WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The first of four consecutive weekend conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses opens today at the Mohegan Sun Arena, and thousands are expected to attend, providing an economic boost to area hotels and restaurants.
This is the sixth year the denomination is holding its conventions here, but more people are expected this year, said spokesman Larry Andrews of Jersey Shore.
“This year, all four of them are bigger than they ever have been,” Andrews said.
He said up to 8,000 people are expected each weekend.
The convention begins at 9:20 this morning and goes until about 5 p.m. today and Saturday and until about 4 p.m. on Sunday, Andrews said.
The different groups coming in over various weekends are from various congregations from throughout the state.
“We have over 113,000 congregations (worldwide),” Andrews said. “Our headquarters in New York City, in Brooklyn, determines who goes where and assigns based on location.”
There are more than 7.9 million Witnesses worldwide, according to the church’s Office of Public Information.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses in town this weekend are from the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton areas and from parts of Pennsylvania up to the New York state border.
“We’re from over near Williamsport,” Andrews said of his congregation, in which he serves as an elder. “Some are from Philadelphia. They try to scatter them out so they come in from a lot of different directions. Sixty-eight congregations are coming this weekend. Probably 20 are from the Philadelphia area.”
A special feature of this convention will be a closed-circuit TV tie-in to an international Jehovah’s Witnesses convention at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J.
“There will be about 40,000 to 50,000 there,” Andrews said.
Workers were at the arena on Wednesday installing the closed-circuit TV system and big screens for the hookup. The day before, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses volunteered to go in and thoroughly clean the arena for the convention.
Andrews said the church estimates the conventions generate $12 million to $14 million in revenue for hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the area.
“It took me five different hotels to call to get my family two rooms,” Andrews said, noting hotels as far as Scranton and Hazleton were booked for the convention.
“The restaurants are all going to benefit, too, because all of us go out to eat every night,” he added.
As for the convention itself, the program is geared to help families.
The public is invited to attend the convention. Admission is free.
Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions are supported by voluntary donations.