On Wednesday, Sept. 25, hundreds of people congregated to Co. Y, off Hwys. 14/61/27, between the cities of Westby and Viroqua, to volunteer their services building a new Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall.
Cars, trucks and campers rolled onto the three-acre plot of land where a large cement slab for the new Kingdom Hall was poured in August. Similar to an Amish barn raising, within hours on Wednesday, Sept. 25, the buildings frame was up.
On Thursday, Sept. 26, the 4,000 square foot new structure had walls and was completely roofed. On Friday, Sept. 27, the brick exterior masonry work began and by Sunday, Sept. 29, all that will be left to do to the building will be carpeting, tiling and cabinetry on the interior.
The construction process was an attention grabber as swarms of people, from the ages of 18 and up, wearing construction hard hats and neon vests could be seen from the highway busy at work.
In total up to 500 people, 250-300 at any given time worked rotating schedules on-site and traveled from as far north as Superior, west from Hudson and east from Wausau to lend a helping hand in the construction process.
The blueprint of the building has been in the works for the past year. The Jehovah Witnesses use a Regional Building Committee (RBC) comprised of five leaders and five assistants. The building committee is in charge of overseeing the 45 department divisions, made totally of volunteers, with a variety of professionals from plumbing, electrical, masonry, food service, landscaping and more.
One RBC chairman for the Westby-Viroqua Kingdom Hall was Bryon Berger of Osseo, and assistant Tom Gibbons of Eau Claire.
“Everything is volunteer from start to finish so the weather is our biggest difficulty when it doesn’t cooperate,” Berger said.
Weather was not a determining factor in Vernon County, with ideal weather conditions for the majority of the process. After the RBC selects a timeframe for a construction project volunteers are given a three-month notice to arrange their schedules to assist with the building process. Once the project is underway, volunteers began their days at 7 a.m. with breakfast. The construction process was underway by 8 a.m. and continued strong until 6-7 p.m. in the evening, with breaks at noon and 5 p.m. for meals. All meals were prepared on site and all costs associated with the construction project are handled by the local Kingdom Hall committee for whom the building was being built.
In May, the Vernon County based Jehovah Witnesses Kingdom Hall sold its older building in Viroqua and have been holding weekly meetings in Sparta in the Kingdom Hall that was constructed on Hwy. 16, outside of Sparta in 2012.
“The reward of the project is watching all the people come together for the good of others,” Gibbons said.
While working on the new Kingdom Hall, volunteers are welcomed into the homes of local Jehovah Witnesses, book rooms at area motels and reserve campground sites. There are approximately 50 Kingdom Halls in the West Central Region of Wisconsin, with as many as 11,000 member volunteers registered in the West Central Region alone to assist with new building projects.
“Timing of a project and the economy can definitely help or hinder the volunteer-based numbers as well,” Berger said.
Weather permitting the entire project from start to finish, structure to landscaping, including state required inspections, will have a clear punch list within two weeks of the actual building process. The RBC utilized local vendors whenever possible for the project, which was dependent on awarded bids for products.
The new Kingdom Hall can seat approximately 100 people, has bathrooms, family care facilities, coat room, library, meeting room, a speaking platform and an auditorium for worship services.
Jehovah Witnesses meet on Sundays at the Kingdom Hall for a public meeting, which includes a Bible-based lecture. A second meeting features discussion of an article from Watchtower magazine. Meetings begin and end with prayer and may include singing.
Jehovah Witnesses do not have an ordained clergy class, meetings are conducted by elders or overseers. Their faith is strengthened during the week with small group Bible study in private homes.
“Our faith is based on spirituality,” Berger said.