An Essex newspaper has reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses will likely be relocating their UK headquarters from Mill Hill, London to what is currently a “run-down car breakers yard” in Chelmsford.
The 50-acre site, currently known as “Temple Farm,” has been bought by Watchtower’s UK arm, the International Bible Students Association (IBSA), pending planning permission being accepted.
The proposed move has received a mixed response from locals, with councillor Roy Whitehead telling the Essex Chronicle that he would be “very sad” if it wasn’t welcomed. “We are looking at and confusing two different things,” he said. “It’s a business, a place for printing their literature, it’s not about people who don’t like them knocking on their doors.”
The councillor’s comments came in the wake of a poll, conducted by the same paper, which revealed that a third of readers objected to the plans. But it has since emerged that the discontent could run even deeper than first thought, since the dubious poll allowed the potential for Witness supporters to vote multiple times.
The Essex Chronicle’s coverage also reveals considerable confusion over what the proposed move will entail, with the editors clearly clueless as to what Jehovah’s Witnesses practice or believe.
For example, the paper published the reflections of one reader who wrongly asserted: “These people ACTUALLY believe that planet earth is only around 6000 years old.” The owner of a local skip company was also quoted as saying: “It’s more jobs and from that point of view it does away with a site that is heavily contaminated with car battery and acid.”
Witnesses actually teach a version of Creationism in which the Earth is said to be much older than six thousand years. And how a religious organization that operates solely on a volunteer basis could be construed as bringing “more jobs” to the community will be a mystery to many.
Not helping matters is the Chronicle’s seeming willingness to capitulate to Watchtower’s PR machinery, with the publishing of a heavily biased and misleading article “Ten facts you may not know about Jehovah’s Witnesses as they come to Chelmsford.” Among other things, the article informed the paper’s readers that the bible “dictates” against blood transfusions and that “Kingdom Halls coordinate voluntary missionary projects in third world countries.”
Sub-standard journalism aside, what the good people of Chelmsford CAN look forward to is the following:
- Increased door-knocking – Though the new headquarters will not be directly involved in evangelical work, it will be staffed by approximately 800 “bethelites” who will all be assigned to the local congregations – thus swelling the local population of Witnesses. And the more Witnesses there are per congregation, the more frequently the preaching territory will be worked. As one local elder commented, “there are 800 people coming – where are we going to put them! We already have about 100 per each of our Chelmsford congregations – it’s going to be good fun.” At least some of this “fun” will come at the expense of the Saturday mornings of local residents.
- Increased visitors – There are currently 1,558 congregations in Britain, and you can be sure that most of these will want to arrange coach trips to the new facilities once these are finished. As Watchtower spokesman Paul Gillies remarked, “we do organise tours to show people around the locations. As a charity relying on donations, Jehovah’s Witnesses will come from all over Britain to see what their money is being spent on.” But, contrary to Gillies’ assertion that pilgrims will “stay in local hotels and spend locally,” locals should not bank on a tourism boom. Witnesses spurn the pursuit of money and further education in favor of “seeking first the kingdom.”
- Immaculate buildings and landscaping – If approved, the new headquarters will be finished to a very high standard, and will certainly be an aesthetic improvement on the current rundown wasteland. That said, Watchtower is currently closing down and selling off branch properties at a rate never before seen, so there are no guarantees that the Britain Branch won’t one day experience the same fate. And as a registered charity the Witnesses will benefit from a number of tax breaks, including significantly reduced business rates.
- Same cult, but based locally – Jehovah’s Witnesses are increasingly gaining a terrible reputation for their various unethical practices and teachings which include (1) shunning relatives who leave the organization, (2) abstinence from certain medical treatments involving blood, (3) mishandling of child abuse, (4) negligence regarding domestic abuse and (5) stigmatization of higher education for teenagers. If Watchtower’s plans succeed, Chelmsford will have the dubious privilege of becoming the UK hub for promoting and exporting the aforementioned.
- Essex Chronicle article: “Chelmsford to host UK headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Temple Farm“
- Essex Chronicle article: “Ten facts you may not know about Jehovah’s Witnesses as they come to Chelmsford“
- Essex Chronicle article: “New Jehovah’s Witnesses Chelmsford HQ ‘a business not an evangelical centre‘”
- Essex Chronicle article: “Poll suggests support for Jehovah’s Witnesses as they set up on Chelmsford“
- JWsurvey article: Where is the public benefit?