An estimated 19,000 Jehovah's Witnesses from the Upper Midwest are expected to make the journey to Rochester to attend one of five conventions at Mayo Civic Center this summer.
That's a big bunch of visitors — it equals 16 percent of Rochester's permanent population — yet it is tiny fraction of a global congregation that will be attending three-day conventions around the world.
However you measure it — in spiritual or temporal impact — the Jehovah's Witnesses and its 8.6 million followers worldwide pack a punch.
The Jehovah's Witnesses have had an affinity for Rochester over the years. The series of conventions at Mayo Civic Center this summer will mark the 29th year that Rochester has hosted one of their gatherings.
Why Rochester? We explored that and other questions with two Jehovah's Witnesses, Victor Payne and David Wilson.
Why have the Jehovah's Witnesses chosen Rochester all these years?
"One is that they're very favorable toward us," Payne said. "(Mayo Civic Center) works out perfectly for us. The management here has been very good to us. And it's just a very nice facility. There are plenty of hotels that people can stay in. And there's parking. We just don't have any issues coming here."
Nineteen-thousand people over five weekends is a lot of economic impact for Rochester. Do you know how much?
"As a matter of fact, I do," Wilson said. "We work with the local convention bureau. It's $20 million. Actually the last we looked, it's 18 hotels that we utilize in addition to restaurants and other businesses."
Going door-to-door is a big part of how the Jehovah's Witnesses recruits new members? Am I right about that?
"It may seem like recruitment," Payne said, "and, of course, we love it when people join us. But really the fact that we're called Jehovah's Witnesses — that's really a meaningful statement in that we want to let people know about Jehovah, God. But the decision to become one of Jehovah's Witnesses is a personal decision.
"The primary thing is to teach people about the Bible, and if they choose to join us, that's really a good thing. But we just want to give people this information."
Is there a way of concisely describing what Jehovah's Witnesses believe?
"Not really concisely," Wilson said. But it does have certain basic beliefs. It is a worldwide Christian religion known for its active ministries, particular its door-to-door ministry. Its teachings are focused on the Bible, Jehovah, the God of the Bible, and his son, Jesus Christ. Their model is first-century Christianity.
They view the Bible as God's infallible, inspired word, but that some portions are meant to be understood symbolically or figuratively. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus is the son of God whose death and resurrection made salvation and eternal life possible. But they do not believe that Jesus is part of a Trinity or that he claimed equality with God. They don't believe in an immortal soul, but they do believe in a resurrection for those who are faithful. For more info on the Jehovah's Witnesses, check out jw.org.
The theme of this year's global conventions is "Love Never Fails." Why that theme?
"Every country has a branch of Jehovah's Witnesses, and they talked to one another and see the need that is in the world, not just in the United States," Payne said.
"I think we all can agree that more love in the world would be something that would benefit us all," he said. "And it gets hard sometimes dealing with all these conflicts and the things that are going on in the world."
"It is one of the most outstanding qualities that God has, and so we want to be able to display that. It's not always easy."