The Jehovah's Witnesses baptized 30 new members at Freedom Hall Pool during the second district convention weekend held at Freedom Hall Civic Center. (Dave Boyd/ Johnson City Press)
To the many members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, faith and family are interchangeable.
Known to reference each other as brothers and sisters, the large crowd of members gathered around Freedom Hall Pool Saturday afternoon welcomed 30 new members into their faith family during a baptism at the second weekend of their annual district convention in Johnson City.
Jack Gragg, 16, of Knoxville, was one of 30 baptized and said afterward that he knew he was ready to make his commitment to God, or Jehovah.
“I made my prayer to Jehovah. I wanted to serve Him and I did it. I felt ready and I did it,” Jack said. “It feels great. It’s like a refreshing feeling. It’s a gateway for future opportunities to where I can do great things for our society and for Jehovah God.”
He said the Jehovah’s Witnesses are very loving people and said it was comforting to be baptized in the large group.
“It was kind of strengthening because ... we have a real family bond in our organization and you can just really feel that when you see 29 people being baptized at once, because it just shows that all these people want to help the society and do what God wants,” Jack said. “The Bible and God promotes love. That’s one of God’s top qualities, so we want to promote that in our daily living and interaction between our friends and family.”
Standing close by, Jack’s father, Michael Gragg, an elder in the family’s congregation in Knoxville, said he was excited to see another one of his sons make their commitment and declare their service to Jehovah.
“There’s not a happier feeling to see him, to see the progress each day and he (Jack) makes the truth his own,” Michael said. “As a father, there’s no greater happiness. I’m moist eyed and very happy right now.”
Ken Ross, program overseer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses convention and elder at the Olde Towne congregation in Jonesborough, said last week’s first convention at Freedom Hall Civic Center hosted almost 4,400 people and that they baptized 25 new members.
He said baptism typically follows lots of study of the Bible with a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and then they answer a series of questions to be sure the candidate is ready.
“Normally, they wait for a special event like this so the convention has more meaning for them and it becomes an important date to them,” Ross said. “We always say it’s more important than your birthday because this is when you made such an important decision.”
He said besides the baptisms, Jehovah’s Witnesses — from eastern Tennessee, including Knoxville, Southwest Virginia and even parts of Kentucky and North Carolina — had been listening to a variety of talks on this year’s theme “God’s Word Is Truth!” during the convention, which started Friday and is scheduled to end today.
“Each day the theme tied in with the truth and we’re trying to stress the importance of being truthful in our everyday life, in the privacy of our homes ... the public, and to always try to live our lives in harmony with the truth of God’s word,” Ross said. “We’ve had a series of Bible discussions, we’ve had dramas. We’ve had some voice dramas where we read passages of the Bible and act that out, as well as a modern-day drama. We’ve had little demonstrations, or skits, to help emphasize ... those important points.”
He said today’s drama will be a costume drama on the life of Esther. The public is invited and there is no cost to attend.
Ross said conventions are always fun to attend each year, as many members reconnect with old friends, as well as meet new friends.
“It’s always a special occasion. The spiritual encouragement that you get from the program just gives you a boost, a shot in the arm, to help you to do the right things,” he said. “Seeing the families here and seeing what people have to go through to get here, it’s just so encouraging. Some of them have health problems, old age or other things and to see them put forth that effort, it just means so much. It’s just one of the highlights of the year.”
For more information on the conventions and on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, visit www.jw.org.
To view district convention photos, click here.