NEW MILFORD-Although they trace their roots to the late 19th century in Western Pennsylvania, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who take their cue from the biblical verse in the Book of Acts that says, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house,” have been conducting door-to-door visits in New Milford as a prelude to the district’s annual convention that begins today in Newburgh, N.Y.
The convention continues through Sunday, and in anticpation of it the Jehovah’s Witnesses had sent out a press release announcing the intention of reaching out to every resident of New Milford.
“There’s air conditioning, nice comfortable chairs and cafeteria facilities,” said New Milford resident Mark Voglewede, describing elements of the denomination’s new assembly hall in Newburgh. “It’s a beautiful facility. Weather isn’t a problem.”
Mr. Voglewede, who began ministering for Jehovah’s Witnesses as a child, said 2,000 to 3,000 persons are expected to attend the event.
“Some are from the area. They’ll be different states assigned to this convention,” he said, referring to the speakers. “They are very qualified speakers from within those states,” he said, referring to members of the denomination who will speak.
“Basically what takes place is a series of talks that are designed to encourage us, using scriptures from the Bible, and to help us recognize that deliverance is near, which is the theme of the convention,” Mr. Voglewede said.
“To be a Witness you must be a preacher,” said a spokesperson for the religious denomination, speaking from the group’s global headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., who asked that his remarks be attributed to JR Brown. “Our ministry is so well known. It’s what defines Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he said, referring to the printed booklets the groups, whose legal entity is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, distribute.
Several congregations make up a circuit, and two circuits complete a district. There are two congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose membership numbers 6.7 million worldwide, in New Milford, and they began distributing invitations to the Newburgh event June 2.
“We do make an effort to reach everyone. The challenge that we face today is that people are so busy with life. They have less time to give to a day-to-day sermon,” Mr. Brown said. “There’s no dress code,” he said, with regard to the conservative manner in which Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to dress. “You would typically see someone in a shirt and tie. It varies as often as someone’s personality.”
“That’s encouraged,” affirmed Mr. Volgewede, who tries to devote two to three hours a week to ministering, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses conservative dress. “Let’s say, you were going to go to a wedding. There’s a certain dignity to the occasion. Since we’re respecting God, men wear a shirt, tie and slacks, and women will wear a nice dress.”
“I was probably about 5 or 6 years old when I started in the ministry,” said Mr. Volgewede, who observed he grew up near Zanesville, Ohio.
He said he was living in Georgia when he met Lucia, who would become his wife. “Her sister had lived in the area. We decided to relocate to this community,” he said, referring to New Milford. “We’ve been here for about 13 years now.” Mr. Vogelwede’s congregation ministers to northern New Milford, Kent, Washington and Warren.
“A lot of people may not be at home,” he said, concerning the reception that the Witnesses get when they appear at doorways. “Most people listen to what we have to say. They’ll allow us to read from the Bible. Some would just rather not talk to us. Of course, we respect that.”
“In this area, I would say that maybe 25 percent won’t speak to us at all. Another 50 percent will listen to us but not do anything about it. Twenty-five percent want to pursue it,” he said, referring to Bible studies with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose denomination acknowledges salvation for some, but believes that others, as Mr. Vogelwede put it, “lose consciousness and return to dust.”
“In the more affluent areas, they may be satisfied with their life,” he said, when pressed further on the reception the Witnesses get, and why. “Perhaps they’re not as directly impacted by things as those that are struggling to make a living. They may be content with how their life is. …”
Against the backdrop of a society in which religion has become more prominent both culturally and politically, Mr. Volgewede said in some ways the Witnesses’ Bible-based ministering has become more difficult. “They see some of the hypocrisy in religion today. That turns them off.”
On the other hand, Mr. Volgewede said others find the world tumbling from one problem to the next.
“Those types of individuals who are searching for the truth are most interested,” he said.
The annual convention, whose theme is “Deliverance at Hand,” will extend across 155 countries, with more than 260 district conventions taking place in the United States. The ministry has roughly one million members in this country, the spokesperson in New York said.