For the first time, Jehovah’s Witnesses are holding their annual conventions online at https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/conventions/


The gatherings include local participants and residents throughout the state, a spokesman said. Sessions began July 11-12. The final weekend is scheduled for Aug. 29-30 and sessions can be viewed free.


“The entire state of Arkansas is invited to enjoy the online convention. This will include hundreds of individuals throughout Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas,” according to the spokesman.


The annual convention is available to everyone worldwide at no charge.


“For a number of years now, we have enjoyed gathering at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock and have appreciated the cooperation of the local officials to make these events happen. However, we are canceling our gatherings this year out of concern for the health and safety of our local communities,” according to the news release.


Local conventions were scheduled for June 26-28 and July 3-5 at Little Rock and the Fort Smith Convention Center, where 34,700 English and Spanish speaking people were to attend.


“Our conventions, both in Arkansas and worldwide, are known for their peaceful family atmosphere and the unparalleled unity among people from a variety of social, economic, and racial backgrounds. Out of concern for the health and welfare of our delegates and community members throughout the Little Rock and Fort Smith areas, these conventions were canceled in March as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the release.


The online program is to be released in six installments, each corresponding to a morning or afternoon session of what would have been three successive convention days.


“Our worship is centered on our mutual love for our God and for each other, irrespective of where we are physically,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “This year’s convention program underscores the unity of our international family and the joy that people can have against a backdrop of stress and despair.”


The two Christian principles guiding the Witnesses’ historic decision are respect for the sanctity of life and love of neighbor.


“As much as we long to meet together, life is far too precious to put at risk,” said Hendriks. “The virtual meetings we have held over the past four months have proved to all of us that it’s not about where we are physically. It’s about where we are spiritually. In many ways we are closer as a spiritual family than ever before.”


A key feature of the program will be a Bible-based drama that considers the life of Nehemiah and how he helped the ancient nation of Israel find joy in their worship of God.


A highlight of the annual convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the live baptism that usually happens during the Saturday program. In 2020, local arrangements will be made to baptize all candidates.


Those interested in viewing the convention can contact their local congregation or access the program on jw.org, available under the “Library” tab. Details: https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/conventions/