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Published: 1/23/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Jehovah's Witnesses transform office building

Volunteers' hammers make joyful noise as complex takes shape

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The former State Farm Insurance office at Cherry and Sherman streets was purchased in September. The hall will be home to Toledo's Manhattan, Midtown, West Central, and deaf congregations. The former State Farm Insurance office at Cherry and Sherman streets was purchased in September. The hall will be home to Toledo's Manhattan, Midtown, West Central, and deaf congregations.
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More than a dozen volunteers wielding hammers, saws, and paintbrushes are busy renovating a former insurance office near downtown Toledo into a place of worship.

The Jehovah's Witnesses' Midtown Kingdom Hall, at the intersection of Cherry and Sherman streets, will be home to four congregations when it opens next month.

When one of those congregations meets, the entire service will be conducted in American Sign Language.

"It will be deathly quiet. Everything will be in sign language, all the songs, all the talking, all the presentations," said Gary Martin, the project development director for the kingdom hall and an ASL interpreter.

The ASL congregation has 39 members, he said, 9 of them deaf and the other 30 trained to speak in sign language.

"The hearing people learned American Sign Language so we could speak the language and honor the deaf community," Mr. Martin said. "Deaf people once were known as 'deaf and dumb.' They may be deaf but they are certainly not dumb."

Mark Smith, a spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses, said the religious organization is making a push to spread the Gospel in every language, including sign language. The denomination's headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., supports 59 versions of sign languages worldwide, and The 2011 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses reports that the 6.5 million Witnesses worldwide include 16,000 deaf members.

"Our job is to preach the good news to everyone, and that includes the deaf," Mr. Smith said.

The Toledo metropolitan area has 17 congregations with between 80 and 100 members each that meet at seven kingdom halls.

Mr. Smith said there are two Spanish congregations and efforts are under way to start Arabic, French, and Chinese-speaking congregations.

The new kingdom hall, across Cherry Street from the former White Castle restaurant, will be shared by Toledo's Manhattan, Midtown, West Central, and ASL congregations. Mr. Martin said sharing a building makes good use of the property and keeps costs down.

Volunteers are busy getting a former insurance office near downtown Toledo ready to open next month as Midtown Kingdom Hall. Volunteers are busy getting a former insurance office near downtown Toledo ready to open next month as Midtown Kingdom Hall.
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The funding for a new building comes from the Brooklyn headquarters and will be repaid by the local congregations interest-free, preventing the need for bank loans, according to Mr. Martin.

The former State Farm Insurance office, a spacious building with a number of large glass windows, was purchased in September for $425,000, and the local congregations plan to spend $128,000 to get it ready. The estimated value when completed will be $800,000, Mr. Martin said.

About 400 volunteers, some driving from as far away as Mansfield, Ohio, and Indiana, have been working to renovate the facility since construction began at the end of November. All volunteers must first complete a worker-safety program run by the Jehovah's Witnesses, which has 160,000 approved worker volunteers nationwide, Mr. Martin said.

One of the first tasks for getting the new hall ready was cleaning up a trash-strewn alley behind it. Workers hauled away two dump trucks full of trash, such as old tires and used syringes.

"We're not the kind of people who will put up with that," Mr. Martin said.

The Jehovah's Witnesses was listed among the fastest-growing religious groups in the 2011 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, reporting a 2 percent increase from 2010 to 1,092,169 members.

The denomination was founded in the 1870s in Allegheny, Pa., by Bible student Charles Taze Russell. Witnesses do not believe in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but instead believe there is only one God, Jehovah. They teach that Jesus is appointed to judge every person, and that those judged as righteous will be given everlasting life on a paradise earth, while those judged as unrighteous will not be tormented but will die and cease to exist.

About 400 volunteers from as far away as ansfield, Ohio, and Indiana have been working on the project since November. All volunteers are required to complete a worker-safety training program. About 400 volunteers from as far away as ansfield, Ohio, and Indiana have been working on the project since November. All volunteers are required to complete a worker-safety training program.
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There is no clergy because everyone is considered equal in God's eyes.

Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas, Easter, and birthdays, saying those occasions come from ancient false religions. "We follow the Bible, not traditions," Mr. Smith said.

They do not accept blood transfusions, although they may allow blood substitutes or components in emergencies.

Jehovah's Witnesses have been holding regional conventions in downtown Toledo every summer since 2005, with an estimated 7,000 people attending each of the three-day weekend sessions.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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