Almost 9,000 Jehovahs Witnesses gathered Sunday at Raleighs PNC Arena as part of the first three-day weekend of the denominations annual convention to hear this message: Gods word is truth.
This message struck a chord with many of those in attendance, whose faith is known for culling the Bible for daily living advice from maintaining a happy marriage to parenting. The message not only reinforced their belief in Gods word but instilled the importance of truth-telling.
As a family, we are truthful. It helps our kids to be truthful, said Roderick Grier of Durham.
Grier was among about 1,000 volunteers who helped put on the convention. He also attended with his wife and five children, ages 4 to 15. Volunteers help park cars, clean bathrooms and escort people to their seats. This weekends three-day gathering was for about 65 congregations from southern Virginia and eastern North Carolina. Another 60 or so congregations will travel to PNC Arena for another three-day convention starting Friday.
Jehovahs Witnesses number 7.7 million worldwide, and about 40,000 in North Carolina, with growth fueled mostly by going door to door. The Christian denomination is known for its requirement that members walk neighborhoods and knock on doors to spread the faith.
Some people are interested. Some people dont want to hear. It doesnt deter us either way, said Ken Weiss, who will retire this month from IBM and start devoting more time to volunteering as a witness. You talk to two or three people who are interested, it makes your day.
Jehovahs Witnesses gather at churches called kingdom halls each Sunday for meetings. The halls are run by church elders. Women cannot serve as elders. While Christian, they reject the idea of the Trinity, that God is three beings in one Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Instead they believe, Jesus was created by God, or Jehovah, and therefore separate. Their faith forbids homosexuality and permits divorce only on the grounds of infidelity.
The members tend to be clean-cut, socially conservative types, a large number of whom are African-American. The men at Sundays gathering wore suits and ties and sometimes matching pocket squares. The women wore dresses or skirts.
On Sunday morning, thousands filed inside PNC Arena. Many carried blankets to keep warm in the drafty sports venue. Many brought coolers containing their lunches. (The witnesses were encouraged to stay and have fellowship instead of going out to eat lunch.)
The service was akin to a large Bible study with a speaker analyzing a passage and the congregants encouraged to read along with a Bible and a notepad in their laps. The speakers often called congregants to the stage to speak about their experiences. Many told heart-wrenching stories about keeping or finding their faith despite economic troubles, the loss of a child or a difficult divorce.
Fifteen-year-old Dahlia Grier said, Seeing the other brothers and sisters telling their experiences on stage, it helps me progress spiritually.