They were there to attend the fifth annual local district convention of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This year’s theme is "Safeguard Your Heart," according to organizers.
The three day Christian religious event will repeat again next Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the same location and is open to all. It is one of 385 similar gatherings in 103 cities across the United States.
John Scotidas, event overseer, said the audience represented a "cross section" of the local communities within a three hour drive of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Long time Jehovah’s Witness devotees attended, as well as those who are just beginning. People of other faiths attended, there were families with small children, single people, old and young and representatives from all ethnicities, Scotidas said.
He added he was very pleased with the attendance.
"We provide information that can help people deal with their lives. We help them find ways to find more satisfaction and we work on strengthening families," he said.
About 45 different speakers took the arena stage to talk about why it is necessary to safeguard our hearts, he said. They talked about how to be "obedient" to Bible teachings, develop a "balanced view" of themselves, how to avoid being "halfhearted," and how people are "in want of heart."
Scotidas thanked the administration of the arena for allowing them to use the facility. He said it is an excellent location, very convenient for the 50 different congregations that will be attending, he said.
Larry Andrews, media contact for group, said locally Jehovah’s Witnesses have been increasing in numbers significantly. He estimated there are about 1,500 local members, more than four times as many than 20 years ago. There are now an estimated 109,000 congregation worldwide, he added.
He attributes the local growth to the "door-to-door" ministries and to the anxiety people are feeling about the world. The shooting early Friday in Colorado serves as an example of what can happen, he said.
"It’s a sign of the times," Andrews said.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses ask people to analyze daily lives and learn to appreciate Bible teachings, Andrews said. Their message is resonating with more and more people who see a need to become more religious.
The event included "plays and demonstrations" along with motivational speeches, he said. One play showed ways married people can rectify their issues instead of giving up on their marriages, he added.
Focusing on the heart is the way to get the message through, Andrews pointed out. If someone puts their heart into a Christian life, they will be more likely to live it, he said.