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Jehovah's Witnesses from three states are to begin gathering in downtown Toledo Friday for the first of six weekend sessions at the SeaGate Convention Centre.
Steve Miller, general manager of SMG-SeaGate Convention Centre, said the conventions that the Jehovah's Witnesses have held here since 2005 have had a significant economic impact on Toledo.
With 6,000 people attending the weekly Friday-through-Sunday meetings, the six weekend conventions draw 36,000 people who pump between $11 million and
$12 million into the local economy, according to a study commissioned by the former Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2005.
"They go out to eat, they spend money in hotels, they go to Mud Hens games. … Overall, it's a great boost for Toledo and surrounding communities," Mr. Miller said.
In addition, he said local Jehovah's Witness leaders have made it easy for government officials and business people to coordinate plans and contracts.
"They are very organized and the people are very polite. We're excited to have them every year," Mr. Miller said.
The theme for this year's conventions is "Remain Close to Jehovah," with lectures aimed at explaining the existence of God.
"You can't remain close to Jehovah if you don't believe he exists," said David Dunn of Mansfield, Ohio, an organizer of the Toledo conventions. "But there is more reason to believe in God than not to believe in him."
Mr. Dunn said the lectures and presentations will "hammer home" the case for belief in God while also aiming to refute atheistic beliefs popularized by such best-selling authors as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris and TV personality Bill Maher.
Holding a leather-bound New World Translation of the Bible, Mr. Dunn said in a recent interview that Hebrews 11:6 states that anyone who comes to God must first believe that God exists.
But to really know God as more than an acquaintance, people must spend time reading the Bible and attending religious services, Mr. Dunn said.
Mark Smith of Toledo, another convention organizer, said the sessions also strive to strengthen families.
"There are 100,000 Jehovah's Witness congregations in the world and every one of them picks one day for family worship," he said.
The conventions held in Toledo and around the world run Friday through Sunday each weekend during the summer, with different groups of people from Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana attending the identical conferences each week.
The only weekend that differs will be July 16-18, when the meetings will be in Spanish for members from Pennsylvania and Kentucky in addition to Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.
Jehovah's Witnesses have gone door to door throughout the Toledo area in recent weeks personally inviting the public to the sessions that start at 9:20 a.m. daily.
There will be no convention in Toledo the weekend of Aug. 6-8, and the last weekend for the meetings will be Aug. 13-15.
A news conference announcing the start of the summer conferences, with local government and Jehovah's Witness leaders, is scheduled Wednesday afternoon at SeaGate Convention Centre.
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