MY LIFE AS A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS
I was born in November 1946, the oldest of 4 children, 2 more sisters and one brother, who all followed over a 5 year period. Mum had married dad in 1941, but they weren't JWs then, so he went to war, and was in the Normandy landings, while she worked on the land. The truth came to our family via my great - aunt, who moved in with my grandparents in 1943, and proceeded to try to convert the whole house. My granddad never succumbed, but my grandma and mum did, as well as her sister. When dad came back from the war, mum was almost ready for baptism, and dad started studying himself, made rapid progress and was baptised in July 1946, when I was well on my way. He told me years later that it was the JW teaching on hell that got him hooked - he had been to hell already as far as he was concerned, it was called Gold Beach in the Normandy invasion, and he was more than happy to accept a teaching that said he wouldn’t have to go back there.
For the first year of my life, we lived with my parents, but then we found a very small but reasonably comfortable house in the Normanton area of Derby. Life wasn't easy in the 1940s, as food rationing carried on until 1951 in the UK, by which time there were 6 of us in a two-bedroom house, and it was a crowded but happy home. My parents were very zealous for the truth, and only illness would prevent us going to the meetings. My earliest childhood memories are all to do with the JWs, assemblies, which I hated, ministry, which I didn't like much, and meetings. When I started school I was the only JW there, although my sister and another JW girl started the next year, to my relief, and I soon found out how cruel kids can be to those who are considered different. I was a very quiet, shy child, having no real friends, and I was bullied incessantly that first year. Whenever I went home in tears, as I often did, my mum told me that Christians should expect to be persecuted, and Jehovah would be proud of me, but that didn't make the pain and bruises go away.
We used to meet in this horrible old building near the centre of Derby, with a leaking roof, poor heating and a creaking, partly - rotten floor. The brothers tried to make it comfortable, but it never was. The musical accompaniment to our singing was by an old brother playing a piano which some said was almost permanently out of tune, though I am not certain of this. One thing I do remember was the same brother used to suffer from flatulence during the meetings rather a lot, much to the annoyance of the adults and amusement of us children. One day, a rather heavy brother trod on the wrong part of the floor and went straight through, which gave us a little light relief and caused him some embarrassment. The hall was near several pubs, and our Sunday afternoon meetings used to coincide with closing time. We used to get a few drunks wandering in to see what was happening from time to time, and some fell into a drunken stupor and started snoring loudly, or passed wind, which made us kids laugh, though the adults didn't see the joke. Some of the older kids discovered that if the wind was blowing in the right direction outside, half - blocking the drainpipes with newspaper would make them produce an eerie howling sound, and the first time this happened many kids and some adults sat there terrified, we thought the demons we had heard so much about were coming to get us!
By the time I was 9 we had moved to a better hall, and as a family to a larger house. My great aunt was living with us by then, and she always seemed to be the one I ended up working with in the ministry, which I had started to like a bit more, though I still wasn't keen on the meetings. She was in her 70's by then, and has a loud booming voice, Every street we went on, however long, must have known we were on our way after the first door, she was so loud. She was a bit aggressive as well, putting her foot in the doors as soon as they opened, and refusing to budge until they had taken the literature. Resistance was futile, they were having the magazines or books whether they wanted them or not.
I remember the last time I went out with her was Christmas Day 1956, when I was 10. I really didn't want to go out that day, but she boomed "come on girl", which she always called me "we have Jehovah’s work to do". Every house we went to had trees and decorations up, kids playing with their presents, mums cooking dinner, and several asked me what I'd had. It was almost embarrassing to hear my great aunt snort with indignation and boom out "we do not celebrate Christmas", without giving the householder a reason they could understand. I was offered gifts at a few doors, and would have taken them, but my aunt kindly refused on my behalf. She caught bronchitis early in the following year, and never really recovered. She moved to live with a cousin in Suffolk, and died the following August. I was sad to hear of her death, but happy I didn't have to go on the service with her again.
By the time I was 12 and at secondary school, I was beginning to take the truth seriously, and thinking about baptism. I finally took the plunge in May 1961, when I was 14. It was the best day of my life up to then, my parents were so proud of me as I took my stand for Jehovah, my mum was crying tears of joy. The rest of my siblings followed suit in the next 3 years, apart from my youngest sister, who never wanted to be a JW. She rebelled at 15, smoked, drank, used drugs and fell pregnant at 17. She married the father and, 38 years, two more kids and 7 grandchildren later she is still married to him. Apart from family weddings and funerals, she hasn't been to a kingdom hall since 1967, but she still lives locally, and we still get on well with each other.
Just over a year after my baptism, I left school with no real ideas about a career, but with a burning desire to serve Jehovah as well as I could, and my long - term goal was to be a missionary. My childhood was over now, and I was ready to move on to the next phase of my life, whatever it would bring.
Having left school just over a year after my baptism, I found a job in a local shop owned by a brother from our Hall, and set about earning a living, although my long - term goal was to serve Jehovah full time, hopefully as a missionary. I had no real ambitions for a more lucrative secular career, there seemed no point as Armageddon was so near, as it supposedly still is, of course! I spent as much time as I could in the service, went to all the meetings and had even started to look forward to the assemblies, my pet JW hate as a child.
In February 1964, when I had just turned 17, a JW family moved into our area from Lincoln, and there were 5 of them, including this really handsome brother called Ron. All the single girls in the congregation had a crush on Ron, including my younger sister, so imagine my delight when, in May 1964, he asked me for a date! My parents approved, as did his, and we started our courtship, with chaperones of course, and within a few months we were in love. We got engaged in December 1964, and married in October 1965, when I was almost 19 and he was 24. We lived with his parents in the beginning, until I became pregnant with my first child, a boy who was born in January 1967. We then managed to get a house with the council, and moved in. I wanted to pioneer for a long time, and despite having a toddler, I signed up in September 1967. It wasn't long before I was pregnant again though, and my second son was born in March 1969, but I carried on pioneering. My mum and mother in law were able to help me with the kids, and I actually stayed on the regular pioneer's list continually until 1995, when my husband became ill.
It wasn't easy to pioneer with 2 toddlers, even with all the help, but I managed. We moved into a 3-bedroom council house, and got on with the job of bringing our boys up in the truth. My eldest boy, after some early resistance, settled down to learning how to become a JW, and was baptised in 1982 at the age of 15. My youngest, however, never wanted to be a JW. Assemblies were the worst for him, he got so agitated when convention time was approaching. He "developed" just about every illness from a bad cold to a brain tumour to avoid attending, and one year we did let him off, allowing him to stay with his non-JW aunt, who he seemed to take after so much, while the rest of us went to enjoy our spiritual feast.
He wouldn't behave on the ministry, and eventually we stopped taking him after the day just after his 13th birthday when he asked the young girl who opened the door if she wanted to go to the cinema with him instead of offering her a magazine, which we hoped he would do. He refused to join the Theocratic Ministry School, and stopped attending meetings altogether after his 16th birthday. He is 37 now, married with two daughters and a son, and is a generous, kind and loving son, but he has not been to a kingdom hall, apart from his brothers wedding and his fathers funeral, since 1985. He broke my heart when he rejected the truth, and for years I prayed he would come back, I was so worried he would die at Armageddon. I am so happy to be free of that worry now.
My eldest son is still a JW, and still attends the same hall that I used to go to. He married in 1992, and has a daughter age 8 and a son age 5. He married a JW from Burton on Trent who he met at an assembly. Despite always being a Witness, he has never been as loving or generous as his younger brother. He has always been a "plodder" truth - wise, putting in as little service as he can get away with, and has had very little success in the ministry. His wife is ambitious for him to progress, but thus far he has never been appointed in the congregation, though that may change soon. I had hoped he would pioneer, but he never did, despite my many attempts to drum up some interest in him by taking him on the many studies I started as a pioneer, but nothing would move him, though he is a little more ambitious nowadays.
So there I was in the early 70s, happily pioneering, conducting several studies, and trying to bring my sons up in the truth. My husband was as zealous as I was, and life in JW land couldn't have been better. Unbeknown to us though, there was trouble on the horizon.
Life is never perfect, but at the beginning of the 1970s, mine was as near - perfect as it was possible to be. I had a wonderful, loving husband, two lovely children, and a supportive family. I was a happy pioneer, with several progressive bible studies and, best of all, the new system really was just around the corner. The Watchtower Society had all but said the end of the wicked system we were living in was coming in 1975, and we were all living in a state of great excitement and expectancy. It was a time of growth for the organisation on a scale never seen before, as people were flooding into the truth as 1975 drew ever closer. Just about every active publisher had at least one bible study, meeting attendance was at a high level, and rising even higher with every passing week, it seemed. But there was a cloud on the horizon, for me at least...
I have never been a smoker, though I tried it a few times as a teenager, and my husband gave it up just after we were married, but quite a few JWs, including my parents and my JW sister, were smokers. It had been tolerated, but frowned upon, for years by the Society until finally, in 1973, they announced an outright ban on smoking, and gave everyone 6 months to quit, or face disciplinary action. Around 25% of my congregation were smoking when the ban was announced, and the more addicted ones, including my sister, would nip out halfway through the meetings for a quick cigarette. It used to be quite amusing, seeing this posse of people heading for the door before the speaker had even left the platform at the end of his talk, pulling a cigarette out of their pack before they even reached the exit, and some of us were almost sad that that little distraction would soon be drawing to a close. I don't know about elsewhere, but there was more than a little murmuring in our hall when the ban was announced.
At the end of the 6 months, most people had managed to quit, including my mother and sister, although I suspect she still had the odd one in private, there was a slight smell of tobacco smoke in the air sometimes when I visited her, but my dad just couldn't stop, and he was eventually disfellowshipped in 1974. This, of course, brought great heartache to us all, especially with Armageddon now so close, and dad was more upset than any of us, but he just could not give it up. I suppose if there had been the kind of support available then that there is now, he may have managed, but there wasn't. Even worse though, mum never really got over what had happened to dad, and started to miss meetings herself. Although she kept off the cigarettes, by 1975 she had stopped attending altogether. I was distraught, as were the rest of the family, because I just knew Armageddon was so close, and I was afraid that they would both miss out, despite so many years of faithful service. I did manage to get mum to come to the odd meeting, but dad was still smoking, so there was no way back for him.
Of course, 1975 came and went, and nothing much happened, apart from the Society tying to cover its back by blaming the brothers for all the expectancy and excitement, and many were disappointed, and left the truth, but I was relieved, mum and dad still had a chance. I never shunned my dad, and tried to visit at least once a week, usually 2 or 3 times. We were still living in a state of expectancy, but without as much urgency as before, and I actually wanted the system to carry on for a few more years in the hope mum, who had completely stopped attending by 1976, and dad, who was still disfellowshipped, could get back in. I did get them to come to the 1977 Memorial, and mum came in 1978, but that was the last time either of my parents ever set foot in a Kingdom Hall. Dad told me he still thought it may be the truth, but there seemed so many unscriptural rules nowadays that he was no longer sure, and mum was coming round to his point of view. I thought at the time that he was just using that as an excuse because he thought he'd been unfairly treated, but I now see how right he was.
Although I kept trying to get them to "see reason" and come back, they never did, and my dad died in 1986 after a massive heart attack, and mum only survived him by 4 years, losing her battle with leukaemia in 1990. My dad was 65 when he died, and mum was 67. For long after their deaths, I used to lie awake at nights wondering if I could have done more to get them back into the organisation. They had died knowing the truth, but not in the truth, and although I had done more than anyone else to get them back, I still blamed myself in some ways that they hadn't. I hoped that they would be back in the resurrection, but had my doubts, and wondered if I would answer in some way for them leaving Jehovah and missing out on everlasting life. Those thoughts have haunted me for almost 20 years, since my father's death, and I am so happy that I now know the truth about the Organisation, and I have been able to finally lay my guilt to rest.
By 1992, both our boys had left home, and Ron and I were all alone in our 3-bedroom house, so we decided to apply for something smaller. We had never bought our home, a decision I regret now, but 3 bedroom council houses were, and still are, very much in demand, and within a few months we had been offered and accepted a ground-floor flat quite near our kingdom hall, moving in there in early 1993. I had been pioneering then for almost 26 years, and expected to carry on until the end of the system or my own death. I was busier in the truth than I had ever been, even during the pre-1975 influx of members. There were very few pioneers in our circuit then, and only 3 in our congregation, so we all had plenty to do. By that time I had brought 18 people, excluding family, into the organisation, and apart from one couple who left after the 1975 disappointment, all of them were still in. It was about this time that I conducted my strangest - ever study, with an elderly couple living on the street we had moved on to a few months previously.
They were a little eccentric, to say the least, even unconventional. They were animal lovers, and in their two bedroom house they kept 4 dogs, 9 cats, numerous mice and rats, which made me shudder, even though they were caged, at least 6 canaries and a goat, which they said was for keeping their lawn short! The goat was mainly outside, but came in the kitchen at night, and whenever I went to study with them, we had to sit in a room with all the animals, apart from maybe a few cats, present, including the goat! It was like a visit to the zoo, and the smell was pretty bad, but they were keen on the study at first, but stopped it abruptly when the sister I took with me told that them animals wouldn't live forever in paradise, only humans. They had assumed that because animals survived the flood, they would survive Armageddon, and dead ones would be resurrected, and wouldn't accept that when their animals died they wouldn't see them again. We tried to show them from the scriptures why this was so, but they wouldn't budge, and our zoo visits were curtailed! Ron commented later that perhaps they brought all their pets in on the study to learn the truth as well, an angle which I hadn't considered, but quite possible nonetheless. They were still friendly towards me after that, but never resumed their study again.
Despite losing that study, things were still going well for me on the pioneering front until October 1995, when Ron suffered a stroke, and though he made a partial recovery, he lost the use of his left arm and was never able to speak properly afterwards. He was understandable, but his speech was slurred, as though he was drunk all the time, and I had to give up pioneering to look after him. He was unable to work, so I took a part - time job in a shop in Derby City centre to help make ends meet, as we had very little in terms of savings, having always put kingdom interests first. I had plenty of support from friends, Linda in particular, and Trevor was a huge help then, as he was still a JW. He used to drive us to all the meetings, and help me with the shopping almost every week. Ron did recover a bit, and still had a reasonable quality of life, and we all hoped that he would make a complete recovery. I still managed to put in a fair amount of service time, other sisters helped out with my calls, and we were coping fairly well until December 2000, when Ron suffered another stroke, more serious that the last one. He was in the hospital over the Christmas period, but seemed to be getting a little better, and we had hopes of getting him home in a few weeks, but in the early hours of January 1st 2001, he had his third and final stroke, and passed away peacefully a few hours later. He was only 59, and we had been married just over 35 years.
I was totally devastated by his death at such a relatively young age. All the plans we had made, for me to pioneer for as long as the system lasted, and him to join me when he retired, had been scotched by his first stroke, but we knew the new system was near, when Ron would be restored to perfect health, and that thought had sustained us during the years after his first stroke. Now he was gone, and I knew I wouldn't see him again until the resurrection. I had a great deal of support from my many friends and family in the organisation at the time, and I was rarely alone for more than an hour during the days immediately after his death, but nothing could help with the terrible loneliness I felt at night, when I went to my bed alone, after so long with Ron. The only thing that sustained me during that time was the certain hope that I would see him again in the resurrection once Armageddon was over, and now I know that the Watchtower is a man-made religion founded on a falsehood, I no longer have that hope. I feel cheated by the liars that taught me those false promises, and encouraged me to keep striving for their interests under the guise of serving Jehovah. They have a very great deal to answer for.
As time went on, all but a few people stopped visiting me, but I expected that, and feel no bitterness because of it. In some ways I welcomed it, as I needed some time to myself, and I started to get out on the service more as the year progressed, while still working to help make ends meet. Just over 2 years after Ron’s death, I had a shepherding visit, and the elders suggested that, now I had had time to gather myself, maybe it was time for me to consider rejoining the ranks of regular pioneers. While this was something of a goal for me once I had retired, I didn't feel able to do it while I was still working, and the elders accepted this, but as the months passed started to exert a little pressure on me to try and at least auxiliary before I reached retirement age.
One elder used the line "Don't you think that this is what Ron would have wanted you to do? He supported your pioneering all those years, don't you owe it to his memory to at least try?" I thought that was an unnecessarily callous remark to make, as I was still missing Ron very badly, and that whole period, with the pressure from the elders and the circuit overseer, who had also suggested a pioneering "comeback" to me, was a difficult and unhappy time. I did not, however, return to pioneering at the time, but promised the elders I would sign up again once I'd retired, so they were satisfied, if not entirely happy with that arrangement, and backed off.
The pressure they had put me under, distressing as it was, had not shaken my faith. I was still absolutely convinced that I had the truth at this time. I knew people were leaving the truth, Trevor had gone by then, and I could sense that there were some problems within the congregation, and perhaps with the organisation as a whole, but I felt we still had Jehovah’s blessing, so on I went. The first real seeds of doubt, and ones I couldn't ignore, as much as I wanted to ignore them, surfaced last year, when the elders dealt very badly with a child abuse scandal within our congregation. I know that this issue was the catalyst for the doubts Linda had been having for some time that got her to examine the JW teachings again, and eventually to leave the truth, but I ignored my feelings, reasoning to myself that the elders are imperfect men, and thus susceptible to errors.
I was very concerned last summer when Linda started to miss meetings, and really upset by her subsequent disassociation last November. In some ways, I saw it as the second-biggest loss of my life, after my husband, as she had long been one of my dearest and most supportive friends, and now she was gone. She was gracious enough to send me a letter explaining why she had left, which I still have, and I was most distressed when the gossip started about her last year. Many malicious, untrue rumours were circulating the hall, the main one being that she had left so that she could commit fornication with Trevor, which I knew was untrue at the time, though they are together now, and to my great delight, truly happy. I challenged the PO about the rumours, and he was most discourteous in his dismissal of my concerns, saying "Well, what does it matter if they are true or not? She's abandoned Jehovah, so what do you expect us to do, praise her?" I was shocked by his attitude, and looking back, I know it was that conversation, short as it was, that set me on the road out of the organisation.
In the spring of this year, I decided to defy the elder’s rules, and try to contact Linda, so I wrote her a letter and gave it to her mother, a lovely lady who has never been a JW, and thankfully Linda replied, so we started meeting discreetly at her home. I read some of the articles on this board, and watched some of the videos on silentlambs, and was stunned at the extent of the cover - up by the organisation regarding child abuse. Trevor lent me Crisis of Conscience, and I started to miss meetings. Once I'd finished COC, it was obvious that all my years in the JWs had been spent in a man-made religion, and I knew I could no longer be a part of it, whatever the cost. I am not a liar, so how could I knowingly preach lies on the ministry? I knew my conscience would not allow that. I wanted to fade, but the elders started hounding me, despite my request, in writing, to be allowed some time to myself. I would have thought that was a small thing to ask after a lifetime of faithful service, but I was wrong.
My JW son visited me, and saw the copy of COC, which I admitted to have read, and a few days later he phoned me, asking me to go to his home on the pretext of a family emergency. I rushed round there as quickly as possible, to find, instead of an emergency, the PO and another elder waiting for me. My own son had set me up! I was furious, but spoke to the elders long enough for them to establish that I was having a crisis of faith, and then left. Later that week, the PO called to invite me to a meeting with 3 elders at the hall the following Friday -a judicial committee! I decided to save them the trouble by writing a letter of disassociation, which they didn't want to accept, but which I informed them would be forwarded to the UK HQ, so they announced me as being no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses a few days ago.
So after almost 60 years, 28 of them as a pioneer, during which time I have guided 25 people into the organisation, many of whom are still in, I am no longer a JW. My son rang me the day after the announcement to inform me that he would now be shunning me, and I would no longer be permitted to see my grandchildren, and I am expecting a lot more of the same in the coming weeks and months. It is, of course, heartbreaking to be denied access to my family, and to lose friends, but nonetheless I feel that I have made the right decision in leaving. I don't feel that all my years in the organisation were a waste of time, after all I had a wonderful husband, 2 fine boys and made many, many friends, but I do feel I could have used them better if I'd never been a JW. As for my future, apart from retiring in November, I have made no real plans. I will take each day as it comes, and enjoy it as a free person. I have of course lost most of my friends now, but still have Linda and Trevor, the best two friends I have ever had and will ever have. I owe those two far more than I could ever even start to repay, they have helped set me free after 60 years of slavery, and I can never thank them enough for that.
A few weeks after leaving the Watchtower, I started to become aware that I still have a spiritual need, and knowing that going back to the org could never satisfy it, I began visiting churches in the area. I went to a Baptist church only a few minutes walk from the Kingdom Hall I used to attend, and the very first time I entered it, I felt at home. The people there, some of whom I have preached to in the past in the field service, were genuinely welcoming to me, nothing like the “love bombing” that first time visitors to a Kingdom Hall are subjected to. There was a definite feeling of joy in that congregation, and I have been going there ever since. On the 21st of January 2007, I was baptised as a Christian in that church. I did this entirely of my own volition, not through “encouragement” from the church elders, as so often happens in the JWs. As I came up out of the water that morning, I had a feeling of peace and joy that I never experienced at any time in my almost 60 years in the Watchtower. I knew that, after all those years of being misled, I had finally found the true path to God. After all those years of thinking I had to earn my salvation, and all the works I did to try and earn it, I had come to realise that we are saved by grace, not works, and it is a free gift to all who will accept it, we don’t have to earn it. I am so happy now, and have a deep sense of joy and belonging that I never had before. My friends Linda and Trevor, who rarely visit a church were there that day, and both of them said they have never seen me look happier. It is so wonderful to know that I am finally worshipping God in the way He wants to be worshipped.
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