Team effort:Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses build new Kingdom Hall
By Jill Harmacinski
METHUEN – Scaffolding, bricks, hard hats, two-by-fours and nail guns.
A weekend worksite at the intersection of Jackson and East streets had all the makings of a traditional construction job, with one exception – not one member of this 600-plus work crew gets paid.
“Absolutely nobody,” said project foreman Kevin Della Penna of Methuen. “This is 100 percent volunteer work.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses from all over the country, including one man from Hawaii, spent this weekend building a new Kingdom Hall at the intersection. The former 45-year-old building on the site was ripped down last June making way for a new hall, twice the size, in the same spot. The workers, who ranged from age 17 to 85, started last Thursday, working 12 hour days Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Come next weekend, hundreds of volunteers will be back on site, putting the finishing touches on the new hall.
Jehovah’s Witnesses who come from afar stay in local homes with other Jehovah’s Witnesses during construction.
“One person doesn’t take credit,” Della Penna said. “It’s completely a joint effort.”
Similar to an old-fashioned barn raising, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses are known to come together to build new halls. In Methuen’s case, the new building, including finish work inside and landscaping, will be completed for $570,000. Hiring a general contractor, licensed plumbers, electricians, professional dry wallers, etc. to do the same work would cost nearly three times as much, noted minister James Lang, the Jehovah’s on-site spokesman.
“Personally, I’ve been involved in 42 of these projects,” said Lang, of Derry, N.H.
Instead of hiring out, church members, some who have experience in construction and others who are complete novices, agree to meet to do the work gratis. And not everybody is driving nails or laying bricks. There are first-aid workers; shuttle drivers, who bring the volunteers back and forth from area homes and parking lots; and a safety inspection team.
An elaborate food service staff also served 570 volunteers a roast beef, mushroom gravy, mashed potato and Belgium carrot lunch in 30 minutes yesterday afternoon. The workers get breakfast and lunch, and tea, coffee, cookies and pastry snacks throughout the day.
“As hard as people work, no one ever loses weight. The food is that good,” said John Carney, a Jehovah’s witness who lives in Methuen.
The majority of volunteers hail from New England locations, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. But Mike Madonia, with family in the Merrimack Valley, journeyed all the way from Hawaii to help.
Before construction starts, Lang said members work closely with area neighbors, letting them know construction is coming up. Area businesses also agree to allow the volunteers to park in their lots over the weekend and then be shuttled back and forth to the work site.
“Prior to the building, we canvas the entire neighborhood. Traffic is very heavy here and parking is limited,” Lang noted. “But everyone we’ve spoken with has been extremely cooperative.”
Late yesterday afternoon, dozens of workers were lined up on scaffolding outside the new hall. Each took turns laying brick on the side of the new building. A week from today, the new hall “will be in move-in condition,” Lang said.
Meetings are expected to resume on Oct. 15.
The old hall, built in 1961, is being replaced with a 46-by-70-foot main hall and an 28-by-46-foot addition, Della Penna said. Handicapped-accessible bathrooms, a coat room, boiler room and foyer were added to the new design.
“It’s a kind of organized chaos,” he said of the construction site. “Everyone knows their job and their time slot and when they have to be here. Everything just goes together in a nice succession.”