The plan last Sunday morning was to hit a “regular” church but on the way I saw a few people enter the Assembly Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in North Falmouth on Route 151 near the Massachusetts Military Reservation. I turned around and casually slipped in for what may be one of the more novel religious experiences since I started lurking in strange churches last autumn.
I try to find a new denomination everyweek so I don’t fall into the lazy trap of repeating the tried and true. With three Episcopalian visits on the board and two more scheduled I could easily be accused of sticking to what I know when the point of this exercise is to check out the mystery religions I may never have cause to visit again. With this entry I officially cross the one-third mark in my 52 churches and need to start seeking out the significant Protestant holes in my experience as well as the religions that are going to be tough to track down (Buddhism, Hindu, and Sikhism are the big ones on the list now).
My prior experience with the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been a few random door-bell-ringing-points-of-contact where well-dressed young men, travelling in pairs, come bearing pamphlets and prayers. The second was when I worked as an orderly in suburban Boston hospital and witnessed a drastic surgical procedure on a child who’s spleen had ruptured in a school bus accident and had to have surgery without the benefit of a blood transfusion which Witnesses prohibit due to a specific Biblical admonition against third-party blood. I believe, but can’t confirm, that one of my great-great-grandfather’s four daughters was a Witness, but that is based on faint hearsay and some found copies of the faith’s signature publication, The Watchtower.
Of course the Witnesses’ headquarters in Brooklyn is a familiar sight across New York City’s East River, and according to my brother-in-law Jim, the Witnesses dominate the dry wall trade in NYC in the 1980s. I have no reason to doubt his word on this, but at the same time I have no evidence that this is still the case today.
The Assembly Hall is a neat, trim single story building with no rooftop steeple or other overt religious contrivance. I parked and walked back around to the front of the building, up a few steps and into one of two doors. Two gentlemen dressed in suits immediately made me feel under dressed in my Merrill snow clogs, green corduroys, and blue blazer sans necktie. I scanned the tables for some sign of collateral (pamphlets, programs, etc.), saw none, but heard a man’s voice amplified through the sound system. I said hello to the two deacons and entered the main room in the Hall.
It had three banks of chairs, about ten rows of 15 each, and was more than 75% filled when I entered. A man in a suit stood on the dais behind a lectern and was preaching on the topic of the Sabbath. As I walked to my seat in the last row of the farthest bank of chairs he told the congregation to turn to a specific place in their Bibles. Immediately I was at a disadvantage as I don’t own a Bible and none were furnished. I took off my coat, sat down, and started to take notes, not sure what I had missed as I obviously was entering late.