Witnesses work a near-miracle


November 26, 1992|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

It's one of those things you have to see to believe -- a building constructed from the ground up in three days.

That's how the Jehovah's Witnesses build their Kingdom Halls. Admittedly, all the preliminary foundation and site work is done beforehand over a period of months, but the actual construction of the building takes place in a single long weekend.

Last week's new Kingdom Hall in Berrett for the Eldersburg congregation was the second such building project by Jehovah's Witnesses in Carroll County. Three years ago, the Westminster congregation built a Kingdom Hall in the same fashion.

The road to construction for the Eldersburg congregation started more than two years ago, when they put their Kingdom Hall on Route 32 up for sale. The congregation had grown to the point of splitting into several smaller branches, but it still needed larger quarters.

Last spring, the Route 32 building was sold and the congregation began in earnest the building preparations on a two-acre lot that had been donated to them on Streaker Road just west of Route 97.

Late last Thursday, Jehovah's Witnesses began arriving from all over Maryland, as well as from Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia.

By Sunday afternoon, where only a foundation had been three days earlier, stood a 95 percent finished Kingdom Hall.

Close to 1,000 people were involved in the three-day construction project.

"The whole thing is broken down to where it's very organized," said Dave Ford, regional building committee chairman. "We pull our work force from all the congregations in the region and if anybody wants to help, they send in an application."

Names are kept in computer files and broken down by trade areas: electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, wallpaper hangers, roofers, landscape people.

When a new Kingdom Hall is scheduled, the various work crews are summoned, and individuals ar range to take off from work for the church project.

"The brothers and sisters do their trade for a living; they're professionals in their field," said Wayne Shelton, secretary of the Eldersburg congregation. "They bring their own tools and donate their services, so when they come here they're really productive."

The system obviously saves the individual congregation money, although Mr. Shelton said they buy only top-quality materials for safety reasons.

When completed, the 97-foot-by-45-foot Kingdom Hall, with carport, will have a commercial value of about $450,000, he said.

Witnesses traveling some distance for the project may come in their own trailer or business vehicle.

Local congregation members open their homes to those needing a place to shower and sleep.

A complete community, albeit temporary, springs up.

A refrigeration truck and kitchen trailer are brought in to feed workers in a large tent at the back of the site.

An office trailer houses telephones, a computer, fax machine and typewriter. Another trailer contains the sound system for calling workers as needed to certain areas and for safety announcements. There's also a first aid trailer.

In normal construction projects, one area of work is completed at time. During a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall construction, several areas are done simultaneously and with surprisingly little confusion.

"What makes it work is that we have unlimited manpower," said Mr. Ford. "All the trades work together and help each other."

In this non-union project, unity is the key, Mr. Shelton said. All trades are equal, and there's no squabbling over one person not being able to do a specific job. The spirit is one of total cooperation, even among children who are brought along to help.

Mike Sheets, 8, and Chris Robinson, 7, both of the Eldersburg congregation, walked around the site in boots and hard hats Saturday, taking a break. Mike had been helping with landscape plantings, while Chris had gone from helping with brickwork and smoothing the carport cement to landscaping.

Speeding the project along also is total cooperation from county and other inspectors, who are forewarned of the project's

quick-build method.

"We gave Ralph Green [chief of the county's Bureau of Permits and Inspections] advance notice and asked for his cooperation," Mr. Shelton said. "They've been very good, all the inspectors have been extremely cooperative. Without them, we couldn't have done it."

With so many doing so much, safety is another prime factor in the construction.

"We have a group who walk around doing nothing but safety checks, and we make a safety announcement every hour," Mr. Ford said.

Such responsibility makes it easier on the first aid station nurses. As of late Saturday, the worst accident had been someone dropping a brick on his foot, said Robert Humphrey, first aid coordinator.

Even the weather didn't slow the work process or dampen people's spirits. On-and-off light rain showers throughout the weekend did make things messier than usual, but didn't halt completion of the project.

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