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The anniversary of the death of Jesus Christ is the most important event of the year for Jehovah's Witnesses.
This year, Jehovah's Witnesses here and around the world, who follow the ancient Jewish lunar calendar, will mark the Memorial of Jesus Christ's Death on Monday night.
"Jesus never said anything about remembering the resurrection," says James "JJ" Brainerd. "He said remember the night he died, Luke 22:19." ("Do this in remembrance of me.")
Brainerd, 33, of Lancaster, will speak on "Appreciate What Christ Has Done for You," in a service of the Engleside Congregation at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 850 Hershey Ave., at 9 p.m. Monday.
In Lancaster County, Brainerd says, there are more than 1,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in 11 congregations, meeting in seven locations. The congregations have no paid staff or pastor but are run by members who volunteer.
Worldwide there are roughly 8 million Jehovah's Witnesses, Brainerd says.
Brainerd is one of eight elders in the Engleside Congregation, with about 95 members. The elders chose him to speak in the meeting on Monday.
"We have no official titles. If you came to a meeting, you wouldn't know who's an elder," he says. "We try to be modest and humble."
Brainerd was born and raised in New Park, York County. His parents began studying with Jehovah's Witnesses when he was 8. He was baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses at age 14.
A computer technician contracted to Highmark Blue Shield, in Camp Hill, he works three, eight-hour days a week. On the others days, he volunteers as a Pioneer.
All Jehovah's Witnesses are required to be involved in door-to-door ministry, but Pioneers devote 70 hours a month to door-to-door ministry.
"We try to get around to every place once a year," he says.
Brainerd's wife, Ruth, a registered nurse who works 36 hours a week for Wellspan, in York, also is a Pioneer.
"We do it together," Brainerd says. "We want to do it as long as we can."
One member of the Engleside Congregation, he says, has been a Pioneer for more than 30 years; another, for about 25 years.
"Jesus went door-to-door when he was on earth," he says. "In Matthew 28:19-20, the commandment was given to the Apostles." ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, … ")
In a special campaign that began March 22 and will continue through Monday, members of the Engleside Congregation are distributing 18,000 invitations to the Memorial of Jesus Christ's Death service and an annual meeting on "Why Would a Loving God Permit Wickedness" at the Kingdom Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 27.
Four Jehovah's Witness congregations meet at the Hershey Avenue hall: the Engleside Congregation, which covers Conestoga, Millersville and the city west of Prince Street; the East Lancaster Congregation, which covers the city east of Prince Street to Gap; and two Hispanic congregations.
"Most everywhere in this area is covered," Brainerd says.
The East Lancaster Congregation, with about 120 members, will worship on Monday at 7 p.m.
After Brainerd speaks at Engleside's Memorial, the emblems, or bread and wine, will be passed. But few if any will partake in the once-a-year observance, which is not called communion and is observed after sunset.
"It's only for those who feel they have the heavenly call," says Brainerd, citing Romans 8:16: " … it is the Spirit itself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, … "
Brainerd will not partake. Last year, he said, all of the members abstained.
"This will be part of my talk," he says, citing Revelations, 14:1, which states that only 144,000 people will go to heaven.
As of last year, he says, "13,204 partook of the emblems because they feel they are a part of the covenant.
"They started to be gathered at the time of Christ's death. From then to now, there are very few still left on earth who are part of that covenant," he says.
"Jehovah's Witnesses believe the earth is going to be brought back to a paradise. That has not changed. That's my hope. God put Adam and Eve on earth in a paradise. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, the whole earth would be a paradise.
"While heaven is a nice place, I personally feel my hope is here on the earth, as do most of the Jehovah's Witnesses. It's the way the Holy Spirit operates in us."