The Pierre congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses invites the public to knock on the new door of their new Kingdom Hall out on the rise on U.S. Highways 83/14 on the northeast edge of town.
The congregation just completed construction of its new, more modest church building, called a Kingdom Hall, after tearing down its larger Kingdom Hall built in 1989, said Dennis Stahlecker, an elder in the congregation.
“The other building was taken down about the middle of September,” he said.
When it was built 28 years ago, more than 600 volunteer Witnesses came from across the region and nation to help in the patented “barn-raising” way the denomination puts up Kingdom Halls in few days.
This time, perhaps 200 volunteers from across the nation — from Oregon came in shifts to help the local congregation put up the new, tidy, double-wide pre-fabricated Kingdom Hall.
Instead of the seating for 200 or more as the other one had, this one can seat about 55, Stahlecker said.
“When we built the old one, we had people with families with children. Now the children are gone,” he said.
The Pew Research Center that studies American religion says the Jehovah’s Witnesses have one of the lowest retention rates of denominations and religious groups.
But it's also a growing church with more than 8 million members world-wide and more than 1 million in the United States.
Now the Pierre congregation has about 40 “publishers,” as they call baptized members, Stahlecker said.
In spring of 2016 at their annual memorial service of Jesus’ Last Supper and death, about 70 attended at the Pierre Kingdom Hall, including visitors from a distance.
The members of the Pierre congregation put the old building up for sale for more than six months this year and had a few interested possible buyers, including someone looking at using it as a daycare, Stahlecker said. But the listed price of about $230,000 wasn’t met by anyone, so the congregation took down the building.
“We believe that somebody, a higher power, kind of oversees these things,” he said. “When it didn’t sell, we kind of figured it wasn’t meant to sell.”
The congregation property along the north side of the highway near a growing area of the city is a good location.
Finding another place to meet, if the older building had sold, would have been more expensive, perhaps, Stahlecker said.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for regularly visiting people in their homes to share their faith, especially their view that the world is near a sudden end with God promising a new heaven and near earth.
The denomination traces its roots to 1870s America and has been known for setting dates for the return of Jesus Christ. The group began using the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in the early 1930s. For decades it has owned prime real estate next to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City from where it ran its Watchtower Society publishing. But in recent years, especially in 2017, it has sold most of that property, making news with sales of hundreds of millions of dollars, as part of moving its headquarters to Warwick in upstate New York, but still not far from New York City.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been called an extreme example of Protestantism, in terms of relying only on their own reading of the Bible, the group has rejected many traditions of historic mainline Christianity: most significantly, the idea of the Trinity. The group also does not observe most Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter, as most churches do. The group sees many such holidays as man-made practices not found in the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses also don’t serve in the military or pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag, seeing it as a compromising of their duty to God.
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have a typical paid clergy or pastor, but volunteer elders who lead the services and Bible studies.
There are Kingdom Halls in Mobridge, Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Huron, Watertown and several other cities, with about 330 total members in the state.
The new, more economical and smaller building “should be easy for us to take care of, in terms of maintenance and keeping it warm,” Stahlecker said. “It’s mainly to serve as a classroom. We study the BIble here, it’s like a schoolhouse for us.”
Regular Bible study meetings are held at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and public talks are given at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
“We invite people to come,” he said. “We have, too, JW.org (online) where people can get on there if they have any questions about Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
For more information, call 224-5501.