Battle Creek’s Cancelled Jehovah’s Witness Convention Is Costly
Most of us realize the local economic impact the COVID-19 Pandemic is having on Battle Creek. The cancellation of the National Cereal Festival and Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival cost us tens of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars that those visitors would have infused into our struggling economy. Another event that you may not have been aware of would have happened next week. Not this year. Maybe next year.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses had planned a three-week convention from the end of July to mid-August at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. More than 10,000 were expected to attend and the event could have generated millions of dollars in revenue for Battle Creek. However, the convention was canceled in April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the next few weekends, millions of people around the world will participate in the annual Jehovah’s Witnesses convention on a virtual platform due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Robert Hendricks, a national spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was a guest on the WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins. Hendricks said they certainly plan to hold the convention in Battle Creek in the future.
Linda Freybler, CEO of the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau, said that the group had a 3-year contract with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and that they extended the contract one year after this year’s event had to be canceled.
“When you think about the cost to the community and the cost to the organization and the cost to other communities if indeed this became a point of transmission, it was not a difficult decision, though for us emotionally, not to be together. It’s difficult for the city not to have us economically, but in the long run, it was the Christian thing to do.”
Many of us may think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as sort of “door-to-door” salesmen for religion. But Hendricks says it goes far beyond that. He says preaching and teaching is their mandate and is based on love. “Jehovah’s Witnesses truly believe that we can live a better life by following the footsteps of Jesus and following the bible’s counsel, direction, and even laws. And as a result, we have better families, we have better lives, we are better neighbors and better workers.” Hendricks says their members gain a lot of understanding through door-to-door visits. “When we go to our neighbors, even though some don’t want us there, we’re learning about the moccasins, or the shoes they’re walking in. We’re seeing and hearing what they’re going through. It gives us empathy.”
Unlike some Christian organizations, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a diverse group. The Pew Research Center found that no more than four-in-ten members of the group belong to any one racial and ethnic background: 36% are white, 32% are Hispanic, 27% are black and 6% are another race or mixed race.
Instead of a live convention, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have put together on on-line “virtual” convention. The program is to be released in six installments, each corresponding to a morning or afternoon session of what would have been three successive convention days. Those interested in viewing the convention can contact their local congregation or access the program on jw.org, available under the “Library” tab. There is no charge for viewing the convention.
Letters from local members have been sent out, inviting people to log on and check out the programs.