FEASTING together at Jehovah’s table has always been a theocratic highlight. When God’s people assemble for a spiritual banquet, the sharing of material food often adds to their joy.
In September 1919, the Bible Students held an eight-day convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A. Hotels were to provide rooming and meals for the delegates, but thousands more arrived than were expected. Overwhelmed by the throngs, waiters and waitresses quit en masse. The desperate cafeteria manager asked if any young delegates could help, and many willingly responded. Sadie Green was one of them. “It was my first experience as a waitress,” she recalled, “but we had a good time.”
In the years that followed, convention cafeteria arrangements enabled countless happy volunteers to serve their brothers and sisters. Working with fellow believers also helped many young ones to set spiritual goals. Gladys Bolton served in the cafeteria at a 1937 convention. “I met people from other places,” she related, “and heard how they were overcoming their problems. It was then that I first began to have the hope of becoming a pioneer.”
Conventioner Beulah Covey said: “The dedication of the workers makes the whole thing run like clockwork.” The work, though, had its challenges. Only upon arriving at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, in 1969 did Angelo Manera learn that he had been appointed cafeteria servant. He admitted, “I received one of the greatest shocks of my life!” Preparations for that convention included digging a quarter-mile (0.4 km) trench to run a gas line to the kitchen!
In Sierra Leone in 1982, industrious volunteers first had to clear fields and then build the cafeteria using the materials on hand. In Frankfurt, Germany, in 1951, resourceful brothers rented a locomotive that provided steam for 40 cooking kettles. Servers dished out 30,000 meals an hour. To lighten the load for the 576 workers in the dishwashing department, conventioners brought their own knives and forks. In Yangon, Myanmar, thoughtful cooks used fewer fiery chilies than usual in dishes served to international delegates.
“THEY EAT STANDING UP”
Standing in the hot sun in a long cafeteria line at a convention in the United States in 1950 brought Annie Poggensee a blessing. She said: “I became completely engrossed in a heartwarming conversation between two sisters who had come over from Europe by boat.” Each described how Jehovah had helped her to attend. “There was no one there any happier than those two sisters,” stated Annie. “Time waiting in line
At many of the large conventions, huge cafeteria tents housed rows of standing-height tables that encouraged diners to finish eating quickly and make room for others. How else could thousands be fed during the lunch period? One person who was not a Witness remarked: “That is a strange religion. They eat standing up.”
Military and civil authorities marveled at the efficiency and organization they saw. After inspecting our cafeteria at Yankee Stadium in New York City, United States Army personnel urged Major Faulkner of the British War Department to make a similar examination. Therefore, he and his wife came to the 1955 “Triumphant Kingdom” Assembly in Twickenham, England. He said he could see that love ran the cafeteria there.
For decades, willing workers lovingly served nutritious, inexpensive meals for the benefit of convention attendees. But this enormous task often required that large numbers of volunteers work long hours and even miss some or all of the program. Convention food arrangements were simplified in many places in the late 1970’s. Then, beginning in 1995, delegates were asked to bring their own food to conventions. This enabled those who had prepared and served food to enjoy the spiritual program and Christian fellowship. *
How Jehovah must cherish those who worked so hard to serve their fellow believers! Some may feel wistful about those joyful days of working in the cafeteria. But one thing is certain: Love is still the main ingredient at our conventions.
^ par. 12 Of course, many opportunities remain for volunteers to assist other convention departments.