Breaking a century-old tradition, the largest convention organization in the world has moved its annual in-person event to a virtual format for the second time in as many years, canceling nearly 6,000 conventions in 240 lands.
For decades, the city of Charleston has welcomed attenders of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ regional conventions. In recent years, summers regularly featured visitors from West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky streaming into the downtown area for the special annual event held at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center. The more than 4,200 attendees actively supported local businesses during their stay.
“The city has accepted us really well. Staff at the arena are outstanding to work with. Hotel staff and personnel have been accommodating. We have a good relationship with them,” stated Mark Fisher, convention committee coordinator. In 2020, the pandemic unexpectedly interrupted that tradition moving the international religious organization to cancel in-person conventions throughout the world and launch a global virtual event. This was a first for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have held public conventions in stadiums, arenas, convention centers, and theaters around the world since 1897.
“Powerful by Faith!” is the theme of the 2021 global event, which will be delivered in more than 500 languages to households throughout the globe over six weekends during July and August 2021, uniting some 15-20 million people in 240 countries. Since the convention is typically held from Friday through Sunday, the program will be available in six installments corresponding to morning and afternoon sessions.
“Friday” morning’s session will be available for streaming or download beginning June 28, 2021. Todd and Velma Perry of St. Albans, WV, have enjoyed attending every regional convention held in Charleston since 1984, yet they are still eagerly anticipating the upcoming virtual program. Velma Perry related, “I’m excited for it. It’s going to be very faith-strengthening. The Bible drama is always a highlight for me.”
They value how the virtual format helps to keep themselves and others safe. Todd Perry remarked, “A lot of things are opening up, concerts and fairs, but I appreciate how our organization looks out for life. We value life so much that we don’t even want to take a chance of putting someone in harm’s way.” The Perry couple are impressed by the unifying effect of the convention being streamed worldwide.
Velma Perry commented, “It’s pretty amazing that all over the world, we can talk to our friends in any other country, and they’re going to be watching the convention at the exact same time.” Fisher highlighted another way that the virtual format promotes unity, “There were some who were unable to make it to the conventions because of illness or older age. Also, older ones down on the arena floor (in the infirm seating section) can now watch the convention at home and not have to worry about certain challenges.” About 500 ground-level seats were usually reserved for elderly and infirm attendees at past conventions.
Velma Perry’s father deals with health limitations. She shared, “In 2019, he missed a day of the program and was so upset because he has never missed a day of a convention before.” Last year, he was able to attend all of the program sessions remotely at home. “It’s definitely better for him,” she added. The planning and translation of a program of this magnitude takes months of effort. With the uncertainty of whether it would be safe to bring thousands of people together in cities around the world, the organization opted for a virtual platform for the second consecutive year. However, the move has not curbed the enthusiasm for the annual event. Congregations around the world are inviting the public to join them in this historic occasion.
“Faith has helped our global brotherhood to continue to thrive even during a pandemic,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Our faith will continue to unite us in worship – even virtually – as millions gather in private homes around the world to enjoy a powerful and inspiring spiritual program.”
All are invited to attend the event by going to www.jw.org on the web or JW Broadcasting on the free JW Library app available for iOS or Android, or on streaming platforms like ROKU TV, Apple TV, and others. The program is free and accessible to all. The schedule for download and global streaming is listed below. For more information, please contact Jehovah’s Witnesses United States at 718-560-5600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.