Breaking a century-old tradition, the largest convention organization in the world has moved its annual in-person event to a virtual format for the second time in as many years, canceling nearly 6,000 conventions in 240 lands.
In the early 1900s, Des Moines, Iowa, began its rich history of hosting conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses. During the summers, thousands of Witnesses streamed into the city, filling hotels and restaurants as they held their conventions at venues within the Iowa Events Center.
In 2020, the pandemic unexpectedly interrupted that tradition, moving the international religious organization to cancel in-person conventions throughout the world and launch a global virtual event. This was a first for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have held public conventions in stadiums, arenas, convention centers, and theaters around the world since 1897.
Steve Lunsford of Marshalltown, Iowa, has been planning conventions for over 30 years and frequently worked with hotels in Des Moines to secure adequate and comfortable rooming for the attendees. Over time, Jehovah’s Witnesses established a reputation with the local hotels as being courteous and respectful. “They would tell us stories about other organizations that would not treat the hotel very well or make it difficult for other guests, and they said we were just the opposite. They were more than happy to have us,” Lunsford said.
Officials at the Events Center also appreciated how clean the Witnesses left their facilities after the sessions were over. “We would clean it well beyond what they even asked us to do. We left it better than when we arrived,” he continued.
The economic boost to the city during conventions supported more than just the hotels. Lunsford elaborated: “When we had conventions in the city, the Convention & Visitors Bureau knew that we would go to the restaurants, especially after the sessions were over, so they were glad to have us.”
“Powerful by Faith!” is the theme of the 2021 global event, which will be delivered in more than 500 languages to households throughout the globe over six weekends during July and August 2021, uniting some 15-20 million people in 240 countries. Since the convention is typically held from Friday through Sunday, the program will be available in six installments corresponding to morning and afternoon sessions. “Friday” morning’s session will be available for streaming or download beginning June 28, 2021.
The planning and translation of a program of this magnitude takes months of effort. With the uncertainty of whether it would be safe to bring thousands of people together in cities around the world, the organization opted for a virtual platform for the second consecutive year. However, the move has not curbed the enthusiasm for the annual event. Congregations around the world are inviting the public to join them in this historic occasion.
“Faith has helped our global brotherhood to continue to thrive even during a pandemic,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Our faith will continue to unite us in worship—even virtually—as millions gather in private homes around the world to enjoy a powerful and inspiring spiritual program.”
All are invited to attend the event by going to jw.org on the web or JW Broadcasting on the free JW Library app available for iOS or Android, or on streaming platforms like ROKU TV, Apple TV, and others. The program is free and accessible to all.
For more information, please contact Jehovah’s Witnesses United States at (718) 560-5600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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