OGDEN An estimated 11,000 Jehovah's Witnesses from Utah and several surrounding states will gather at the Dee Events Center the next two weekends for their 2008 District Convention.
For the second year in a row, a separate Spanish-language-only convention will be part of the program.
The Spanish Jehovah's Witnesses Convention will begin at 9:20 a.m. Friday. There's a lunch break about 12:15 p.m., and then sessions resume at 1:30 p.m. That also will be the schedule for June 28 and 29.
Then, from July 4 through July 6, the English-language conference will be held, using the same daily schedule.
According to Warren Beers, an elder in the Millcreek Jehovah's Witnesses, who is helping organize this year's convention in Ogden, the English event is expected to attract at least 7,000 people. That's down from recent years, but there are another 4,000 or more who will attend the Spanish version, and until 2007, they all attended the same convention.
"Guided by God's Spirit" is the theme of this year's conventions nationwide, and Jehovah's Witnesses enthusiastically invite the public to attend any or all of their conference sessions.
"It's hard to find guidance today that doesn't change," Beers said. "We're excited about this year's conventions. They are the high point of our year spiritually."
Jeff Tackett, another elder, said this year's theme is particularly relevant because of the uncertain economy and world turmoil. "Follow the Christ" was the convention's 2007 theme, and "Jehovah's Role" was the 2006 focus.
This year's convention will explain why humans need reliable guidance and how God's holy spirit provides it. The convention theme will develop Jesus Christ's assurance to his followers, as recorded at John 16:13, that God's spirit will guide them. Other key texts that will be discussed at the convention include Jeremiah 10:23, Romans 8:6 and Galatians 5:16.
Beers also said the Friday afternoon sessions will focus on teenagers, with the title, "Young People Walk by Holy Spirit." The Sunday afternoon session will feature a Bible drama, presented live and in full costume.
Dan Wilde, a Jehovah's Witness from Vernal, has
been attending the annual conventions in Ogden for a decade. He said one of the best things about the gatherings is having so many church members together in the same place.
"We get some great instruction, too. It's an event we all look forward to" and one that energizes the Witnesses to live better lives, he said.
Francisco Montano is helping organize the Spanish-only convention in Ogden. He said last year's inaugural convention attracted 5,500 people far more than was hoped for. The decrease to about 4,000 people this year is because a boundary change means some Colorado Witnesses will be going to conventions there.
Otherwise, Witnesses from most of Utah, some of southern Idaho, western Wyoming and eastern Nevada will attend the conferences at the Dee Events Center.
"We received a lot of good comments" about last year's Spanish convention, Montano said. He also said that as Ogden-area residents mingled with Jehovah's Witnesses in local restaurants, some did ask for more information about their faith.
Despite the drop in Utah convention attendance, Montano said the growth in Utah Jehovah's Witnesses Spanish-speaking congregations is up 20 percent over a year ago, rising from 1,600 members to 1,900 now.
The Utah Jehovah's Witnesses Convention has been held at the Dee Events Center, 4450 Harrison Blvd., for almost 30 years.
There will be a total of 305 Witnesses conventions in 76 cities in the United States this summer. Conventions will be held in English, as well as 15 other languages, including American Sign Language.There is no admission fee or collection taken at any convention or meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses. There are nearly 7 million Witnesses associated with more than 101,000 congregations worldwide.