The day had finally arrived, It was bright and early, a hot day in midsummer in New York, the city bustling with tourists, but for one bus of 15 people, it was a very special day. We were getting go visit the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses at 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn.
Although millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the Big Apple know very little about this building steeped in history. If you have ever been to New York, you may have had a glimpse of it while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps you noticed the neon
“WATCHTOWER” sign atop a nearby building, or maybe what caught your attention for just a moment was the the large blue square with “JW.ORG”, or likely you noticed the big clock and temperature in 6 foot neon lights.
What is it that drew us to this building, what is so special that I was willing to fly half way around the world to visit it?
In April 1909 Jehovah’s Witnesses – then known as the International Bible Students moved their headquarters from Allegheny, Pennsylvania to Brooklyn, New York. Due to severe opposition, in 1918 the Brooklyn Headquarters got closed and operations transferred back o Pittsburgh for over a year. But in 1920 again they were back in Brooklyn with printing going at full speed. Over the course of the next 80 years they ended up buying out a large amount of real estate in the Brooklyn Heights area. In 1980, the building at 25 Columbia Heights begun housing the world headquarters, and 35 years later it still is.
At one time the organization owned some 10 large buildings in the area in order to house close on 2000 volunteer workers, feed them, do laundry, printing operations and of course all the organizing and writing. However currently there are only a few buildings still owned by the organization in Brooklyn, as there is a major building operation going on to relocate to Warwick (upstate New York).
This tour was entirely unlike the other bethel tours. The difference being that because its the World Headquarters there are closed door meetings and quiet work going on. Not because anything is secret (that is something I absolutely love about this organisation, nothing is ever secret), but more because it would be entirely distracting to have tours walking in and out of offices all the time. So instead they had many different displays outside each office area that the guide would explain to us and answer questions.
The various offices and tasks they care for include:
- Design Construction Projects – Where they coordinate and arrange for major building projects such as new Bethel branches or expansions, Assembly Halls, Remote Translation Offices, and Disaster Relief for around the world.
- Worldwide Kingdom Hall Program – The LDCs around the world who report to them. For example here in South Africa we have a Local Design Construction “branch” as such which coordinates all the Kingdom Hall construction in the country.
- Correspondence Office – Opens and routes mail not addressed to a specific department. Processes requests for visits and bible studies. Provides bible publications to requestors who are not associated with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We were privileged to a view a few of those fabulous year book worthy letters, those from people who were searching for truth.
- Personnel Committee Office – Cares for the needs of the Bethel Families around the
world. At the time of our visit in July, there were some 23,000 worldwide as part of the Bethel family. But, we do know that in October many of those dear ones have been requested to leave the bethels and go out into the Preaching work more, as we know that the end of this system is ever so near. This committee works under the direction of the “Personnel Committee of the Governing Body“
- Service Center – Like any large building, factory or any operations, everything needs maintenance, and tools and supplies are a regular necessity. So the Bethel has the Service Center, where the various departments can check out tools and obtain supplies from pens to duct tape, electrical switches to gardening equipment and so much more. They had this particular location specifically decked out for encouraging the little ones to aim for full time service.
- United States Branch Committee – Despite this being the World Headquarters, they have a separate committee to look after the US, just like South Africa, Australia, and UK each has its own branch committee. This committee oversees the Kingdom Work under their jurisdiction. The United States Branch Committee oversees United States, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Jamaica and the Virgin Islands. Within these territories, necessary supervision of the congregations, missionaries, special pioneers and graduates of the theocratic schools (remember my post about Patterson?) is provided by the branch. Do you see, nothing is left to chance, it really is an ORGANIZED organization.
- Coordinators Committee of the Governing Body – This committee oversees legal matters and provides the media with information that conveys an accurate picture of our beliefs (isnt it better for magazines and newspapers to get information from the source rather than from some or other random rumour mill?). It also responds to disasters (think Japan tsunami or Philippines earthquake), outbreaks of persecution (eastern Europe, and north eastern Africa right now) and other emergencies affection Jehovah’s Witnesses anywhere in the world. It also oversees the preparation of content for the “newsrooms” section of JW.ORG.
- Personnel Committee of the Governing Body – Note, this is different to the above mentioned Personnel office. How so? They directly oversee appointing members of the worldwide bethel family, including bethelites in foreign service, part time and full time commuters, temporary volunteers and construction servants. It also cares for their spiritual and physical welfare- from arranging medical care to laundry and assigning them to congregations.
- Publishing Committee of the Governing Body – This committee supervises financial and other business matters related to worldwide construction, printing, publishing and shipping operations.
- Service Committee of the Governing Body – This committee cares for the worldwide preaching work throughout the earth. It organises field activities affecting pioneers, missionaries, congregations, circuits and travelling representatives of the Governing Body. So that’s things like the special metropolitan witnessing stands, the Our Kingdom Ministry (soon to be known as the “Our Christian Life and Ministry”) and special preaching campaigns.
- Teaching Committee of the Governing Body – This committee supervises instruction for Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Including overseeing schools for theocratic education and preparing programs for theocratic gatherings, such as meetings, assemblies and conventions.
- Hospital Information Services – This department, under the direction of the service committee, provides direction and training to branches and their hospital liaison committees on the 24/7 basis. This department also searches medical literature for current transfusion-alternative strategies and facilitates medical consultation through an international network of cooperative specialists. Acts 15:28,29
They also help with arranging patient visitation groups.
- Writing Committee of the Governing Body – This committee directs the preparation of spiritual food in printed and electronic form for the entire association of brothers in the world. They also take care of inquiries on Spiritual matters and supervise the translation work around the earth. Currently literature is printed in more than 700 languages.
- Digital Publishing Office – Under the writing committee the digital publishing office cares for JW.ORG, Jw Library app and Watchtower Library both in CD rom and the Watchtower Online Library.
And that was the guided tour of the Brooklyn Bethel (quite possibly not in that exact order). But it is not the only thing at 25 Columbia Heights that us regular tourists can see. There are 2 more major “attractions” at 25 Columbia Heights.
They are “The Bible and the Divine Name” which outlines the history of how the name of God was found in many ancient manuscripts. And the “A People for Jehovah’s Name” display which outlines the start of christianity around 30c.e. down to our day, both the good and the bad, false christianity and its oppression, and true christianity and how it has brought light to the world. But those will have to be another post for another day.