A leaked letter dated March 29, 2014, has been circulated to all elders advising of a huge shake-up in financing arrangements for kingdom hall and assembly hall construction.
The letter is four pages long, but only the first page is to be read out to publishers. The three-page postscript, containing further details of how the new arrangement is to be implemented, includes the sentence (in bold): “This postscript should not be read to the congregation, and this letter should not be posted on the information board.”
The first page is due to be read out at congregation service meetings for the week of May 5, 2014.
“Having sufficient, adequate places of worship is vital, as Jehovah continues to ‘speed up’ the gathering of ‘a mighty nation,'” it reads. “In order to meet these ever increasing needs, the Governing Body has directed that an adjustment be made in the way Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction projects are financed.”
What is this adjustment? “In harmony with 2 Corinthians 8:12-14, congregations will now be asked to pool their resources worldwide to support the construction of theocratic facilities wherever they are needed.”
What will this “pooling” of resources involve? “…all congregations will have the opportunity to support Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction work worldwide by resolving to make a monthly donation from congregation funds.”
Once the letter has been read, congregations will have just four weeks (with a final deadline of May 31) to agree on a monthly figure to be sent to Watchtower, ostensibly for the construction of kingdom halls and assembly halls worldwide.
Figures that don’t add up
“The need for Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls is greater than ever before,” the letter insists. “At this time, over 13,000 Kingdom Hall projects and 35 Assembly Hall projects are needed worldwide.”
After listening to the above statement, publishers would be forgiven for assuming that more than 13,000 new Kingdom Halls are needed each year to keep pace with publisher growth.
However, when you compare the number of congregations in 2013 (113,823) with the number of congregations the year before (111,719), you note that there has been an increase of only 2,104 congregations worldwide – some of which will be sharing existing kingdom hall infrastructure. The 13,000 figure is therefore either a gross exaggeration, or kingdom halls are being refurbished and rebuilt at an astonishing rate – faster than is actually required.
Never-ending loan repayments
According to the leaked letter, “Congregation and Assembly Halls will no longer be asked to repay a loan.” However, in the elders-only part of the letter, congregations are instructed that their new monthly pledge must be “at least the same amount as the current monthly loan repayment” for congregations repaying loans for building work.
In other words, if your congregation is paying off a kingdom hall build or refurbishment, your loan repayments must effectively continue indefinitely.
If a congregation isn’t already making loan repayments, then a confidential survey is to be taken by passing out slips of paper to determine how much local brothers are willing to pledge.
Room for maneuver
Congregation elders will have at least some flexibility to alter the congregation’s monthly pledge in the future according to circumstances, but this works both ways.
“Elders should review this resolution annually in May to ensure the amount is what the congregation is realistically able to donate on a monthly basis. For example, there may be a significant increase or decrease in the number of publishers in the congregation, or the local economic conditions may appreciably improve or deteriorate, thus affecting the amount that the congregation can reasonably contribute. If necessary, the elders may take a new financial survey, as described above, to determine whether the resolved monthly contribution to Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide should be adjusted for the coming year.” – March 29, 2014 BOE letter, page 2
The monthly pledge can thus be adjusted downwards or upwards at the elders’ discretion on an annual basis.
But who actually owns a kingdom hall, and thus bears responsibility for paying for it?
Who owns a kingdom hall?
Most congregations now have arrangements in place where kingdom halls are under the legal ownership of a board of trustees made up of local elders. But this doesn’t give elders the freedom to do what they want, even if they are all in agreement. Watchtower ultimately holds all the aces.
You see, elders can only BE elders if they are approved by Watchtower. Elders who are removed by Watchtower are automatically no longer trustees, and will have no say in how their kingdom hall is run.
This state of affairs was recently highlighted by the Menlo Park scandal, in which an entire body of elders in California was removed by the organization for failing to comply with the circuit overseer’s insistence that their kingdom hall be refurbished, even though a refurbishment wasn’t deemed necessary.
A lengthy legal battle ensued in which some of the ousted elders argued for their reappointment, but they proved to be ill-prepared. They assumed they were victims of one or two rogue individuals in the organization, and thus failed to grasp that the problems they were trying to address were systemic.
Their true foe was Watchtower itself.
Perhaps the most poignant moment from the Menlo Park case came when Watchtower’s legal representative, Calvin Rouse, made the following declaration in court…
“Ordinarily I wouldn’t be here, but this is one of our 13,000 congregations in the United States. We are a hierarchical religion structured just like the Catholic Church. And when the order from the Pope comes down in the church defrocking a priest and kicking him out, he no longer has any say in any matter in the local parish priest – in the parish. The same situation as here. In his complaint he brings one claim. He claims that he wants to be reinstated as a director and an officer in the Menlo Park Congregation. This is contrary to our church rules and regulations and bylaws. We brought our organizational bylaws book, our rule book here, and we are prepared to present witnesses that this is a hierarchical organization.”
Hence the organization, which is a self-confessed hierarchy, has an over-riding controlling interest respecting kingdom hall buildings, but congregation members are still expected to pick up the tab.
No more “surplus funds”
The final undermining of any vestiges of financial autonomy at congregation level is accomplished on page 4 of this new letter, where a section headed “Surplus funds” effectively ends any possibility of the existence of wealthy, self-reliant congregations.
Congregations are thus to financially surrender themselves to the organization. There is no longer any excuse for the amassing of funds for a rainy day. Only “minor renovations or repairs” are to be cared for locally. If there are surplus funds, elders must discuss sending these to Watchtower.
Such reliance on ‘big brother’ may seem refreshing in the eyes of many Witnesses, but it has its risks. If Watchtower is ever declared bankrupt, individual congregations will be on their own, and without any nest egg to fall back on when their kingdom halls start to deteriorate.
An “opportunity” taken under compulsion?
The idea that congregations should become perpetually indebted to Watchtower in this manner by means of a monthly pledge, which they are being ordered to agree to within a four-week window, is a strange one – at least by bible standards.
According to the bible, Jesus Christ encouraged the forgiving of debts (Matt. 6:12; 18:23-35), and the Apostle Paul counseled that Christians should not have to give “under compulsion.” – 2 Cor 9:7
For the Governing Body to be so forthright in pursuing congregations for funding under whatever pretext will be curious to some, especially after it has been revealed that the organization is set to pocket a staggering 1 billion dollars in proceeds from the sale of its Brooklyn property.
But when you consider Watchtower’s apparent financial woes as evidenced by the unprecedented organizational downsizing, not to mention the increasing threat posed by child abuse lawsuits, the Governing Body’s assault on congregation coffers for extra cash is all too predictable.
To protect the anonymity of my source, a scan of the letter will not be made available. However, you can read the text from the full letter below…
March 29, 2014
TO ALL CONGREGATIONS
Re: Adjustment to financing Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide
On September 1, 1983, the Kingdom Hall Fund was created to help finance the increasing need for Kingdom Halls. For more than 30 years, this arrangement has served to expand the construction of Kingdom Halls worldwide in a tremendous way by means of Regional Building Committees and the program for lands with limited resources. Having sufficient, adequate places of worship is vital, as Jehovah continues to ‘speed up’ the gathering of “a mighty nation.” (Isa. 60:22) In order to meet these ever-increasing needs, the Governing Body has directed that an adjustment be made in the way Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction projects are financed.
In harmony with the principle at 2 Corinthians 8:12-14, congregations will now be asked to pool their resources worldwide to support the construction of theocratic facilities wherever they are needed. Congregations and Assembly Halls will no longer be asked to repay a loan, and use of the separate contribution box labeled “Kingdom Hall Construction Worldwide” has been discontinued. Instead, all congregations will have the opportunity to support Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide by resolving to make a monthly donation from congregation funds. If individual publishers wish to donate specifically to support Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide, such donations will be accepted gladly and used wisely by the branch office. From now on, all funding for approved projects will be provided by the branch office from the funds that have been donated by you dear brothers and sisters.
The need for Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls is greater than ever before. At this time, over 13,000 Kingdom Hall projects and 35 Assembly Hall projects are needed worldwide. Much of this need is in parts of the world where the cost of property and building materials is high. A tremendous amount of funds is needed to care for this work. However, we are confident that Jehovah will provide what is needed by your generous support. Time and again we have seen this take place. For example, it has been 24 years since we began offering literature under the donation arrangement, yet Jehovah’s blessing on this adjustment has been obvious. We are confident that by means of Jehovah’s continued blessing and the generosity of the worldwide brotherhood, the new arrangement for financing Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction will be a success as well.—1 Chron. 29:11-14; Ps. 127:1.
May Jehovah continue to richly bless your hard work and loyal service as you generously support Kingdom interests.
Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Re: Adjustment to financing Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide March 29, 2014 Page 2
PS to body of elders:
At the Service Meeting for the week of April 28, 2014, the congregation should be informed that use of the contribution box labeled “Kingdom Hall Construction Worldwide” will be discontinued on May 1, 2014. and that further information will be provided at the following Service Meeting. This letter should be read to the congregation during the local needs part on the Service Meeting for the week of May 5, 2014. (Congregations having an assembly the week of May 5 should have the letter read the following week.) This postscript should not be read to the congregation, and this letter should not be posted on the information board. After the reading of the letter, either a resolution should be presented to the congregation or the survey described below should be taken. The December 7, 2009, letter to all congregations should be removed from the congregation permanent file of policy letters and be destroyed. Updated congregation accounting instructions and forms will begin to be provided in May 2014.
Resolved donations: All congregations are asked to establish a monthly resolved donation to support Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide by no later than May 31, 2014.
• What amount should be used for this new resolved monthly donation?
The elders in congregations currently making loan repayments would likely propose a resolution that is at least the same amount as the current monthly loan repayment, keeping in mind that donations will no longer be received from the “Kingdom Hall Construction Worldwide” contribution box. The elders in congregations without loans or those having standing resolutions to support Kingdom Hall construction worldwide should take a confidential survey of all publishers to determine the amount of the new resolution. This can be done by passing out slips of paper to be filled out anonymously by the publishers indicating how much they are able to contribute monthly toward local congregation expenses, including the resolution to support Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide. At the time the survey is taken, it may be helpful to also review with the congregation the average monthly operating expenses that need to be covered.
Elders should review this resolution annually in May to ensure the amount is what the congregation is realistically able to donate on a monthly basis. For example, there may be a significant increase or decrease in the number of publishers in the congregation, or the local economic conditions may appreciably improve or deteriorate, thus affecting the amount that the congregation can reasonably contribute. If necessary, the elders may take a new financial survey, as described above, to determine whether the resolved monthly contribution to Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide should be adjusted for the coming year.
• What should be done with other existing resolutions?
Any previous resolution to support Kingdom Hall construction should be discontinued. All other resolutions, such as those for contributing to the worldwide work, the Convention Fund, the Traveling Overseer Assistance Arrangement, and the Kingdom Hall Assistance Arrangement, should continue to be honored. Where more than one congregation shares a Kingdom Hall, resolutions to contribute to a shared Kingdom
Re: Adjustment to financing Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide March 29,2014 Page 3
Hall operating account to cover the operating costs, minor renovations, and repairs may be adjusted as needed.
• How should this new resolved amount be submitted to the branch office?
Each congregation should establish its own resolution to contribute to Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide and submit the resolved amount with its monthly remittance to the branch office. These resolved amounts should not be submitted through Kingdom Hall operating accounts. If revised forms for congregation accounting are not yet available in the language of the congregation, the resolved donation amount for Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide may be recorded on the line “Kingdom Hall Construction Worldwide (Resolution)” that appears on the form(s) currently being used.
• What should be done if congregation funds are not sufficient to cover resolved donations?
If sufficient funds are not available for all resolved donations in a particular month, additional funds should not be solicited. The elders should determine what amounts from the congregation funds that are available at the end of the month will be applied toward the resolved monthly donation(s) and whether the shortfall should be made up in future months. However, it would be appropriate for the elders to remind the congregation of the resolved monthly commitments. If the congregation can no long¬er contribute the amount(s) they resolved on a regular basis, the elders may consider the situation at the next annual review of the resolution for Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide.
Contribution boxes: As noted above, on May 1, 2014, each Kingdom Hall should have only two types of contribution boxes, one labeled “Local Congregation Expenses” and one labeled “Worldwide Work.”
• What should be done with existing “Kingdom Hall Construction Worldwide” boxes or boxes set up to accept donations for a local building project?
These boxes will no longer be used for accepting donations in support of Kingdom Hall or Assembly Hall construction. They should be removed or relabeled to accept donations for the worldwide work on May 1, 2014.
• What type of expenses can be paid from funds received in the “Local Congregation Expenses” box?
These funds should be used to pay approved congregation expenses, including Kingdom Hall operating expenses, minor renovations, and repairs (through the operating committee, if applicable), as well as for all monthly resolved donations that are sent to the branch office.
• Are there any changes to the existing “Worldwide Work” box?
No. Funds received in the “Worldwide Work” box will continue to be forwarded to the branch office each month. No congregation expenses or monthly resolutions should be paid from these funds.
[as shown above, see “Surplus funds”]