About 15,000 Jehovah's Witnesses came to the Capital Centre in Landover last weekend for the last of the three summer conventions in which the 218 congregations in this region participate.
A total of 45,000 people attended the conventions, an annual event for the church.
C. Bowling, an elder of the District of Columbia Central Congregation, said, "The conventions are unique examples of people from all nationalities and races spending time together in harmony."
One of those who found encouragement and renewal in the convention was James Rice, a minister in the Pentacostal Church until 1984 when he joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. He is now a "ministerial servant" at the East congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, 715 I St. NE.
Each day, he leads a group of about 15 Jehovah's Witnesses who go door-to-door throughout the District preaching and passing out literature to anyone who will listen. Rice then clocks in for the 3 to 11 shift at Washington Hospital Center, where he works as an anesthesia technician. He says his church work can be discouraging sometimes. "Some people don't want to talk, others slam the door in our face," Rice said. "They may say something harsh like don't come back to their house."
Some of the beliefs held by Jehovah's Witnesses have been controversial in the larger community. Refusal to accept blood transfusions and refusal to salute the U.S. flag have led to criticisms of Jehovah's Witnesses who, like Rice, proselytize about their beliefs.
The way he thinks of it, Rice says, he's doing no more than what the 1st Century Christians did.
At the Capital Centre, believers watched dramatic reenactments that, as Rice said, "dealt with things, which happened in the Bible times, but are relevent today." A portable pool was set up on the floor of the center for a baptismal service in which more than 100 people were baptized.
"Baptism," said Robert Buckley, news director for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, "is a ceremony by which Jehovah's Witnesses become ordained ministers, and we feel that this is the most important date in a Christian relationship with his or her god, Jehovah. The conventions afford a real fine pulpit for large numbers to be baptized."
Church Elder James Coffey spoke to the convention on the theme of becoming united by "the Pure Language," a reference to the truth of God that Jehovah's Witnesses believe is found in the Bible.
"Particularly," he said, "it is the truth of God's heavenly government, which will bring peace to mankind."
"We feel," Buckley said, "that the earth one day is going to become a paradise where all the world's problems will cease. The problems we experience today like crimes, violence and unemployment will come to an end because God will intervene and bring peace to the Earth through his son, Christ Jesus."
The local conventions were held for congregations in the Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis area.
There are 4 million Jehovah's Witnesses in 212 countries who are part of 60,400 congregations. The world headquarters for the Jehovah's Witnesses is in Brooklyn, N.Y.