Last year proved to be an eventful year for leaks, with key announcements for the Annual Meeting divulged in advance, and the hitherto highly-secretive Correspondence Guidelines becoming available. And this year, 2016, promises to be no different.
Previously only circulated online in Spanish, the strictly-confidential Circuit Overseers Guidelines document is now freely available online. And JWsurvey understands a disillusioned circuit overseer is the original source of the leak.
As was the case when the Correspondence Guidelines were leaked, JWsurvey will have no part in distributing information that the Governing Body wishes to keep out of sight of ordinary Witnesses. If, however, our readers wish to scour the internet for this information, we recognize we have limited powers to stop them from doing so.
The document opens with the usual reminder that it is absolutely not, under any circumstances, to be distributed to anyone but the intended recipients.
Circuit Overseer Guidelines is the property of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. A copy is made available to each appointed circuit overseer and substitute circuit overseer. It should not be shown to others. When a circuit overseer or substitute circuit overseer ceases to serve in that capacity, he should destroy his copy of this manual and delete any electronic copies in his possession. (Introduction – point 4)
Again, I trust you will take a moment to ponder this before tracking down an illicit online copy.
The document is quite open about the fact that circuit overseers can expect to be put out to pasture once they hit 70.
The branch office is interested in the welfare of all circuit overseers. For this reason, a circuit overseer will be reassigned to serve as a special pioneer on the September 1 following the service year during which he reaches 70 years of age, even if he has not yet completed a three-year period in his current circuit assignment. (Chapter 2 – point 6)
As pointed out in a previous article, it seems odd that Watchtower’s hierarchy is strewn with such age restrictions (congregation coordinators cannot be older than 80) when the eldest Governing Body member, Samuel Herd, will be 81 this year.
Questionable stationery is a thing
Are you a circuit overseer, or perhaps a congregation, and you fancy sprucing up your congregation letterhead? If so, you need to bear this in mind…
Correspondence should not be on stationery with a letterhead design that is similar to that used by the branch office. This guideline applies also to stationery used by circuit overseers for correspondence with the congregations. Some individuals could wrongly conclude that letters with such a letterhead have been approved by or were sent by the branch office. If local congregations are using questionable stationery, the elders should be given appropriate direction. (Chapter 5 – point 3)
Consider yourselves told.
Don’t leave a child abuse paper trail
If you’re a secretive cult with a terrible reputation for covering up and mishandling child abuse, the last thing you want is more documented evidence of your negligence. So it comes as no surprise that circuit overseers are instructed as follows (bold is mine):
If it becomes necessary for the circuit overseer to seek direction from or report to the branch office on other matters he is directly involved in, his communication should be clear, specific, factual, accurate, and complete. Pertinent details, such as names, the sequence of events, and if possible, dates, should be provided. Communication related to child abuse matters should be handled over the telephone. (Chapter 5 – point 4)
Very smart, but not very transparent – and more than a bit suspicious.
Don’t be repetitive
If you’re a circuit overseer and the travelling work starts to feel a bit repetitive, try not to let your regular weekly reports to the branch reflect this (bold is mine)…
Circuit overseers should avoid making the same comments every week in their reports. Each congregation has unique characteristics and displays a certain spirit. The messages of Jesus to the seven first-century congregations in Asia Minor illustrate that each congregation has its strengths and weaknesses. (Rev., chaps. 2-3) Thus, using identical wording habitually in reports would not be appropriate. (Chapter 5 – point 14)
So creativity and a good vocabulary are key when keeping your congregation reports fresh and riveting.
Personal Qualifications Reports are a thing
It wouldn’t be a very good cult if people weren’t required to fill out forms on each other, and it turns out snitching on people is a key part of a circuit overseer’s job description:
When filling out a Personal Qualifications Report, circuit overseers should give specific comments and clearly indicate what the individual is qualified for at the present time and what he has potential for in the future. Substitute circuit overseers should not submit Personal Qualifications Reports on individuals. (Chapter 5 – point 16)
At the time of writing, I am trying to pursue a copy of the Personal Qualifications Report for the purpose of verifying whether it is as invasive and culty as it sounds. I have a sneaking suspicion that its contents will turn out to be in flagrant violation of the data protection laws of most countries.
And while we’re on the subject of Personal Qualifications Reports (bold is mine)…
The branch office will monitor and evaluate the progress of all temporary special pioneers and of selected regular pioneers who have attended the School for Kingdom Evangelizers. This evaluation program will last no more than three years after the individual begins temporary special pioneering or graduates from the school. The circuit overseer does not need to complete Personal Qualifications Reports on such individuals unless he is specifically requested to do so by the branch office. Circuit overseers should not ask individuals whose service is being evaluated to move to another congregation without first consulting the branch office. (Chapter 5 – point 18)
I’m sure everyone who graduates the School for Kingdom Evangelizers or gets appointed as a temporary special pioneer is candidly informed about this “evaluation program.”
Elders can veto a school application
Have you ever, like me, applied for a special school such as the School for Kingdom Evangelizers, and wondered why it has taken so long to be accepted? Well, it turns out there is a reason for the delay (bold is mine)…
Upon receiving a completed Application to Attend the School for Kingdom Evangelizers from an applicant’s Congregation Service Committee, the circuit overseer will hold the application until his next visit to the applicant’s congregation. During that visit, the circuit overseer should work with and observe the applicant. (If the circuit overseer is new to the circuit, he may contact the previous circuit overseer to obtain his comments.) Thereafter, the circuit overseer will meet with the service committee to discuss the committee’s comments regarding the applicant. The circuit overseer should forward the application to the branch office only if he is convinced that the applicant has the abilities and circumstances to put the advanced training to good use in an assignment. Otherwise, the circuit overseer should instruct the service committee to provide the applicant with kind and honest counsel regarding areas for improvement. (Chapter 5 – point 19)
So, in case you have ever filled in an application to attend one of these special schools, please don’t (like me) assume it is whizzing its way to your local branch for prompt consideration. In actual fact, your circuit overseer is sitting on it until he has had time to “observe” you and run your application past your elders on his next visit.
Circuit overseers and expenses
Perhaps, like me, you suspected that circuit overseers are free and open about approaching elders for their expenses to be reimbursed, but it turns out there is a bit more ritual involved…
Circuit overseers should not take the initiative in requesting that a congregation reimburse them for expenses incurred during the week. They may submit expenses to a congregation only when the elders request these. An itemized list of expenses, together with the receipts, should be provided whenever expenses are submitted for reimbursement. (Chapter 9 – point 7)
I find it intriguing that, even in such routine matters as asking for expenses, circuit overseers are not immune from observing strict protocols. And if they are even forced into the indignity of gathering and presenting their receipts for the week, I can’t help but feel a tinge of sympathy for them.
Perhaps more understandably, circuit overseers are strictly barred from taking gifts from congregation funds or soliciting cash (bold is mine)…
Monetary gifts should not be made to circuit overseers from congregation or circuit funds. Likewise, it is not appropriate for individuals in a congregation or circuit to solicit money from brothers and sisters and then provide this as a gift to a circuit overseer. (2 Cor. 8:20) On the other hand, an individual may be moved by appreciation to make a personal contribution to a circuit overseer. Such genuine Christian generosity on the part of the giver and acceptance on the part of the circuit overseer is a private matter that need not concern others. However, soliciting funds from others, even on a personal basis, should not be done. (Chapter 9 – point 10)
It’s curious that circuit overseers cannot dip into congregation funds or beg for cash, but Watchtower can, and does.
Circuit overseers have an hour requirement
This was always something of a grey area for me. Circuit overseers certainly behaved like pioneers, but did they have an actual hour requirement? It turns out they do, and must report time like anyone else (bold is mine)…
Barring temporary health problems and other factors beyond their control, it should be possible for most circuit overseers and their wives to devote about 17 hours each week to the field ministry, or about 68 hours for those months when there are not conventions, assemblies, schools, or personal time away scheduled. (See 4:8.) Field service activity is reported to the Service Department, using jw.org or the Circuit Overseer’s Monthly Report (S-301). Such reports should be received by the Service Department no later than the 20th of each month. (Chapter 10 – point 6)
Yes, if you’re a circuit overseer, Watchtower usually expects to see 68 hours on your report to the Service Desk each month.
The carts must not take over
Occasionally I am asked if door-to-door preaching work is in any danger of being eclipsed by the cart witnessing initiative, which Witnesses have become accustomed to since its introduction in 2012. In these guidelines, there is a telling clue…
Public witnessing should not overshadow the house-to-house work. Additionally, it is understood that in some very rural territories the effectiveness of organized public witnessing may be limited. (Chapter 10 – point 7)
I think we can consider that as straightforward confirmation that door-knocking is here to stay.
The tight pants rule
As recently reported, Tony Morris succeeded in getting his fixation with close-fitting garments etched into Watchtower law in recent instructions to elders. But the bizarre rule has also protruded into this document (bold is mine)…
If the body of elders agrees that a brother or sister is blatantly and deliberately ignoring repeated counsel, and his or her dress and grooming is disturbing to the congregation, the elders may determine that the person no longer qualifies to share in the ministry. In such rare cases, no announcement would be made to the congregation. (Chapter 10 – point 9)
Yes, collude with homosexual fashion designers by wearing “disturbing” leg-wear if you must, but don’t expect to be allowed to parade your clothing-abomination in the preaching work. That’s just not appropriate. There isn’t really anything else to say about it.
Hospital Liaison Comittees don’t interfere – honest!
Are you a Jehovah’s Witness parent of a child who has just been hospitalized? Expect a call from your friendly neighborhood blood-ban enforcement unit (otherwise known as the Hospital Liaison Committee)…
When a child is hospitalized, elders should meet with the child’s parents to review the document How Parents Can Protect Their Children From Misuse of Blood (S-55). (Chapter 11 – point 3)
Of course, Watchtower will continue to stress to outsiders (especially judges) that the use of medicine is a personal decision, even though organization goons are routinely despatched to coerce parents into refusing blood for their stricken children.
Still no urgency with reporting child abuse
As I mentioned in my recent feature-length child abuse film, a key aggravating factor in the continued mishandling of child abuse is the failure to report each and every accusation of child abuse to the authorities. This guidelines document makes repeated mention of child abuse, such as the following, but nowhere is the urgent need to report mentioned (bold is mine)…
When the body of elders decides to form a judicial committee to meet with one accused of child sexual abuse, the coordinator of the body of elders will first contact the circuit overseer. The circuit overseer should designate an experienced elder who is on the special committee list to serve as chairman of the judicial committee and, when needed, another elder from the list to serve on an appeal committee. (Chapter 13 – point 5)
Those who remotely grasp the complexities of child sexual abuse appreciate the pressing need to involve the authorities at the earliest opportunity. Apart from the risk of a predator re-offending, the likelihood of retrieving evidence that could lead to successful prosecution diminishes the longer a case goes unreported. But in the minds of the Governing Body, these factors pale in significance compared to the need to reinforce confidentiality, acknowledge the organization’s authority, and uphold the two witness rule.
A further indication of the chronic lack of seriousness with which Watchtower takes child abuse can be found in Appendix D, where a checklist for considering appointment/deletion of elders and servants lists an accusation of child abuse as a “past difficulty” in a short list that also includes viewing pornography.
Watchtower sometimes needs to know your race
Are you a Jehovah’s Witness who has just been disfellowshipped due to some indiscretion? If so, and you pursue your right to appeal, it turns out the color of your skin is a relevant piece of information for Watchtower…
Before appointing an appeal committee, the circuit overseer should get the name of the accused, his race, the offense(s) he is charged with, and some facts about the case. (Chapter 13 – point 7)
Hopefully I am not the only one scratching my head as to why a person’s ethnicity is remotely relevant to their request for an appeal hearing. I thought God is not partial?
Circuit Overseers and stealth tithing
Last year we reported on Watchtower’s “stealth tithing” initiative, whereby congregations were asked to send in regular amounts to Watchtower. If a congregation was already indebted due to a building project, the regular amount would replace their debt repayments. If a congregation wasn’t indebted, they had to come up with a figure and start sending it through anyway. Well, it seems circuit overseers are an essential cog in the machinery when it comes to enforcing this arrangement (bold is mine)…
The circuit overseer should confirm with the elders that the congregation’s financial support of the operating costs of their local Kingdom Hall and their resolution to contribute to Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction worldwide are being reviewed annually. The circuit overseer should also verify that the amounts resolved are reasonable and in accord with local circumstances. (Chapter 14 – point 2)
Amazingly, circuit overseers are also specifically asked to suggest that elders pay in any surplus of funds if this is discovered…
Review the average balance of funds held by the congregation, whether locally or with the branch office as funds on deposit, by reviewing recent Monthly Congregation Accounts Reports (S-30). Is the balance in harmony with what the branch office recommends to care for congregation and Kingdom Hall operating expenses? If the balance appears to be larger than what is needed, encourage the elders to consider contributing the excess funds to the organization. (Appendix C – point 5)
So not only are elders advised to send through any surplus (leaving only $5,000 and a few months’ worth of operating expenses) – the circuit overseers are also deployed as additional coercion to ensure this gets done. Congregational autonomy is well-and-truly a thing of the past.
Building stuff for Watchtower might get you preferential treatment
Perhaps, like me, you have noticed an increasing onus on building stuff by the organization? Well, it seems if you are actively involved in helping Watchtower enhance its property portfolio, this could get you preferential treatment when the circuit overseer’s visit is due…
When there are construction servants and construction volunteers in his circuit, the circuit overseer will see to it that they are not overlooked for theocratic privileges. (Chapter 14 – point 6)
Not only are men who build things not to be “overlooked,” but circuit overseers are also asked to be more forgiving of pioneers who fail to meet their hour requirement while being involved in “theocratic projects” (or “projicks” if you are Stephen Lett) as shown in bold…
It may become obvious that it is not practical for a pioneer to continue serving as such, despite his having been given much help by the circuit overseer and the local elders. Perhaps he is far behind in his hours for the current service year, did not reach the hour requirement during the previous service year(s), and has circumstances that do not appear likely to change soon. If so, the circuit overseer should meet with the Congregation Service Committee and inquire if they feel the pioneer still qualifies. On the other hand, if the pioneer is not reaching the hour requirement because of working extensively on theocratic projects, special consideration may be extended. The circuit overseer should remind the elders of the latest direction from the branch office regarding pioneers having difficulty meeting the hour requirement. (Chapter 16 – point 8)
So there’s a good tip for you if you are looking to expedite your ascent up the ladder in Jehovah’s organization: build expensive things that Watchtower can later sell.
Coordinators give “observations” on special pioneers
Are you one of the few surviving special pioneers, and do you believe yourself to be somehow immune from all the politics and snitching? Think again (bold is mine)…
During his first visit of each service year to the congregations, the circuit overseer should confidentially talk with the coordinator of the body of elders to get his observations on the activity of each special pioneer and temporary special pioneer, including whether the pioneer is experiencing any difficulties with regard to health, finances, accommodations, and so forth. (Chapter 16 – point 9)
Yes, special pioneers may have a privileged position, but even they are not immune from being “confidentially” talked about.
A cure for addiction to pioneering
I confess to having been rather lousy with getting my time in during my years as a pioneer, so it’s no surprise to me that there is some room for flexibility when it comes to individual hour requirements for pioneers, but I haven’t yet seen it codified this explicitly (bold is mine)…
In rare circumstances, a brother or sister may be approved to remain as a pioneer without having a minimum hour requirement. This provision is only for exemplary longtime pioneers who have a heartfelt desire to serve always as regular pioneers and who feel they would be taking a backward step if they had to discontinue but who are unable to meet the hour requirement because of infirmity. The elders may consider designating such a pioneer as an infirm regular pioneer if he (1) is over 50 years old and (2) has pioneered for at least 15 cumulative years. The elders should make this decision only after consulting with the circuit overseer regarding the situation. (Chapter 16 – point 14)
So, if you’ve been pioneering for so long that you’ve become institutionalized, and you simply cannot bear the disgrace and indignity of coming off the pioneer list – fear not! You can call yourself a pioneer anyway, and put in next-to-no time at all.
Who said Jehovah’s organization was all about names, ranks and titles?
Clearance to proceed
Ever wondered what happens in the build-up to a circuit overseer visit when it comes to recommendations for new appointments? The guidelines document can shed some light…
When the body of elders of a congregation has decided to recommend the appointment of one or more brothers in connection with the upcoming visit of the circuit overseer, the Congregation Service Committee will send him a completed Recommendations for Appointment of Elders and Ministerial Servants (S-62) form at least one month before his visit. The circuit overseer should immediately forward the form to the Service Department. Such recommendations should not be considered until clearance to proceed has been received from the branch office. Even when clearance is received, this does not indicate that the branch office has endorsed the recommendations. It simply means that the circuit overseer may now give consideration to the recommendations during the upcoming visit. The branch office does not perform a check of the person’s age, marital status, previous appointments and deletions, or the like. That responsibility rests with the body of elders and the circuit overseer. If by the beginning of the week of his visit with the congregation the circuit overseer has not received clearance from the branch office to consider a recommendation, he may call the Service Department to inquire about the matter. (Chapter 17 – point 3)
Goodness knows what is involved in issuing “clearance to proceed.” I’m guessing this involves at least a criminal background check. Either way, the “clearance to proceed” system would indicate that more than just holy spirit is involved in appointing someone as an elder or servant.
More coercion to shun
It wouldn’t be a decent cult instructions document without something about the urgent need to shun, and in that respect the Circuit Overseer’s Guidelines do not disappoint (bold is mine)…
Some have had their spirituality tested with regard to disfellowshipped relatives. For example, some have attended wedding receptions where disfellowshipped persons were present. Doing so goes contrary to the direction at 1 Corinthians 5:11 to “stop keeping company” with such ones. If the host is going to violate this clearly stated direction and invite a disfellowshipped person to a reception, he has an obligation to inform all the wedding guests that a disfellowshipped person will be in attendance so that they can decide whether to attend. Others have attended the wedding of a baptized individual who is marrying an unbeliever or have provided financial assistance to such ones, thus giving their implied support to an unscriptural, unequal yoking. (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14) If an elder or a ministerial servant displays poor judgment in these areas to a degree that it raises serious questions in the minds of others, he may be Scripturally disqualified from serving.—1 Tim. 3:13. (Chapter 17 – point 29)
All this means that if you leave Jehovah’s Witnesses and have a believing uncle, brother, father or grandfather still inside, he will be more likely to shun you if he is an elder or ministerial servant. It’s not just about setting tongues wagging by having contact with you – he also risks losing his position.
It’s just the sort of rule you would expect to find in a registered charity, isn’t it?
An odd question
Are you a respected elder who is suitable material for consideration as a substitute circuit overseer? If so, expect to be asked an awkward question at some point…
Before recommending a brother, the circuit overseer may discreetly ask experienced elders for their observations on the brother but should not reveal to them that the brother is being considered for the substitute circuit work. Brothers recommended to serve as substitute circuit overseers must not have viewed pornography within the last two years. (Chapter 21 – point 2)
It just goes to show – a circuit overseer’s life isn’t always easy or glamorous.
A hint of misogyny
Question: What do you get when a string of male leaders over many decades creates a male-oriented organizational hierarchy based on a sacred text written by men? Answer: Misogny – and lots of it. And when I say misogny, I mean the really ugly sort that doesn’t take kindly to women “dominating conversations”…
A married brother’s wife should also be a pioneer. She should be exemplary in her conduct and in her dealings with others. She should be an effective preacher. She should understand her role, not speaking for her husband or dominating conversations.—1 Pet. 3:3, 4. (Chapter 21 – point 4)
If you are a woman reading this, and you think you will be able to “understand your role,” you might be well-suited to one day being a circuit overseer’s wife if you can keep complaints to a minimum and develop your “quiet and mild spirit” (bold is mine)…
When wives of circuit overseers display a quiet and mild spirit, show warmth and love, exhibit a happy countenance, and have an uncomplaining spirit, they win the support and confidence of others. They should set a fine example for others to follow. Each circuit overseer should help his wife to be zealous in field service, to give meaningful comments at congregation meetings, and to display respect for headship by working cooperatively under his direction. (Chapter 23 – point 2)
Perhaps you succeed in bagging yourself a circuit overseer husband and relish the idea of being admired by your fellow sisters. But just remember to work ONLY with sisters in the ministry where possible. After all, when it comes to the preaching work, gender segregation is the key in Jehovah’s organization…
It is preferred that the wife of a circuit overseer work in service with sisters and younger publishers. While it would not necessarily be improper for her to accompany a brother in field service, this should seldom be necessary in view of the number of sisters available. (Chapter 23 – point 3)
And whatever you do, if your husband needs to show a video during one of his talks, try to keep your dainty hands off the equipment…
When the branch office directs that a video be shown to the congregation, the circuit overseer is responsible for the presentation. If he needs someone to assist him in setting up or running the equipment, he should select an alert, dependable brother. (Chapter 23 – point 6)
If you remain unconvinced that the Governing Body demands control in all areas of one’s life…
In determining whether the individual is disqualified, the elders will need to use good judgment. Were there valid reasons for breaking the engagement, or does the person take the engagement agreement lightly? (Appendix H – point 2)
So if you are contemplating breaking off your engagement to someone who doesn’t share your apprehensive feelings, expect your elders and even the circuit overseer to get involved.
Reasons for optimism
I’m sure there is much more I could write, but hopefully if I’ve missed anything you can do what you definitely shouldn’t do by hunting down the document online and devouring it at your leisure.
I confess to being thrilled that such a sensitive document is now in the public domain. At this rate, we are fast running out of high-circulation documents for Watchtower to keep secret, which can only be a good thing for those of us who yearn for light to shine brightly on this dark, controlling organization.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one who fails to suppress a smug, contented grin at the thought of some brave individual out there who is a circuit overseer, and yet on our side.