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Jehovah’s Witnesses returning to door knocking after 2 pandemic years off

The iconic “watchtower” sign is seen in Brooklyn in 2015, on the rooftop of what was then the Jehovah's Witnesses world headquarters. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Jehovah’s Witnesses reopened their houses of worship in April. Now, after more than two pandemic years without their trademark door-to-door preaching, adherents are returning next week to neighborhoods, too.

Robert Hendriks, a U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the decision, announced earlier this month, was the “next logical step in this ‘living with covid’ phase.” The Sept. 1 return of door knocking will join other outreach efforts the group has maintained over the past couple of years.

“Even though we have had a very productive two and a half years — letter writing, virtual Bible study, telephone witnessing — we recognize that the primary way that we reach our neighbors is by going to their door,” Hendriks said in an interview. “And when we do that, we have meaningful conversations and meaningful follow-up conversations, which is much more difficult in other aspects of our ministry.”

Door knocking has been not only a physical mainstay for Jehovah’s Witnesses but also a practice they have fought for in courtrooms. Most notably, they recently marked the 20th anniversary of the 8-to-1 Supreme Court decision Watchtower v. Village of Stratton, in which they — and other groups that stand on strangers’ stoops — were victorious in protecting the right to continue door knocking without governmental permission.

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The faith group’s decision to return to people’s doorsteps is a global one, but the way conversations will take place will depend on the people having the interaction, said Hendriks, whose branch is based in the Hudson River Valley town of Wallkill, N.Y.

Will people be masked? Will they be socially distant? Will they be invited in?

“It’s really going to be a very individual decision based not only on the feeling of the congregant, but also on the feeling of the householder,” he said.

The return to door knocking comes at the same time that Jehovah’s Witnesses are launching a global campaign about an interactive Bible study program that was developed during the pandemic and involves an instructor and a student. Bible studies can be held in person as of Sept. 1 as well, Hendriks said.

While congregants gathered online for two years before April, the faith group said there were more than 400,000 newly baptized Witnesses who joined some of the 120,000 congregations across the world.

Like other faith groups that had to resort to new ways of conducting baptisms, Jehovah’s Witnesses found alternatives to the rituals that usually occurred at their conventions, where hundreds were baptized in a facility.

“Our baptisms for the last three years have all been done at private locations, following covid protocols, at outside pools” and other sites, Hendriks said. “Some have happened in lakes. Some have happened in bathtubs.” Sometimes they were live-streamed to a local congregation.

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Hendriks said Witnesses hope baptisms will soon return to the convention setting. Such large events are expected to restart in 2023.

The faith group claims 8.6 million adherents in its congregations, known as Kingdom Halls, across 239 countries. Hendriks said there are 1.3 million adherents attending about 12,800 Kingdom Halls in the United States, usually twice a week for midweek and weekend gatherings.

Ahead of the door-knocking decision, on May 31, Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders restarted the “cart witnessing” ministry, in which people stand on corners and offer the faith’s magazines or answer questions posed by passersby.

Hendriks called the door-to-door visits the most courageous form of ministry in his faith — and one that now, “in a very different world,” will be even more so.

“There’s no doubt that this mixture of excitement and a level of anxiety is there for all of us, and we’re looking forward to getting back in our communities and seeing the reaction of our neighbors and being able to meet them once again,” he said. “Once the first few months happen, I think the anxiety will kind of abate a bit and we’ll be back in our normal routine.”

— Religion News