COOKEVILLE -- For the second time this month, the District Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses brought thousands of believers from Eastern and Middle Tennessee to the Tennessee Tech Eblen Center for religious instruction and fellowship this weekend for their final convention at the university this year. With the theme "Safeguard Your Heart," the convention has focused on self-scrutiny and reflection, encouraging attendees to examine their own hearts and strengthen their personal relationship with God.
"It's really about making sure we're living life by God's standards," said Perry Ebel with the group's media department.
Jehovah's Witnesses is a branch of Christianity that shares the belief that Jesus is the son of God and gave his life as a ransom sacrifice, but differs from the other branches in some of their other beliefs, such as the belief that the unrighteous will not be sent to eternal punishment, but instead cease to exist. Also part of their beliefs is that that the earth will not be destroyed or depopulated, but will become a peaceful paradise upon the removal of the unrighteous.
The three-day event at Tennessee Tech goes from about 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day and focuses on education. Charles and Swoozie Sweeney of Livingston have been attending these annual conventions for more than 30 years. This past weekend, they brought along their four young children, Gibson, Mercedes, Charlie and Wolfgang.
"It has its challenges," said Charles about getting the whole family to the convention each morning. "We have to get them up and get them all ready, but it's worth the effort. They learn a lot. Even though sometimes it doesn't look like they're paying attention, they pick up things. ... Proverbs says, 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he gets old, he won't turn aside from it.' It's good for our family, it's good for our kids, and it's good for us."
During the services, which include special speakers, music and dramas, the children stay with the parents, learning along with them. Aside from the youngest child, Gibson, the Sweeney children all either take notes during the sermons or draw pictures of what is being talked about.
"If I don't understand something, I write it down and I take it home then I look it up," said Charlie, the oldest of the Sweeney children.
The parents find comfort and wisdom in the convention as well.
"You look around and there are 5,000 people that are going through the same things you're going through," Charles said. "It's encouraging to know that. We're part of a worldwide organization. There are seven million Jehovah's Witnesses around the world. We all believe the same thing. We all experience the same trials. So it's just encouraging to see others who are going through the same things you're going through, but are still able to serve faithfully."
"There are those seven million in the world that you can speak your mind with," added Swoozie. "There's that love because you know that they're your brothers and you love them as much as they love you."
The Sweeney family listens to one of the speakers at the District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. From left, is Charles, Swoozie with Gibson in her lap, little sister Mercedes hiding behind them, Charlie and Wolfgang.
Thousands came to the three-day District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses held at Tennessee Tech’s Eblen Center this past weekend, which wraps up today.
Officials who gathered at the Jehovah’s Witnesses convention, being held at the Eblen Center on Tech’s campus, from left, are George Halford, Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber president/CEO; Thomas Lynn, Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber chairman; Marc Michael, Jehovah’s Witnesses representative; Tim Gibson, Jehovah’s Witnesses representative; Philip Oldham, Tennessee Tech University president; Robert Jackson, Jehovah’s Witnesses representative; Mayor Matt Swallows, City of Cookeville; and Bobby Williams, Jehovah’s Witnesses representative.