Posted by on Dec 2, 2012 in Blog, Humor | 1 comment

It’s tough enough for many adults to sit through a public talk or a Watchtower study without dozing off. It’s even more challenging for children. Staying awake during meetings is not only a chore for them, but depending on their parents’ attitudes, a necessity. Falling asleep could mean a quick trip to the “spanking room.” Talk about a “wake up call.”

Things seemed to be a little better in the 1950s when I was a young JW. Even then, getting through two hours was still challenging for both young and old. Public talks and Watchtower Study meetings each lasted a full hour separated by a 15-minute break. In those days, the brothers assigned to give the public talks were able to take the Watchtower’s provided outline, use it to prepare their own speeches. They could build an interesting presentation, including their own research, interesting personal stories, and recent news events. They’d often sprinkle in a few of their favorite Bible scriptures and occasionally add a little humor.

We looked forward to talks by certain speakers. Some brothers became favorites because we knew they could make any subject interesting and relatively easy to sit through. Because “public talks” were well-advertised and  actually open to the public, we’d often have non-Witnesses come in off the street, sit down, and listen for a while.

“Public talks” are now only thirty minutes long and rarely, if ever, attended by uninvited strangers.

Unfortunately, because of procedural changes in the 1980s, “public” talks have become more tedious and repetitive. The Watchtower Society frowns upon individualized presentations, discouraging any creativity by speakers. Brothers who veer too far off the outline will find their privileges revoked (or worse!), and their names removed from the speakers list. Most brothers take the easy way out and simply read the outline as they get it. There are never any surprises. The final product has become boring, boring, boring…

The Public Talk
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“Watchtower Studies” have also changed in length and protocol in recent years. In earlier years the conductor asked the question first, members of the audience would give their personal answers, and then another brother would read the paragraph from the stage. The Society soon realized that very few in attendance studied the articles before the meeting. Even though the magazines had been available for several weeks prior to the study, many in attendance were reading the articles for the very first time while the conductor asked the questions. When the Society changed the process so that paragraphs were read before the questions, they allowed the audience to “cheat” by giving them a chance to read the paragraph and then answer the questions. While they were at it, the Society also reduced the length of the meeting by several minutes.

To keep things moving along, the conductor cuts off lengthy personal comments and will likely refuse to respond to any questions from the audience during the study. When someone answers extemporaneously and not directly from the paragraph, many conductors will continue to repeat the question until someone finally provides a word for word response as written.

Talk about structure!

The Watchtower Study
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At assemblies and conventions you can tell that speakers are reading directly from a script. The Watchtower style of speaking has become very standardized, making it difficult to tell one speaker from another unless one of the brothers has a heavy accent or a voice with an unusual pitch. To guarantee that no one forgets their lines or prepared scripts, demonstrations and personal testimonies are often recorded in advance. This prevents someone sneaking something unapproved into the program.

So how do Witnesses deal with the built-in boredom associated with meetings and assembly sessions? As a rule, not very well.

Ministerial servants will often volunteer to act as greeters at the front door or as parking lot security. Where available, some older and less able brothers and sisters will choose to stay home and “attend meetings” by telephone hookup. That also gives them options not available to those who are at the Kingdom Hall (examples: watching TV with the sound turned down, eating snacks, or dozing during meetings).

Getting through meetings is still a bigger problem for small children and their parents. Most JWs do not allow their children to play with toys, coloring books, or have any other distractions to get them through the meetings. Some families allow their children to fall asleep during long convention sessions, but that is discouraged during meetings at the local Kingdom Hall. To survive boring meetings, older children are often forced to invent ways of keeping themselves entertained, mentally occupied, and awake.

Here are some of the things that I would do to pass the time during public talks and Watchtower Studies:

  • Read random stories or chapters in my Bible
  • Look up words in my Bible’s index or concordance
  • Keep a tally of how often certain sisters would get up during the meeting to go to the bathroom
  • Count the times old Brother Jones would cough, clear his throat, sneeze, blow his nose, or pass gas
  • When sitting with friends we would exchange secret messages by underlining or circling single words in our magazines
  • When all else failed, we’d count ceiling tiles or see how long we could hold our breath

Sitting through hours of repetitive talks at conventions not only numbed your backside, but your brain as well. A pair of binoculars could help you stay awake and alert for a few minutes at a time. We’d search the remote seats in the stadium to see if we could locate any friends. We’d occasionally get lucky and catch sight of a well-endowed sister wearing a low-cut blouse. We thought it very funny to catch someone picking their nose or fighting to stay awake as their head bobbed back and forth.

I also found it interesting to watch people moving around on the big stages while the speaker was giving his talk. It seemed that many were just doing their own thing and not paying any attention at all to the talk – probably because they’d heard the damn thing a dozen times.

One Witness couple I knew would put their kids in the row of seats in front of them. When one of the kids would start to doze off, the father would reach over and thump them on the ear or on the back of the head. Everyone around them would jump when the kid would yell. If younger kids started to cry they’d get hauled off to the bathroom for further punishment. When this happened the rest of us would usually get stern looks from our parents as a warning that we would be next if we made a sound.

I know that Jehovah’s Witness kids all over the world have similar tales to tell. It makes you wonder why the Watchtower has never seen a benefit to creating special meetings for children (like “Sunday schools”) that could go on while the adults are attending the regular meetings. Meetings and conventions could be very educational – and even entertaining – with just a little effort on the Watchtower’s part. Unfortunately for Witnesses both young and old, attending meetings will likely continue to be overly structured, repetitive, and sleep inducing for the foreseeable future.

Actual Kingdom Hall meeting; a brother’s excellent first public talk…[vsw id=”ka8y1BctMC0″ source=”youtube” width=”600″ height=”400″ autoplay=”no”]

One Comment

  1. 2-10-2015

    “Public talks and Watchtower Study meetings each lasted a full hour separated by a 15-minute break.”

    You actually got a break between the two, John?!!! I wish we had been so lucky.

    “Count the times old Brother Jones would cough, clear his throat, sneeze, blow his nose, or pass gas”

    I’m curious to know how you were able to establish the number of times he passed gas – was it auditorily or olfactorily?

    “One Witness couple I knew would put their kids in the row of seats in front of them. When one of the kids would start to doze off, the father would reach over and thump them on the ear or on the back of the head.”

    My father was Italian and if we happened to do something during the meeting he wasn’t happy with he would give us an ominous look and bite down on the forefinger of his right hand, or if we had the misfortune of sitting next to him it would be a vicious pinch of the thigh along with a sharp twist.

    Oh, how I miss those days! Tee hee!

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