Matt Einstein said he and his family didn’t just travel from Harrisonburg to Roanoke for the preaching this weekend.
The Einsteins were among an estimated 4,100 Jehovah’s Witnesses who flocked to the Berglund Center Coliseum for an annual three-day convention, according to the group’s organizers.
“For me, it’s refreshing. It’s an experience that happens once a year that we can benefit from every day,” Einstein said.
Einstein, along with his wife, Holly, have attended more than 20 of the conventions. Their daughters, 18-year-old Hannah and 15-year-old Katelyn, said they haven’t missed one since they were born.
“My takeaway is that this helps us learn to be better people,” Hannah Einstein said. “Everyone is just as happy to be here as we are.”
Katelyn Einstein said she hopes to carry the convention’s theme of “love never fails” back to school. She said she wants to learn how to show compassion to classmates, even when it’s difficult.
The convention applies different themes each year. Previous slogans have centered on courage, resiliency and other themes tied to the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses have held similar conventions in Roanoke since the 1930s.
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a denomination that began in Pittsburgh in the 1870s. The organization reported having more than 8 million members as of 2018. Members are well known for ministering door-to-door.
Leo Cormier, a spokesperson for the convention, said 42 congregations were represented over the course of three days. Most of the convention-goers are from the Roanoke region and New River Valley, although some traveled from eastern West Virginia.
On Friday, attendees spent a bulk of the morning in the Berglund Center Coliseum listening to music and studying Bible passages. A speaker led the programs through a video played on the coliseum’s massive screens.
The convention’s symposiums were meant to help attendees in practical ways, according to the organizers. Some programs hoped to “address how love can help people surmount obstacles such as a troubled upbringing, chronic illness, or poverty.”
A public Bible discourse scheduled for Sunday is called “True Love in a Hate-Filled World — Where?” and will focus on overcoming prejudice and hate.
Kristen Hughes, 26, and Evan Hughes, 29, a married couple from Stuarts Draft, said they’ve attended conventions in Roanoke since they were children but met later on. Both recently attended a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention in Germany with 40,000 others, including 5,000 delegates from countries other than the U.S.
The program in Roanoke was tied to six larger conventions held in the U.S. this weekend.
Perry Allen, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses mid-Atlantic region, said he hopes the conventions’ message can help calm divisions in the U.S. and across the world.
“I hope it can show that through love, we can be united,” Allen said.