On a typical church build, construction workers spit, cuss, oogle, belch, drink, smoke, pick their noses, swear, fart, and catcall. After several months of such, out comes this church. (Ex 32:24) But on a Kingdom Hall build, the very animals of the forest join in, chipmunks swinging tiny hammers with their cute paws, robins and bluebirds bringing roof trusses with their beaks...and all the while cheerful music comes from.....where does it come from, anyway?
Alright, alright, so I exaggerate. Artistic license. Still, since Kingdom Halls are invariably built by JW volunteers, typically in a weekend or two, the atmosphere is unique. And it is a fact that a Fredrikstad, Norway city official showed up one Saturday with his brass band to serenade Kingdom Hall volunteers. He was atoning for his initial skepticism, for he and everyone else at City Hall had laughed their sides off when Witnesses said they'd have the project done in three days. But even on day one, it was obvious the work would go on schedule. This was back in 1987.
How could you blame him for doubting? I remember the first time I heard of such projects. Bill Leviathon was telling Frank Mulicotti, a lifelong builder, of reports he'd heard down south. “I don't know...,” Frank kept turning the idea over in his head, “there's so many things that have to come together on a building....can it really be done in a weekend? But now it's clear that it can....Jehovah's Witnesses do it routinely, though in recent years they've come to settle for two weekends. That way, drywall mud can dry, safety can be better emphasized, and everyone gets more breathing space. They're quite routine now; one comes across news stories quite regularly, for example here and here.
On a quick-build near Rochester, a neighbor charged over bright and early one Saturday morning, at hammers first swinging, and made quite a scene. She'd opposed the project from the beginning, and it hadn't helped when she'd learned it would be an all volunteer work force. 'Great....just great.....this will drag on for months, maybe years...cars parked everywhere...garbage strewn all over...' “Tuesday morning I'll have this shut down!” she raged, planning her speech to town officials. “What she doesn't know,” one of our people remarked when she'd left, “is that by Tuesday morning it will be done.” And so it was.
I used to think the sight of such projects would instantly swell the ranks of Jehovah's Witnesses. Surely, you can forgive me for that. I mean, this is a world in which nothing gets done in a timely way, in which cooperation is nearly non-existent, in which new grounds for bickering emerge regularly over matters more and more trivial. And another fellow from the neighboring office building, on his lunch break, stood there with mouth agape, watching that 3 day build, blown away by the perfect order and flow. “Who are these people?” he wanted to know. So....yes...I thought such an evident example of harmony and cooperation would draw people.....not that it was done for such reasons, mind you. It was done because our folks are volunteering their limited time, so no one wants to waste it. But even so, I thought it might trigger an influx more than it has. Instead, soreheads hop on the internet and say it's all because of brainwashing and mind-control.
If I had it to do over again, I think I'd have involved myself more with such projects. If nothing else, I'd have picked up practical know-how, something not now my strength. “It's not too late,” a brother reminds me at the Kingdom Hall. Yes, I know....but....well....I was there at the Assembly Hall project nailing a tarpaulin into place above my head, and Tom Weedsandwheat strolls by leading a tour group. They all paused to watch. “Look how that brother is missing the nail every other swing,” one of them observed. So I went home and wrote nasty stuff about him on the blogosphere. Isn't that what the internet is for?
“Yes, but many activities on the Regional don't involve building, but rather procuring supplies, real estate, planning, food service, and such things. You could do that.” To be sure, a three day Kingdom Hall quick-build does not include land purchase and preparation, nor negotiating with town officials. That stuff can take months, even years. I know, for I worked on some of this preliminary stuff years ago with Hal. Yeah...I could do that, but.....hang it all, I just like to write. It's a great hobby, I've developed a dogged persistance for it, if not necessarily talent, and not that many do it. You can't do everything. Maybe that's why the Bible promise of living forever on earth in paradise has always appealed to me. As “The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life” asks, can it really be God's purpose for us to spend 20 years growing up, a few decades to gain knowledge and experience, and just when we've acquired a little wisdom, to be betrayed by our own bodies and end up a pile of dust?
But maybe I'll wrap this blog up someday, resist the temptation to start another, and log some time with the Regional. It would put me more in sync with things, that's for sure.
Besides developing a fantastic organization of building volunteers, an organization now international, an organization which readily switches to relief mode during outbreaks of natural disaster...moreover, an organization which will no doubt provide a significant jump start going into the new system of things, I suspect Jehovah's Witnesses have transformed the construction industry. Don't structures of all sort go up quicker than they used to? Did we have anything to do with that?
I was discussing this with Tom Oxgoad one day and he pointed to Taco Bell. It seems that during the L.A. Rodney King riots, one of their stores was torched and burned to the ground. Taco Bell wanted it up again, as soon as possible. They hired as general contractor one of our people, a Canadian brother who was active on a Regional Committee, for precisely that reason. To the degree possible, the project was organized just like that of a Kingdom Hall build, even to the point of the drinks (lemon and lime water) served for refreshment from the heat. “We've found pop gives a quick energy boost, but once it wear off fatigue sets in,” our guy pointed out. So to whatever degree we've transformed construction, count it as our gift to the world, same as defining civil rights and advancing medicine.
Business and theocratic interests aren't the same, though. Construction workers generally want to stretch out the project, which is, after all, their livelihood. And why shouldn't they? Why should secular work be all about speeding things up for business? It's a whole different story with theocratic building.
“What ever happened to that irate neighbor?” I asked one of the elders during a visit to the Kingdom Hall mentioned above. “How did it turn out with her?” Well....it turned out that she is now friendly as can be, even after a second building was erected closer to her property than the first. Turned out she'd been concerned mostly about property values....and privacy. She'd lived next to a vacant yard for decades. Let's face it....nobody wants to live next to a public building of any sort. But when she discovered the brothers were quiet, respectful, and the property well tended....all her opposition melted away. Though another neighbor directly across the street, who was never motivated by property values at all, but by dogma, has taken her place. “Jesus is God!” declares huge letters plastered on her garage door. You can't miss it as you exit the Hall.