‘Always Rejoice!’ Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses moves to streaming platform

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent | 8/6/2020, 6 p.m.
For more than 100 years, the annual convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses packed venues like the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, …
Jehovah’s Witnesses Convention in Downtown Richmond in a previous year. Photo by Clement Britt

For more than 100 years, the annual convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses packed venues like the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Yankee Stadium in New York, the Greater Richmond Convention Center and before that, the Richmond Coliseum, and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the religious organization’s governing body canceled the annual gatherings and, for the first time, moved the event to a virtual platform.

Congregations, families and guests can now view the convention titled, “Always Rejoice!” during August on the organization’s website, www.jw.org.

“The convention will continue to teach us that joy is a quality of the heart. It is something that we have inside even when things around us may be crumbling,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “This message for our community is absolutely vital.”

Mr. Hendriks added that the two Christian principles that guided the Witnesses’ historic decision to cancel their annual convention are respect for the sanctity of life and love of neighbor.

“As much as we long to meet together, life is far too precious to put at risk,” Mr. Hendriks

stated. “Life trumps a place and a building. Life transcends our desire to meet together. Life is paramount and we recognize that even if one life was taken because of a public meeting, that would be one life too many.

“We love our brothers and we love our communities, so when you think of carrying the virus, that is contrary to love of neighbor. The principles that move us to knock on doors and talk to our neighbors about the gospel and to invite people to our public gatherings are the very principles we used to stop the convention and hold it virtually.”

In 2019, more than 14 million people in 240 countries attended conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including roughly 2 million people in the United States.

“Our worship is centered on our mutual love for our God and for each other, irrespective of where we are physically,” Mr. Hendriks said. “This year’s convention program underscores the unity of our international family and the joy that people can have against a backdrop of stress and despair.”

The conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are usually held over three days — Friday through Sunday, with a morning and afternoon session each day.

Witness officials said they would release the program on their website in six installments, each corresponding to a morning or afternoon session. Many congregations and families have already viewed the first convention session, which debuted July 11.

The final weekend of the virtual event takes place Aug. 29 and 30.

Mr. Hendriks noted that this year’s program explores questions such as “What contributes to finding and sustaining joy? How can you cultivate joy in the family? How can you remain joyful in difficult times?”

A key feature of the program is a Bible-based drama that considers Nehemiah’s life and how he helped the ancient nation of Israel find joy in their worship of God.

The convention programs are free and available to the public online at www.jw.org under the “Library” tab. No sign-ups or email addresses are required to view the videos.

Each year, many people who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses attend the annual conventions, Mr. Hendriks said, adding that there are more than 8.6 million active Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. But the 2019 conferences had a peak attendance of more than 14 million.

“With the program available online in hundreds of languages, this may be the most attended convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses to date,” he stated.