Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Morningside
Morning meeting, Sunday 10.30am
Talk by: Brother Leitch
Watchtower study led by: Brother McCracken, with readings by Brother Gladwyn
(all name spellings are guesswork on my part)
I’ve never had my door knocked on by Jehovah’s Witnesses – at least, not when I’ve been at home. But then again, I seem to be off the radar of all the religious organisations that you might think would want to witness to me, as I’ve observed before.
So at the risk of mixing my metaphors, since the mountain hadn’t come to Mohammed, I set off to find the mountain, which in this case was a small hill on Oxgangs Green. If I were trying to sell a property in the vicinity, I’d try to call it Morningside too, but let’s face it, once you’ve crossed the Braid Burn you’re in Oxgangs and you can’t really deny it. The clue is in the street name.
I didn’t (and still don’t) know very much about Jehovah’s Witnesses besides the usual lore … they can’t have blood transfusions, don’t dink coffee (Soul Searcher can’t live without her caffeine), believe that heaven has a limited capacity but you can work your way to the front of the queue, and have inaccurately predicted the end of the world several times. Actually, their website has lots of myth v. fact information for those who want to find out what they’re really about.
What I can definitely say without fear of contradiction after this morning’s experience is that they are incredibly welcoming and pleasant and all seem like genuinely lovely people. Who would leave such as these shivering on a doorstep? And they know their bible inside out too, which I’ll come to in a moment.
The format of the meeting is a talk (peculiar to each congregation) followed by bible study based on the articles in “The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom” (which will be the same in every congregation throughout the world, week by week). There were three hymns/songs, from “Sing to Jehovah”, which were sung somewhat hesitantly to a piano accompaniment. I’d never heard any of them before, and sight-singing isn’t my strong suit, but I did my best.
The talk, given by Brother Leitch from the Portobello congregation, who admits to once having been knocked over by a hungry Charollais sheep, was entitled “Never become dull in your hearing”. He asked us to think about three ways in which animals use their sense of hearing: 1) to flee from danger; 2) to herd together for protection and feeding; and 3) to search for food. Likewise, since faith follows the thing(s) heard (Romans 10:17) and because it is difficult to explain about Jesus if you have become dull in your hearing (Hebrews 5:11), we should be alert and responsive and should flee (1 Timothy 6:11) from the things that Satan has set in the world to distract us, such as violent movies and other examples of immorality. The faithful should also draw comfort and inspiration from the fellowship of other believers, as did the two Estonian women who made a three-day round-trip just to attend a meeting. And we should be hungry for spiritual food (Matthew 4:4 and 5:6) – this is where the boisterous Charollais came in; it just couldn’t get there fast enough when it heard the feed bucket rattling – and should listen to the call to study and, once studying, listen to the subtle rhythms of our own hearts and adjust our lives to work on what is lacking, striving all the while to ignore the siren call of the world that would dash us on the rocks.
All in all, as well-crafted a talk as I’ve heard this year. Can’t argue with that.
And now it was quiz time. Brother McCracken chaired the seminar-style study session like a brisk, avuncular schoolmaster, putting me rather in mind of Robert Robinson, not so much for his physical appearance as for his habit of addressing everyone by their surnames (Brother Smith, Sister Jones, etc) as he went round the room inviting answers to the Watchtower questions on this week’s theme, “Jehovah’s Reminders are Trustworthy”, and responding to most of them by saying, “That’s right.”
The Witnesses do their homework, I’ll give them that. Copies of Watchtower were underlined and highlighted and annotated, and almost all of the fifty people present (as with most places of worship visited this year, attendance was “about fifty”) answered at least one question, even the wee boy of about six or seven. It’s an interesting format and it must be effective. No snoozing at the back such as you might get away with in many churches, and you’d need to have all that information at your fingertips if you were going to go out there and make disciples of all nations, which is what seven million Witnesses are doing – “zealously proclaiming God’s Kingdom in more than 230 lands.” Quite what constitutes a land I’m not sure. There aren’t that many nation states in the world, but this time next year there could be one more independent country to add to the list … if the Lord’s swift judgment doesn’t come before September 18th, of course.
Would I go to a Kingdom Hall again? Actually, I might, if only to observe another of those study seminars. It’s something more churches ought to do, because there’s a whole lot of so-called believers out there who can’t answer simple questions about their own faith, and it’s unlikely you’d be able to level the same accusation at a Jehovah’s witness, which might explain their success in worldwide evangelism.
Could I actually subscribe to what the JWs believe? That’s another question, and the answer is probably no, but if they ever do come knocking on my door, I’d be up for a discussion about it.