OGDEN — Nearly 70 people Saturday joined the 5.9 million Jehovah's Witnesses who are spread throughout 234 nations in a mass baptism and ordination ceremony at the Dee Events Center at Weber State University.
The ceremony was part of the weekend-long 2000 District Convention that brought more than 7,500 members from Utah, Idaho and Wyoming to share in the theme "Doers of God's Word." The convention focused on "living life in harmony with God's way for mankind so we will not only find happiness today but also enjoy everlasting life under God's kingdom."
Tom Stricker traveled from the church's world headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. The complex of buildings there is aptly named "Bethel," a biblical name meaning "House of God."
After addressing the crowd, Stricker spoke directly to the baptism candidates seated on the floor. "Today you will become part of this great crowd that has the prospect of living forever and restoring this land to paradise. This is the most important day of your life."
Upon baptism, each member of the church becomes an ordained minister, regardless of age, said Bill Fouch, an elder from Pocatello, Idaho. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in walking door to door and spending time in public places proselytizing about God and Jesus Christ.
"It's a command for all of us to go," Fouch said.
Jehovah's Witnesses are baptized by immersion in a pool of water. The pool was visible throughout the Dee Events Center, and families and friends of baptismal candidates crowded around to take pictures, shout words of encouragement and cheer for loved ones.
Stricker told the group that baptism into the church provides three important opportunities.
First, members are granted the opportunity to "sanctify God's name and make his heart rejoice."
They also have the unrestricted power of prayer. "Jehovah will be here if we call upon him, if we go to him in prayer," Stricker said. "We will never get a busy signal, never get an answering machine."
Third, newly baptized members are led into a system where they will never have to die, Stricker said. Once members accept Jehovah's word, members believe they will live forever.
Members are baptized once they complete a study program and fully understand the principles of the church, said Warren Beers, an elder from Salt Lake City. Therefore, there is no age requirement enforced upon baptism candidates. Saturday's group ranged in age from 12 to 50 years old.
Crystal Brooks, 16, took part in Saturday's baptism ceremony. Brooks, who has been in the church since she was 6, said she tried to be baptized once before, but did not feel quite ready.
Now, she said, "I have a full understanding of the Bible and what Jehovah expects of me."
Brooks said she was nervous before the ceremony but is now just "very happy." Her goal is to volunteer her time and ministry work at Bethel.