(P)raising the roof: Jehovah’s Witnesses get together to build new Kingdom Hall in Schuylkill County
Thursday, 24 August 2006
By KENT JACKSON
Jehovah’s Witnesses like to build their houses of worship quickly so the construction doesn’t cut into the real work of building relationships within the church. “Our focus is always on the ministry,” Lynn Hibshman said Thursday as he supervised the construction of the latest place of worship or Kingdom Hall in Schuylkill County.
On Wednesday, only a foundation sat on the 1.5-acre site in the Union Township village of Pattersonville.
By Saturday night, the Kingdom Hall should be ready for service.
Completing construction takes so little time because of the coordinated effort by more than 250 volunteers who know their jobs.
One group of volunteers framed the 40- by 80-foot building, another group set pre-fabricated trusses along the roof, making way for the crew that tacks on shingles.
As the roof rises, a group using a sheet metal shop in the back of a truck bend galvanized sheets into heating ducts that they wrap with silver insulation.
Other groups go inside the hall to start installing the ductwork, wires and pipes.
By today, one group will be putting up brick for the exterior walls while other teams will installe insulation and hang and paint drywall on the interior.
On Saturday, workers will hang lights, doors, install bathroom fixtures, alarms, drop ceilings, cabinets and carpeting.
All the while, support teams will take around drinks and snacks, clean the site, conduct safety checks and prepare meals.
“We feel if you’re going to volunteer your time, you should be fed,” David Wolf said after supervising the team that grilled steaks to serve with French fries, corn on the cob, sliced fruit, and homemade desserts to about 250 people at lunch Thursday.
Wolf works out of a tractor-trailer fitted with stoves, sinks and refrigerators that carries all the cooking equipment such as outdoor frying vats and grills to construction sites. A strip of yellow tape strung near the door like police line at a crime scene said “Danger Men Cooking.”
When not at a “church-raising,” Wolf isn’t a cook. He has an auto body shop at his home in Gilbertsville, Montgomery County.
Most of the volunteers, with the exception of the eight men setting the trusses on the roof with help from a crane, aren’t full-time construction workers. But tradesmen supervise them.
“Lots of people have learned their trade on these construction projects,” said Hibshman, who has been building Kingdom Halls since his teenage years in the late 1960s and lives in Myerstown, Lebanon County.
Volunteers came from Altoona to Allentown, Pine Grove to Williamsport to help build the Kingdom Hall in Union Township, which will be home to the Shenandoah-area congregation of 65.
Each year, the Pennsylvania volunteers build from two to six Kingdom Halls and remodel others.
Eight years ago, they put up the hall in Hazleton along Route 424.
The workers are young as 17, but some are older than 80.
In Union Township, a building inspection is scheduled for Monday and the hall should be ready for its inaugural service at 10 a.m. on Sept. 3.
“We don’t sacrifice quality for speed,” Hibshman said.
Nor do they put progress ahead of personal relationships.
On the job site, workers call each other brother and sister.
“We stress be patient, work lovingly,” Hibshman said. “Say you run up with a situation where something goes wrong. Just talk about it. Make a decision. Be pleasant. No raised voices.”
Every morning at 9, the volunteers stop construction to listen to a scripture reading and discussion over the loudspeakers.