AUGUSTA — Thousands of people from across New England will descend on the Augusta Civic Center over the next two weekends for the annual District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Typically held at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, the three-day convention was moved to Augusta this year due to renovations underway at the Portland center. Convention spokesman Chris Hanson said about 9,000 people are expected to attend over the course of this weekend and next.

“The Augusta community has been very hospitable to us and very welcoming,” Hanson said. “It couldn’t have been a better circumstance for us the way it turned out.”

The convention goers have booked blocks in hotels across Augusta and Waterville and the surrounding area. Hanson said organizers try to blend locals, who can commute from their homes, and people from outside the area to keep from overwhelming area hotels.

Earl Kingsbury, assistant director of the Augusta Civic Center, said the typical convention draws about 600 people. The civic center has a capacity of 6,000. He said the convention is not only good for the civic center, but the shops, hotels and restaurants around the city.

“It’s great for the community,” Kingsbury said.

The Witnesses hold 389 annual conventions in 100 cities across the United States each year. Hanson said about 1.7 million people will attend. Everything is open to the public and free, though there are collection buckets in the halls for those who wish to help defray costs. The Augusta convention will draw individuals, couples and families of all sizes and ages from across Maine as well as New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. Hanson said Witnesses fanned out across the state to personally invite people to attend.

“We’ve had a lot of success with that in the past,” Hanson said. “We can’t say every household got it, but definitely the densely populated areas. A lot of people will come to the convention as a result of that invitation.”

The Civic Center has hosted other, smaller conventions — the Witnesses hold one- and two-day conventions each year as well — but this is the first time Augusta has hosted the three-day convention, Hanson said.

“This is more or less the big one of them all,” he said. “It’s the annual convention.”

Hanson said about 1,200 volunteers will help with everything from set-up to ushering people to their seats.

“We’ll thoroughly clean the place top to bottom before we leave,” Hanson said. “We want to be a good tenant.”

The Civic Center has hosted the organization’s two-day conventions in the past. The Witnesses have a reputation as excellent guests, Kingsbury said.

“They come self-contained,” he said. “They will take care of everything from the minute you drive in the lot to the time you take your seat.”

Friday morning those seats were full, from the Civic Center floor to the rafters, as speakers offered messages from the stage that ranged in length from 10 to 30 minutes. The programs, which are identical over both weekends, run 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and  9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, this weekend and next. Hanson said the sessions include dramas, question-and-answer presentations and a baptism on Saturday. The Bible-based education programs underscore the Witnesses’ family values, Hanson said.

“The Bible is the most trusted guide available,” Hanson said. “It’s trusted advice in troubled times.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the holy spirit is God’s power rather than a third being, as opposed to Chrstian denominations that believe the Holy Spirit is the third being of the trinity. Witnesses’ Bible is the New World Translation, which removes claims that Christ is God. 

Hanson said the weekend is not used as an opportunity to address liturgical or theological questions in the church, but is an opportunity to provide information to those in and outside the religious organization. 

Craig Earley and his wife, Amy Earley, of Saco, have attended Jehovah’s Witnesses churches since childhood. They have attended the yearly convention for about 30 years, Craig Earley said. The couple used to have to go to Rhode Island, until Maine began hosting its own convention a number of years ago. 

“The presentation is excellent,” Craig Earley said. “It fortifies our faith and helps us to keep going.” 

Amy Earley said the teaching offered at the convention has helped her to understand the Bible and provided practical applications to her life. 

“It helped me to be happy and I want it to continue to do so,” she said.

Craig Earley said he was impressed when he drove to the Civic Center Friday morning and read the electronic marquee on Civic Center Drive welcoming the Witnesses to Augusta.

“It felt nice, like the city here is really welcoming us,” Earley said.

Amy Earley agreed. “It’s going to be a great weekend,” she said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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