From the Book: "The Branch Office (Bethel)"

"Bethel" means house of God. For Jehovah`s Witnesses it means a branch office of the Watchtower Society which serves to carry out extensive tasks, in particular the production and distribution of the "spiritual food" which Jehovah`s Witnesses receive. In Germany the headquarters is located in Selters/Taunus. In 1997 it provided literature for 58 countries, including the newly opened Eastern Europe. At present, about 900,000 publishers live within the area of responsibility of the branch.

Bethel with its permanent members, the Bethel family, could be called the "spiritual order" of Jehovah`s Witnesses. For many young Witnesses it is a desirable goal to receive an invitation to work at Bethel. But only those Witnesses who have informed themselves about Bethel rules and who do not shy away from the strict routine, will apply for such an invitation.

Every Bethel worker accepts the invitation voluntarily and willingly; some of the Witnesses I met there had already spent most of their lifes in Bethel. Witnesses growing old in full-time service are very well taken care of, in a modern and comfortable facility like an old people`s home. In December 1995 there were 1,098 Bethel members working, being provided with rooming and meals plus an allowance. 1996 the youngest member of the Bethel family was 19 years and the oldest 101 years old.

Question: Bethel members work voluntarily, being provided only meals and rooming, as well as a small allowance. What about their retirement insurance?

Answer: For members that have to leave the Watchtower Society has made additional payments for several years within the legal framework of additional insurance for the pension scheme. It covers the complete time of their activity as special full-time servants and ensures their pensions. This arrangement was made in agreement with the state pension scheme office and is valid for all associations that are comparable to religious orders. We do not know of a single case where a special full-time servant who, when getting old or sick, had to suffer deprivation. From time to time persons who are opposing the Witnesses call into question how matters are handled, but they lack any solid foundation. Hence, in the event that a married couple or a single person has to leave the special full-time service, e.g. to take care of their old parents, they are insured and entitled to a pension.

According to the leaflet "Welcome to the branch ..." each Bethel member is completely taken care of, free of charge. Every day three meals are offered to the workers. The ironed shirt or blouse the repaired pair of shoes, the washed sheets or towels, all these are services that are free o charge. Weekly, about 7,500 kg laundry is returned washed and ironed.

The Watchtower Farm and the Wiesengrund Farm are two farms where vegetables and grain are cultivated to supplement the provisions for the Bethel family. Poultry, pigs and cattle are farmed in addition to the production of many other home-made things. A Bethel-owned bakery and butcher`s shop prepare the foodstuffs for the kitchen.

The apartments are small but very nice and sufficient for a married couple. My wife and I visited some of the apartments and found them tastefully furnished. Temporary workers are put up, according to genders, in rooms with several beds. It is also possible to stay in a hotel outside of Bethel, at the person`s own expense. However, it seems that this provision is only used in exceptional circumstances.

Contrary to the opinion of some of Selters` residents, each Bethel member has a key to the outside gates thus being able to leave or enter Bethel at any time without asking for permission. The approx. 1,200 (at the end of 1995 it was exactly 1,160) Bethel workers have lunch together, and from my own experience I can say, there was plenty of very tasty food. Festivities are being appreciated as much as a glass of good wine "(Isaiah 55:1) Hey there, all YOU thirsty ones! Come to the water. And the ones that have no money! Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk even without money and without price."

"(1Timothy 5:23) Do not drink water any longer, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness."

The adjoining table was festively laid with candles and a chilled bottle of champagne. A group from Portugal, whose assignment had ended, wanted to thank their new-found friends for the time spent together in Bethel.

All the rooms, no matter if bedrooms, offices, workshops, warehouses, toilets, and the pathways connecting the different buildings were very clean and well maintained - everything was exemplary. When a new member joins the family he first has to attend the 12-week Bethel entrance school. Each member of the family follows the counsel to read the complete Bible in the first year.

Not all the facilities are open to the public. These are the rooms where production takes place in a very professional manner. This might involve detailed planning for construction of kingdom halls or assembly halls - naturally using the most modern computers - or producing Watchtower literature by the million on huge rotary presses.

Every hour up to 132,000 signatures of the Bible, each 32 pages long, or brochures are being printed. A fourth huge press prints up to 80,000 magazines per hour. Every day in the bookbindery two machines assemble 160,000 pocketsize books and up to 12,000 pocketsize books or up to 3,000 Bibles are stitched together on 15 machines. In Selters every week 2,000,000 magazines for 32 countries are guillotined, packed in shrinking foil and shipped. Daily two three-blade guillotines cut approx. 800,000 magazines, weighing 28 tons.

Per week about 40 tons of literature is produced. Six 7.5 ton trucks can be loaded simultaneously with articles for dispatch. The provisions for the Bethel workers include health care plus an additional allowance for personal needs. All Bethels, including those in foreign countries, will provide accommodation free of charge for full-time servants who are on holiday or just on a short trip during their time off. This is done by appointment.

During our tour, which led us through all the production rooms, all of a sudden there were loud cheers. My companions recognized their circuit overseer who spent part of his free time as co-worker in Bethel. Together with his wife he was folding packaging material. Folding and folding, all the time folding cardboard into cartons, 8 hours a day, without getting any money. Each helper, who temporarily offers himself for work, will be assigned where help is needed at the time, no matter what his service position might be within the organization. Nobody states his own terms.

Well, here stood a circuit overseer, comparable to a superintendent, deacon or parish priest of a Protestant church, assigned to fold cartons and he obviously enjoyed it. I dare not put the thoughts on paper which went through my head during this experience. I learnt that Jehovah`s Witnesses would always voluntarily make themselves available in the very same manner, even if they were given titles like in our church, e.g. the rank of a bishop. For Jehovah`s Witnesses position means an obligation, the privilege to serve others, not to gain.

Besides his working hours, there still remains the normal ministry for a Jehovah`s Witness, his Watchtower study, which means joint Bible study with the congregation, Bible studies with interested persons and again and again the visits from house to house. Every day starts at 7 o`clock with prayer and a discussion of a Bible text, each meal begins with a prayer and concludes with a prayer, all this trouble-free with up to 1,200 hungry members of the Bethel family. On workdays the Bethel is open for the public during working time. On the 18th of June 1994 the "Nassauer Neue Presse" reported in detail about the "Open Day on the Steinfels". (Where the Bethel is located)

Does a member of the Bethel family work in Bethel exclusively?

Answer: Yes, exclusively. Each member of the Bethel family vowed not to have a secondary occupation.