Thirty-Five Years in the Watchtower
By: Burt Noyes
"Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ, has been born from God."
(1 John 5:1----- NWT)
As I read this verse, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. (Acts
9:18) I had come to appreciate in a more complete sense God's mercy and
grace, and how important my relationship with his son Jesus was. Thirty-five years of training and indoctrination by the Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society were quickly being eroded by a new-found desire to understand
God and his Holy Word, the Bible. (1 Corinthians 11:3) This conversion
from a man-made religion to a faith and belief based on God's Holy Spirit
and truth was really a culmination of events that started in the mid-
It was in 1965 that my father was first exposed to the Jehovah's
Witnesses. His marriage to my mother was on the rocks, and lack of
fulfillment both personally and secularly made him a prime target for the
Watchtower teachings. He was a brilliant man who had wasted his vast
potential on drinking, womanizing and the fast life. The opportunity to be
a "somebody" in the Watchtower Organization coupled with the gloom-and-doom prophecy of 1975 proved a powerful draw to him, as it did to
hundreds of thousands in the late 1960's to early 1970's. By 1966, when I
was three years old, my father and mother both became baptized JWs. In
the next few years, my grandparents, 2 aunts, and uncle took the same
My father made rapid advancement, becoming a Book Study Conductor in
the local congregation and was appointed an elder when that arrangement
was established in 1973 (my grandfather was appointed at the same
time). My life and training were centered around the JWs from 1966 on,
and our family looked forward to the end of the "system of things" in 1975.
My parents continued having children, until I had six younger brothers and
Meetings and field service were automatic, and there was never a question
as to what was the priority in our family. I was repeatedly told that I was
so fortunate to be able to grow up in the very last days of this "system",
that I would never have to worry about graduating from school, finding a
job, or having a family in this system. Nevertheless, I continued to do well
in school, consistently being at the head of the class.
In 1970, my father had been asked by the Circuit Overseer to go and help
an inner-city congregation in Rochester, NY. The congregation was mostly
black, and was meeting in a shambles of a Kingdom Hall on Berlin St.
Unbeknownst to him, the C.O. (who was Asian) was a racist, and had it in
for the congregation servant. (title formerly given to the Presiding
Overseer) My father, being idealistic and naive, ended up serving as a
unknowing accomplice in an effort to remove this faithful man.
The C.O. sent in other white elders, and with the help of one black elder,
succeeded in removing this faithful man from his post and also stripped
him of his pioneering privileges, which he had done continuously for over
20 years. The matter was viewed so seriously that my father and the black
turn-coat elder actually made an appearance before the Governing Body in
Brooklyn Headquarters. The GB ruled in favor of the white elders and the
faithful black brother was removed. (so much for God's spirit-directed
(Interestingly, as years passed on, the brother was restored to his
eldership, while all the elders who railroaded him have drifted away or
After the fiasco, my father decided to move the family to the Finger Lakes
of NY, where we attended a congregation with a mixture of local farmers
and commuters to the city of Rochester. The cong. was under the control
of a eloquent, powerful, but young presiding overseer, and half the
congregation was related to this elder. As a result, the elder body was
split into two factions, the country elders vs the city elders.
While attending this congregation, the much-anticipated year of 1975
came and went. One of my most vivid memories was seeing the book
"Famine 1975" in the Kingdom Hall library. The WatchTower Society had
had used this book liberally in support of it's now failed prophecy.
There was a different attitude in the post-1975 period. My aunt, who by
the way had 6 children, had been putting off dental work on all of her
children in the early 70's, thinking that it wasn't necessary to do so with
the "New Order" so close at hand. Discouragement over the delay of
Armageddon was also evident in the activity of the congregation. Field
service and meeting attendance was noticeably declining, and our family
service activity on weekends wasn't "automatic" anymore.
Meanwhile, the situation in our family was deteriorating. My father who
had seven children, was loaded with debt, and lost his job; also, a deep
rift had developed in the congregation, pitting my father and another elder
against the country faction.
It all came to a head when serious wrongdoing was uncovered in the P.O.'s
family. Such wrongdoing as incest, rape, adultery, drunkenness, spouse
and child abuse had become entrenched in the cong. and the P.O. was
using his power to cover up these sins and protect his family and position.
(I always found it amazing that such people could tolerate, even
participate, in such wrongdoing and then have the nerve to shun a
disfellowshipped brother or sister.)
The situation became so intolerable that my father asked to be deleted,
which the elder body was more than happy to do. After his deletion, my
father became inactive, even missing the most-hallowed annual Memorial
Celebration. My younger brother followed suit, while my mother and I tried
to keep ourselves and younger children active in the congregation.
In the meantime, I was nearing completion of high school. I scored
extremely high on my SAT's and had won a statewide scholastic
competition, and had handfuls of scholarship offers to every major college
in the country in the mail box daily. My math teacher had even arranged a
special grant through a state college that would let me earn a good living
in research while I earned a degree. Although I wanted terribly to go to
college so I could have a career that followed my natural interests, I knew
how my parents and the congregation viewed college education. To go to
college would have been viewed as a lack of faith that we were in the "last
days." So despite tremendous pressure from school officials and teachers,
upon graduation I decided to apprentice in a trade with a brother in
Eventually, I was blessed with a beautiful wife and four children. I served
as a ministerial servant for many years and was appointed in 1994 as an
elder. Although I hated my career path and was still plying my trade (now
in Florida), I felt the sacrifices I had made in a educational and secular
way were insignificant in comparison to the joy my family and
congregation activity brought. I used to reflect on how fortunate I had
been to grow up "in the truth." I genuinely felt sorry for the "worldly"
people who would soon die in Armageddon.
Any doubts or discrepancies in the WT doctrine I usually swept aside as
inconsequential or left it to Jehovah to clarify later. There were two items
though that I couldn't set aside no matter how hard I tried. The major one
was that despite my training, I could not shake the feeling that I had the
heavenly hope. I knew that I couldn't or shouldn't have this desire
according to the WTS, so I kept waiting on Jehovah to help me cope until
he changed my frame of mind.
Much to my consternation though, I seemed to get continual reminders
that I had been "called." On such occasion was at the Sunday meeting. A
sister who was given to grand-mal seizures so violent she would end up on
the floor started having an unusually intense seizure. I said a brief prayer
to Jehovah, asking him to relieve her in this instance. As I opened my
eyes her seizure stopped suddenly, surprising her husband and her friends.
I was overwhelmed at this point, wondering what Jehovah meant by this. I
recalled James 5:16, about the force of a righteous mans prayer, but what
had just happened to me was contrary to the thinking of the Watchtower
The other item that never seemed to fully resolve itself was the identity of
the "great crowd." I could never see a clear connection between the "