Published Date Written by David CarkhuffWhen Jehovah's Witnesses hold their 2012 "Safeguard Your Heart!" District Convention at the Cumberland County Civic Center today and continuing through this weekend and next, it's likely to be the last of their heavily attended functions in the existing Civic Center building.
Since a bond for a $33 million renovation of the Cumberland County Civic Center was approved in a countywide referendum on Nov. 8, 2011, with 58 percent of the vote, Civic Center trustees have been preparing for a shutdown of the facility to allow interior work.
"There's no question that we will not operate after June 30, it's just a question of how long," Stephen Crane, manager of the nearly 35-year-old building, has said.
The renovation project, which is expected to run the course of at least a year, could begin as early as this summer, though a final timeline has yet to be hashed out. Tentatively, the project is to be completed by October 2013. Jehovah's Witnesses are mindful of impacts from the reconstruction.
"There have been discussions about using it in the future," said Mark Lehmann, spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses, about the group's eventual return to the Civic Center.
If construction results in closure of the building next spring, it's possible the religious gathering could take place in an alternate facility, Lehmann said. Still, he said, members like the Civic Center's proximity to parking and other amenities.
"We actually find it to be an extremely good fit," Lehmann said.
"We wouldn't rule out anything," he said.
This year, the convention will go on as planned. Estimates are that 5,200 will attend the convention locally.
The Witnesses' convention program focuses on "a fresh examination of Biblical references to the figurative heart," Lehmann said.
"It just really helps us to key in on what makes people have a happy life," he said.
The first of two, three-day events to be held in Portland will begin today, May 25, at 9:20 a.m. The daily themes and titles of program parts are based on passages of Scripture, including 1 Samuel 16:7, 1 Chronicles 28:9, and Matthew 12:34. The convention theme "Safeguard Your Heart!" is based on Proverbs 4:23. Strengthening one's spirituality will be the focus of the program, the Witnesses said in a press release.
The program continues Saturday and Sunday and then resumes next weekend as well.
There is no admission fee. Conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses are supported entirely by voluntary donations, organizers noted.
The Witnesses have invited various communities in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to attend the convention. Locally, all of the area's 84 congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses will be supporting the activity of distributing printed invitations to the convention, the Witnesses reported. An estimated 10,000 will come to the Civic Center over the two successive weekends, organizers noted. Throughout the United States, there will be 385 conventions in 103 cities. Worldwide, there are over 7,600,000 Witnesses in more than 109,000 congregations.