Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Jehovah's Witnesses get set for annual convention


Dennis McConner leaves a Maumee home after no one answered the door. We take our responsibility very seriously, he said.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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Dennis McConner climbs the front steps of a well-kept home on Holgate Avenue in Maumee and knocks on the door. The knock is polite but firm - not too hard and not too soft, a touch that comes from years of experience.

A dog begins to bark and a short, athletic-looking man in a sleeveless T-shirt opens the door and slips quickly onto the porch.

Mr. McConner, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., smiles warmly and says, "Good morning sir, how are you?"

"Just fine. Can I help you?" the homeowner asks, polite but hurried.

"Yes, my name is Dennis McConner. I'm stopping by this morning leaving invitations to you and your neighbors to attend a convention we're having at the SeaGate Centre and to answer this question: 'How can I survive the end of the world?'•"

The homeowner silently tilts his head up toward Mr. McConner, a tall, middle-aged man in a tan suit and matching tie.

"It gives a - not a fanatical - but a realistic, analytical approach from the Bible on how we can cope with these last days," Mr. McConner says.

He hands the man a full-color flyer inviting him to the first of a series of Jehovah's Witness conventions at the SeaGate Convention Centre, starting Friday and ending June 21.

"Thank you very much," the homeowner says, opening the screen door and stepping briskly inside as it shuts behind him.

Mr. McConner smiles, nods, and heads for the next house, limping slightly. His left foot is in an orthopedic boot due to circulation problems.

Across the tree-lined street, several pairs of men and women - all neatly dressed and carrying Bibles, notebooks, and stacks of invitations - are also walking along the sidewalks and knocking on doors in a coordinated canvass of the neighborhood.

If nobody answers the door, they leave an invitation and mark the address down in their notebooks as a "not-at-home."

"We'll come back at least three times," Mr. McConner says. "People ask us why we come back so often. I tell them we're living in the time of the end. If there was a storm coming, wouldn't you want us to knock on your door and warn you? We take the responsibility very seriously."

He tucks the invitations in a slot down low, between the door and its wooden frame.

Mr. McConner said he normally won't use a mailbox, "and you don't want it to put it in a conspicuous place where people passing by can see that nobody is home."

This is the fifth year the Jehovah's Witnesses will hold a regional convention in Toledo, with this year's theme being "Keep on the Watch!"

The conventions, which pump an estimated $15 million into the local economy each year, are divided into six identical three-day sessions rather than holding one big gathering.

A different group of up to 7,000 from Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana attend each convention, with meetings scheduled from 9:20 a.m. to 4:55 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The last Toledo convention this year will be held July 24-26.

A Spanish-language convention that had been held in Toledo the last few years has outgrown the local facilities and is being moved to Virginia, according to local spokesman Mark Smith.

Leading up to the first weekend of meetings, the Witnesses are working diligently to get the word out to nonmembers. The headlines on the flyers ask the catchy question, "How can you survive the end of the world?" and state: "You are warmly invited to come and listen to the answer." The flyers point out that "admission is free and no collections are taken."

"Our goal is to make sure that all the neighbors are aware of it because even if only pick up one or two sessions, we're sure that what they learn will whet their appetite for more," Mr. McConner says.

"A lot of people expect something fanatical because they just don't know. But once they know and they see that the things we're talking about come from the Bible, they're much more in tune with what we've got to say."

The Jehovah's Witnesses were founded in the 1870s in Allegheny, Pa., by Bible student Charles Taze Russell. There are about 6.5 million members in 235 countries, including 1 million in the United States and 35,000 in Ohio. The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches lists it as one of the four fastest-growing religious groups in the country.

Group members are used to hearing criticism of some of their non-mainstream beliefs and practices, including not observing Christmas, Easter, or birthdays; barring blood transfusions, and refusing to bear arms in a war.

Mr. Smith, an elder in the West English Congregation, which meets at a Kingdom Hall on Richards Road, says some people have angrily accused him of being in a cult. But he says that among the key characteristics of a cult is that its members follow one individual, which does not apply to Jehovah's Witnesses.

Mr. McConner says that when people are rude to him, he doesn't get riled up.

"You don't know what they're going through. Maybe they're having a bad day and we knock on the door, unannounced guests. Besides, if they're rejecting the message, they're not rejecting my message. They're rejecting God's message," he says.

Mr. Smith says he is firmly convinced that the end of the world is approaching rapidly and wants to warn people so they will be ready. He flips open his well-worn Bible to Matthew, Chapter, 24, and says that although no one knows the day or the hour, Jesus points out signs to look for when the day is approaching.

"It's like in Noah's time. No one took note. People were eating and drinking, marrying and giving into marriage. Nobody paid attention to the signs," Mr. Smith says.

Mr. McConner, 51, a retired systems engineer, says no matter what a person's background may be, everyone has the same basic needs.

"There are a lot of different modes of thinking but people want peace and happiness for themselves and their families. We're all faced with the same things, trying to make a living and raise a family. Knowing what God's purpose is for you and for mankind gives you solace."

- David Yonke

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