500 volunteers spend three weekends erecting Georgetown's new Kingdom Hall

Brittanny Whiteside, left, of Frankfort and Deborah Wilson of Owenton peeked inside to check progress.  Volunteers spent three weeks building a Kingdom Hall in Georgetown.
Brittanny Whiteside, left, of Frankfort and Deborah Wilson of Owenton peeked inside to check progress. Volunteers spent three weeks building a Kingdom Hall in Georgetown. Herald-Leader

You could see the construction crew from the bypass, silhouetted against the evening sky. The army of workers was assembling the wooden frame as the sun dipped and air cooled.

Jehovah's Witnesses, known for devotion to spreading the Lord's word door to door, aren't ones to boast about their impressive tradition of building Kingdom Halls.

"It's not like we send out a press release or anything," said Herschell Mirick, an elder from Northern Kentucky who oversaw the Georgetown construction, which started on the weekend of Oct. 24 and wrapped up Nov. 10.

But if asked, they are happy to explain how it all works. Individual congregations once built their halls, the center of their faith community, he said. It was a way to keep costs down. But the process was often slow, and the projects would go on for years.

In the 1980s, some folks in Oklahoma decided to pool resources, Mirick said. A call went out that a construction project would happen on a specific weekend. The project was finished ahead of schedule, and a tradition was born. It's called "quick-build construction."

Here's how it worked in Georgetown: The build attracted about 500 volunteers. It included professionals in masonry, heating and air conditioning, electricians and plumbing, but it also drew people who train on the job and will later help train others.

In addition to the construction work, a crew provides breakfast, lunch and dinner for the enthusiastic throng. For three weekends — Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning on Oct. 24 — a rotating cast of volunteers moved through the project.

Upon completion, three Georgetown congregations with about 300 members total — Georgetown East, Georgetown West and a Spanish-speaking ministry — will all use the building.

The construction day began at 8:30 a.m. with breakfast and some prayer and a spiritual lesson.

"A little spiritual boost," Mirick said.

There's a mandatory safety meeting at 9 a.m., followed by work. Lunch was from 12:30 to 1:30, dinner at 6 p.m. Sometimes volunteers worked until it was dark.

There is a faith-based reason for the quick construction, Mirick said. The basic thrust of the Jehovah's Witness evangelism is the door-to-door ministry. If Witnesses are working on a building, they can't be knocking on doors. So getting the construction done as quickly and efficiently as possible is a testament to their faith, Mirick said. Once the building is completed, people can get back into their spiritual routine of spreading God's word.

In Kentucky, there have been more than 100 such projects.

Rick Wilson, a mechanical engineer from Owenton, said an invitation goes out to about 1,400 volunteers from various construction specialties. From there, the crew is assembled. Over the past 22 years or so, he has become a master of placing ceiling tiles. He sees his volunteer work on more than 30 projects as a reflection of his faith.

"By building this place, we feel that it is true worship," he said.

Some volunteers travel back and forth to their homes. For example, some Georgetown volunteers essentially commuted from Lexington. Some, like Mirick, who stays for most of the project, are put up in local Witness homes. Others stay in motels.

Although he has 45 years in the construction business, Mirick is excited to watch the building rise. "It's not only the building itself, but the purpose," said Mirick. "We work hard and go home happy."

On Nov. 8, as work was winding down, volunteers at the construction site off the bypass in Georgetown were downright gleeful. Volunteers laughed as they installed ceilings, grouted tile and painted. An elfin woman with a tray of mini cupcakes weaved in and out of heavy equipment and over electrical cords offering "love cakes."

The staff in the full-service kitchen was starting on a supper of meat loaf, homemade rolls, potatoes and a variety of sweets. Barry Tucker, a teacher who had the title of food overseer, said his kitchen has churned out breakfast, lunch and dinner for hundreds each day of the project. The numbers tell the story. In one day, they served 400 eggs for breakfast, 50 pounds of hamburger for meatloaf and 300 homemade rolls.

In 35 years, the teacher figures, he has prepared more than 300,000 meals.

But perhaps what is most impressive about the work site is the lack of tension. Everyone seems to understand their purpose, and people are happy to go about it with minimal fuss. Mirick said it's easy to see the hand of God in how things tend to work out.

Earl Aldrich, an elder with Georgetown West, helped direct volunteers and visitors in the field that served as a parking lot. He seemed a little overwhelmed by the support provided by his brothers and sisters in faith as the final touches were made on the 3,250-square-foot building.

"It is fantastic; they've done so much here," he said. "We really needed this."

So, what about all that knocking on doors?

A key tenet of the faith of the Jehovah's Witnesses is spreading the word of God door to door.

Matthew 28: 19-20 tells believers to "make disciples of people of all nations" said Herschell Mirick, a church elder who oversaw the just-completed construction of a Kingdom Hall in Georgetown. After Jesus' death, first-century Christians continued to spread their message, going home to home. Jehovah's Witnesses continue that tradition.

It can be humbling to carry the message, Mirick said. Some people are kind, he said; some people are rude. But it teaches tolerance, and he and other Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is their duty to offer help to non-believers. He compared it to rescue workers going through neighborhoods after a disaster. The workers, he said, have a responsibility to offer the help. Those being offered help have the right to turn it down.