Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to work door to door

Jehovah’s Witnesses have resumed their door-to-door ministry after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, reviving a religious practice the faith considers crucial and dear.

From coast to coast, members of the Christian denomination poured into cities and towns Thursday to share literature and converse about God for the first time since March 2020.

In the Jamaica Plain neighborhood on Boston’s south side, Dan and Carrie Sideris spent a peaceful morning walking around knocking on doors and ringing bells. Dan Sideris said he was afraid to personally evangelize in “a changed world,” but the experience erased any doubt.

“Everything came back very naturally because we don’t have a set speech,” he said. “We try to engage with people about what’s in their hearts, and what we say comes from our hearts.”

The couple was surprised at how many people opened their doors and were receptive.

A man took a break from a Zoom call to pick up his booklets and make an appointment to continue the conversation. In another house, a woman talked about how many family members had died in the past two years—something the Siderises could relate to, having both lost parents recently. Another woman was very busy at the moment but spoke to Carrie Sideris through the window and said she could come back on Sunday.

“I look forward to this day,” he said. “When I rang the first bell this morning, I was completely calm. I’m back where I should be.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses suspended door-knocking in the early days of the pandemic in the United States, just as much of the rest of society went into lockdown. The organization also ended all public gatherings at its 13,000 churches nationwide and canceled 5,600 annual gatherings worldwide — an unprecedented move not even during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 50 million people worldwide.

The Witnesses continued their ministry by writing letters and making phone calls, but it wasn’t the same because there was no personal contact, said Robert Hendricks, the denomination’s national spokesman.

“For us, going door to door is an expression of our God’s impartiality,” he said. “We go to everyone and let them choose whether they want to listen to us or not.”

Even in pre-pandemic times, door-knocking ministry came with anxiety because Witnesses never knew how they would be received in any home. In 2022 this is even more true, and evangelists are advised to keep in mind that lives and attitudes have changed.

“It’s going to take an extra level of courage,” Hendriks said.

The organization does not mandate masks or social distancing, leaving those decisions up to each individual.

The denomination has been cautiously restarting other activities: In April it reopened churches for in-person gatherings and in June resumed public ministry where members set up carts in locations such as subway stations and distributed literature.

But returning to door knocking, considered not only a core belief but an effective service, is a big step toward “getting back to normal,” Hendricks said.

Among those wanting to pound the pavement again was Jonathan Gomes of Milwaukee, who started door-knocking with his parents when he was “old enough to ring a bell.”

“When you’re out in the community, you have your hand on the pulse,” he said. “We haven’t had that close feeling with the community for over two years now. It’s like we’ve all become more distant and polarized.”

Gomas and his wife and two daughters have all learned Hmong to better reach members of this community, and residents are often pleasantly surprised when they open their doors to fluent speakers of their language.

“I think it made them listen even closer,” he said.

In Acworth, Georgia, Nathan Rivera said he has missed seeing people’s faces and reading their expressions.

“You see and appreciate those responses, and it’s much more personal,” he said. “You tap into common ground and relationships that you can never develop over the phone or writing a letter.”

The son of Cuban refugees who came to the United States in the 1980s, Rivera said door-knocking is an important part of his spiritual identity and “feels like Christ.”

“We show respect for everyone’s right to have different beliefs,” he said. “If they don’t want to hear what we have to say, we politely thank them and move on, recognizing that we can’t judge anyone. We’re just going to keep hitting.”

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Associated Press religion coverage is supported through AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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