The Freedom Hall Civic Center auditorium was a full house Saturday as thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Western North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, parts of Kentucky and West Virginia piled inside for their annual convention.
This year’s convention started Friday afternoon, kicking off the event’s theme of “Safeguard Your Heart!”
Zack Self, program overseer for the convention, said the talks focused on the figurative heart.
“It has a lot more to do with your emotions, the actions, the things that make you do what you do,” Self said. “The idea is that you identify the influences, the risks, the threats, the opportunities and then see if you can’t help to be more successful in your spiritual life, as well as your other life.”
The audience was attentive as speakers took the podium to discuss topics of the heart and then assimilating those topics to scripture. While participants moved freely throughout the auditorium, many sat and listened with their Bibles and notepads in their laps.
Some of the topics discussed Saturday ranged from showing generosity, forgiving one another freely and listening to those who love you from the heart.
Jehovah’s Witnesses make trips annually to big conventions like this one and they view it to be a peaceful place to gather with people who share their faith.
“We see each other maybe once a year at these conventions and it’s like a big reunion,” he said. “If you appreciate spiritual things, this is a gift. It’s peaceful, it’s relaxing, it’s comforting, it’s reassuring because you have other folks who care like you do. Families feel comfortable, children feel comfortable together, so it’s a spiritual haven.”
Self said by Saturday the convention had brought in around 3,500 people and they anticipate to have had around 3,800 when it closes this afternoon.
Late Saturday morning, people made their way to the Freedom Hall pool to observe the baptism and ordination of seven members. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe baptism not only confirms spiritual beliefs, but also ordains believers as ministers who will help spread the word of Jehovah and his son, Jesus Christ.
“We have baptisms at our district conventions and our other events throughout the year, and those are folks who have already made their dedication, but they symbolize it with baptism,” Self said. “This is an opportunity for them to do that when we’re all together.”
Melvina Tabbs, from west Asheville, N.C., was one of the members baptized on Saturday and said getting baptized has always been something she hoped for during her 40-year search for the truth.
“I’ve wanted to for years, but I just wouldn’t let anyone take me to Jehovah,” she said.
Tabbs, happy to have found a home with Jehovah’s Witnesses, said she’s eager to continue learning and to participate in more conventions.
“There’s so much more for me to find out,” she said. “The first time I came was four years ago and that intrigued me.”
Tabbs said she started her journey with Jehovah’s Witnesses in January 2008 and encourages everyone to be open-minded when searching for their spiritual needs.
“If anyone is really looking to find out who Jehovah really is, don’t be so quick to close the door in the face like I did so many years,” Tabbs said.
The convention continues today at Freedom Hall and will include more scripture readings, singing and a public Bible discourse that is open to anyone interested in attending. The event will end at 3:40 p.m. with a song and a closing prayer.