?” Hendricks said.
According to him, in the United States there are 688 conventions with more than 1.5 million people attending.
Ten conventions are held in La Feria where about 20,000 to 25,000 attend.
“It is a global convention and it is held around the world and we expect 14 million globally. The additional issue is we reach out to so many kinds of people,” he said.
The conventions are held in more than 100 languages. But when done locally, people in those areas are able to conduct the conventions in their languages.
In early April the decision was made to cancel the conventions all over the world and a Plan B was conducted.
“We wanted something that was powerful, live and interactive. That could not replace what we had but could offer something additional to those around the world,” he said.
The conventions are usually held on a weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The decision was made to record content for each day and transcribe the content and translate it in 511 languages. Once it was ready, the organization uploaded it to its platform for families all over the world to tune in.
“This has never been done and never been attempted. We translate our website in more than 1,000 languages because we want to reach as many people,” Hendricks said.
“It has been an amazing opportunity to mix the virtual environment with fellowship. It is a nice mix of incredible learning and fellowship,” he said.
This year’s theme is “Always Rejoice.”
It is available on Apple TV, ROKU, Amazon Fire Stick and at www.jw.org.
“People asked us if the theme was picked after the pandemic but it was chosen five years ago. These conventions are planned years in advance,” he said.
“Now the world has a convention they can attend for free about joy and it is about remaining joyful and always rejoice, even when all around is crumbling. It has very little to do with our surroundings but everything to do with the relationship with our creator,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks stressed even though conventions have gone virtual, the message is still being sent.
“We want to come together as congregations and make sure we aren’t doing this in isolation,” he said.