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Raising the roof of Kingdom Hall

Hundreds of workers swarmed over the East Grand Forks Kingdom Hall taking shape literally before their eyes Thursday, while their hands were busy making it so.

Kingdom Hall
Volunteers gather under a white tent for the noon meal Thursday. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Hundreds of workers swarmed over the East Grand Forks Kingdom Hall taking shape literally before their eyes Thursday, while their hands were busy making it so.

At the end of the first workday, the rafters and roof were in place, half or more of the exterior brick facing was on the walls and windows were in place. Heating and cooling duct work was carried in and installed among the rafters, while outside up on top, the tar paper and shingles were being nailed down.

Everyone wore a hard hat and appeared to know what he or she was doing. It seems a miracle people weren't constantly bumping into one another.

The rapid and simultaneous nature of the construction is hard to believe, even when witnessed up close.

This is the patented "quick-build" way that Jehovah's Witnesses put up their worship centers, called Kingdom Halls, in four days.

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"This one is bigger than most," said Tracy Fetter. A baker at UND, he's an elder in the Grand Forks congregation that will share the new building with a separate East Grand Forks congregation. It's 102 feet by 46 feet, about 4,700 square feet.

That's bigger than most halls in the region. That, and the fact that this is a central spot in the Witnesses' ecclesiastical region of northern Minnesota, North Dakota and eastern Montana, meant more volunteers than normal could make this project, Fetter said.

About 450 Jehovah's Witnesses, in fact, from Minneapolis to Dickinson, N.D., came to raise this Kingdom Hall. Many volunteers are married couples, Fetter said. "And the women always work harder than the men."

It will replace the 26-year-old one torn down earlier this year on the same site, next to Valley Golf Course along River Road on the north end of East Grand Forks.

Except for the poured-concrete-inside-Styrofoam walls done a month ago and few other preparations, the construction began Thursday morning.

Today, the huge work crew will begin working 24-hours straight as the drywall gets installed, with teams working in shifts around the clock, to get done before Sunday evening. The plan is to have even the interior finished.

"I have 180 chairs in my garage," Fetter said with his quick smile. He expects that Sunday they will be loaded up and set in neat rows in the plain auditorium that is the main feature of a Kingdom Hall.

Thursday, a couple blocks from the site, in member Alice Larson's large garage, 50 workers were painting and staining all the woodwork to be installed.

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They began the day with prayer at breakfast, eaten together under canopied tables. At 5:30 p.m., they gathered for prayer, standing across the parking lot, before sitting down together for supper. They bring in a cook trailer, a bathroom trailer, an administration trailer, a sound and lights trailer.

Those from out of town are staying with Witnesses in town, pitching tents in their yard.

Karl Bergh from Jamestown, N.D., is the project coordinator. He grew up learning the contracting trade from his father. He also has worked on many Kingdom Hall raisings himself, so he knows the intricate timing of keeping so many people working at so many things in such a small space at the same time.

Nobody gets paid, but several volunteers are licensed electricians and plumbers, so none of the work needs to be hired out.

Every detail seems covered, down to a crew whose job simply is keeping the entire site immaculate, despite all the activity, with sweeping and cleaning.

"That trailer, they have runners. If we run out of something, they run right away to get it," Bergh said.

They try to buy mostly from local vendors, the lumber, insulation, bricks and nails, Fetter said.

Members donate whatever tools and equipment they have.

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Some come only for a day, but the great body of them each will put in about 40 hours of work in the four days, Bergh said. So, it's something like 10,000 to 15,000 hours of labor donated.

Which is typical of Witnesses, who have no paid clergy.

"We don't even pay a janitor," said Elder Tim Bach. "We all take turns volunteering."

The regional elders committee oversees two or three such Kingdom Hall projects each summer. The one done last month in Hebron, N.D., drew fewer volunteers, partly because it's much farther from Minnesota, where most of the members live.

Another project later this month in St. Cloud will be an addition to and renovation of a Kingdom Hall, so it won't be as big a deal, Bergh said.

Known, of course, for their regular door-to-door visits to share their faith, Jehovah's Witnesses use their Kingdom Hall perhaps more regularly than many churches are used. It's usual for a congregation to meet three times a week, for worship, Bible study, prayer and other training.

The two congregations tried to sell the previous building; listed at about $600,000; it was on the market for more than two years. They would have built on a new site if it sold. When it didn't, they decided since it needed work to get up to code, to just build a new one instead, Fetter said.

It makes sense, Bergh said.

"With the labor we have, we can put up a new building instead of doing an extensive renovation."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com .

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