Taking their ministry door-to-door

June 12, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Kenneth E. Wood, a semiretired maintenance businessman, is frequently asked about his presence at strangers' front doors.

" 'Why do you come around so often?' " is commonly asked, said Mr. Wood, a longtime Jehovah's Witness. "We tell them: 'Because we care about you.' "

Door-to-door ministry is an integral part of being a Jehovah's Witness. But in Howard County, often no one is at home during the day because the parents are professionals who work and their children are at school, Mr. Wood said.

Therefore, Jehovah's Witnesses are no longer just knocking on front doors.

"We've become very innovative at finding people wherever they are," Mr. Wood said. For example, "if we stop and ask for directions. That may be the only opportunity."

Recently, Mr. Wood, his cousin Larry Peters and Larry's wife, Gwen, discussed what being a Jehovah's Witness means in the 1990s. They spoke at the Peters' restored log cabin home on Cedar Lane in Simpsonville.

"We're just ordinary people working ordinary jobs," said Mr. Wood, 56. "We're not trying to agitate people."

Mrs. Peters said, "We are a service congregation to the community. We offer our services to the community for free."

"For most people, becoming a Jehovah's Witness is a decision they make after studying the Bible," Mr. Peters said.

"It's not because somebody told you to be," Mr. Wood added. "You are encouraged to seek the truth. Prove it to yourself."

Mr. Wood and the Peters are among an estimated 1,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in the county who deliver The Watchtower and Awake magazines to the public at least once a week. They attend regular meetings and Bible studies in their homes and at Kingdom Halls.

Ten congregations attend the county's three Kingdom Halls in North Laurel, Ellicott City and Clarksville. Each congregation is assigned a specific territory.

The Peters said that a new congregation may be formed because of crowding but that there are no plans to build a Kingdom Hall because county land is too expensive.

Some county Jehovah's Witnesses attend Kingdom Halls outside Howard County because of proximity and convenience.

In the 1940s, Jehovah's Witnesses in Howard County numbered about a dozen, Mr. Wood said. For a long time, Jehovah's Witnesses from Howard County traveled to Kingdom Halls in Baltimore or Washington because there were none here.

Once Kingdom Halls were built in nearby Catonsville and Eldersburg, Howard County Jehovah's Witnesses began going there.

Worldwide, there are more than 3.5 million Jehovah's Witnesses in more than 200 countries. Charles Taze Russell founded the proselytizing Christian organization in Pittsburgh in 1872.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they adhere to the oldest religion on earth, the worship of Almighty God revealed in the Bible as Jehovah.

Witnesses regard civil authority as necessary and obey it "as long as its laws do not contradict God's law." Witnesses refuse to bear arms, salute the flag or participate in secular government.

They do not have a church hierarchy, nor do they keep membership roles or pass collection plates. All work is voluntary.

Because of their religious views, Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted in Germany during World War II and many were sent to concentration camps, Mr. Peters said.

Fifty years later, society still has misconceptions about them.

"I think the biggest myth is that we are not Christians," Mr. Peters said. "We are Christians."

The Peters and Mr. Wood attend the Kingdom Hall in Clarksville, the last one built in the county. The building went up in June 1991 using a "quick-build" method. Under that construction method, which began in the early 1970s to accommodate congregation growth, Kingdom Halls can be built in two or three days. (The North Laurel hall was the first built here in 1962.)

Since 1964, Roy Gingrich, a retired federal highway engineer, has attended the Ellicott City hall.

He and his wife, Helen, were Methodists, but after studying the Bible in the early 1960s, they switched faiths.

"We studied the Bible and learned the Bible and what it required," Mr. Gingrich said.

The key to Jehovah's Witnesses' faith is door-to-door ministry because Jesus told his disciples to take the message to the public, Mr. Peters said.

Doing that isn't always easy, he said. So they attend Theocratic Ministry School to learn public speaking skills and to build self-confidence.

"When you knock on people's doors you have to be skilled at what you're doing," Mr. Peters said. "You don't want to be irritating.

"Most of the people are pleasant," but some "have things doctrinally that may bother them."

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