AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — As COVID cases continue to decrease, many of are able to enjoy events and activities that were put on hold. Religious groups are resuming in-person worship services, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They started in person about three weeks ago, not just in the Mahoning Valley — but across the world.
For the past two years, members of Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Austintown have been meeting over Zoom, but audience participation is a key element of their worship services.
“We have a magazine and it’s broken down into paragraphs and we can comment from our heart based off of those paragraphs, which are based on the scriptures,” said elder Keith Buckner.
Members of the congregation raise their hands to be recognized by a worship leader. The deaf are aided by sign language interpreters.
“We feel like that our culture is our worship, so we consider our brother and sisters our family, no matter what country they come from, no matter what their race, no matter what their language or even if their language with their hands,” said congregation member Dina Buckner.
Dina Buckner has been a Jehovah’s Witness all her life. Her husband is an elder.
“Eager to get back. Everyone was happy. There was a lot of tears — needless to say, a lot of hugs. We missed each other,” Keith Buckner said.
Congregation members wear masks and the building is cleaned and sanitized for service — but not everyone is able to return yet.
“There’s been some that have been a little bit cautious and for good reason, age, individuals with pre-existing health conditions. That’s the reason why our meetings are hybrid,” said Jehovah’s Witnesses Ohio media representative Darien Hanson.
Witnesses have not resumed door-to-door ministries because of COVID.
“Out of safety for those who would be participating but also for our neighbors, we don’t want to take anything to them,” Hanson said.