Thousands flock to Sheffield religious convention

Gifford Birchley, one of the speakers at the Jehovah's Witnesses gathering at the Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield.
Gifford Birchley, one of the speakers at the Jehovah's Witnesses gathering at the Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield.

As many as 9,000 people are descending on Sheffield Arena this weekend for an annual regional convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

While the majority of attendees will be members of congregations from surrounding areas, some non-religious people are expected to make the trip in search of answers, both about what the faith stands for and life in general.

Due to some of its key beliefs, those unfamiliar with the religion may say it is controversial or even extreme - but those who conform to the faith say they are following a simple and honest life based on the teachings of the Bible.

Robert Sealey, a member of the Woodhouse Jehovah’s Witness congregation, who is attending the convention which got underway yesterday, said: “We are not trying to be different, we are simply following a set of Bible principles that have become different to the world around us.

“Many people in the 21st century live quite happily by these principles.”

Aspects of the religion that others may find difficult to grasp - such as not celebrating Christmas and birthdays, not marrying people outside the religion, and refusing blood transfusions - all have reasonings behind them which are laid out in the Bible, according to Robert.

He said: “There is no evidence in the Bible to suggest Jesus was born on December 25, and Jesus asked that his death be celebrated, not his birth, which is why we don’t mark the date.

“Christmas has also become entangled with elements that are not about Christianity.

“And, as we don’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday, why would we celebrate our own? It doesn’t mean we don’t have fun though or give gifts at different times.”

In terms of marrying within the religion, it’s believed selecting a partner with similar beliefs makes for a strong and successful marriage, while the reason for refusing blood transfusions is because the Bible commands people to abstain from blood.

“It’s a myth that we don’t believe in medical treatment, or that our faith will make us well,” Robert said. “Many Jehovah’s Witnesses work in the healthcare sector, and all seek the best medical care.”

During the convention there will be key talks on the Bible as well as interviews with those who have turned to the faith.

According to Robert the religion is simply about answering questions such as what is the meaning of life, why there is suffering in the world, and what happens to us after we die. He says some turn to the faith to find where they fit while others join for support during times of difficulty.

Everyone is welcome to attend the convention, at the Motorpoint Arena today and tomorrow.

Entry is free.