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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pastor Russell and the Convention Train

As time passed, requests for personal appearances by C. T. Russell increased. In fulfilling some speaking engagements, he sometimes had traveled aboard a special railroad “convention car,” a small group accompanying him. But larger parties were organized in “convention trains,” as many as 240 traveling with Russell on one occasion. Several railroad cars were linked together and the party traveled from one city to another according to a prearranged schedule. Arriving in a particular city, Russell’s assistants advertised the public meeting by distributing handbills. At the meeting they greeted individuals, obtained the names and addresses of interested ones and, when possible, would visit these and establish congregations. It was not uncommon for these “convention trains” to be used in visiting large cities in the United States and Canada.

Why not board a “convention train” and ride with a happy company of Christians? In June 1913 a special train was engaged for over 200 Bible Students who would accompany C. T. Russell from Chicago, Illinois, on a trip that would take them to Texas, California, Canada and then to a convention in Madison, Wisconsin, with a side-run to Rockford, Illinois. Malinda Z. Keefer supplies these details: “Our train was to leave from the Dearborn station over the Wabash Railroad at noon, June 2. The friends began to arrive about ten o’clock, and it was a happy and exciting time, meeting old friends I had not seen for a long time and getting acquainted with new ones. It didn’t take long to realize we were one big family. . . . and the train was our home for a month.”

Finally, it is time to leave. “As the train pulled out of the station on its 8,000-mile journey,” continues Sister Keefer, “the friends who had come to say good-bye sang ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds’ and ‘God Be with You Till We Meet Again,’ all the while waving hats and handkerchiefs until we were lost to their view, and were on our way for a most memorable trip. We picked up some friends in St. Louis, Missouri, and some in a few other places until we finally numbered two hundred and forty. Brother Russell joined us at Hot Springs, Arkansas, where an eight-day convention was in session.”

It truly was a spiritually upbuilding journey. Says Sister Keefer: “At every stop on the trip there were conventions being held—most were for three days, and we stayed one day with each convention. During these stops Brother Russell gave two talks, one to the friends in the afternoon, and another to the public in the evening on the subject ‘Beyond the Grave.’” As to her own feelings about the trip, Sister Keefer says: “My appreciation for the fellowship of the friends all along the way and the spiritually upbuilding talks and instructions I had received during that trip cannot be expressed in words. I was grateful to Jehovah for having had such a privilege.”

At those early conventions of God’s people some things were a little different from what they are today. For example, take the “love feast.” What was that? Recalling this feature of the early assemblies, J. W. Ashelman states: “Some practices not needed or continued did seem a blessing at the time, such as the speakers lining up in front of the platform holding plates of diced bread as the audience filed along the line partaking of the bread and shaking hands with each speaker and joining in singing ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds Our Hearts in Christian Love.’” That was it—the “love feast.” And it was a moving experience. Edith R. Brenisen readily admits: “The love for each other filled our hearts to overflowing, often running down our cheeks in tears of joy. We were not ashamed of our tears nor did we try to hide them.”

Early Christians sometimes held “love feasts,” but the Bible does not describe them. (Jude 12) Some think they were occasions when materially prosperous Christians held banquets to which they invited their poorer fellow worshipers. But the Scriptures do not make “love feasts” obligatory, whatever their early nature, and so they are not in vogue among true Christians today.

- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS


Departing from New York on October 16, 1916, Brother Russell and his secretary, Menta Sturgeon, traveled to Detroit, Michigan, by way of Canada. The two men then went on to Chicago, Illinois, down through Kansas and on into Texas. His condition of health was such that his secretary had to substitute for him at several speaking engagements. On Tuesday evening, October 24, at San Antonio, Texas, Russell delivered his last public talk, on the subject “The World on Fire.” During this discourse he had to leave the platform three times, while his secretary filled in for him.

Tuesday night, Brother Russell and his secretary and traveling associate were aboard a train en route to California. A sick man, Russell remained in bed all day Wednesday. At one point, taking the ailing man’s hand, Russell’s traveling associate said: “That is the greatest creed-smashing hand I ever saw!” Russell replied that he did not think it would smash any more creeds.

The two men were detained one day at Del Rio, Texas, because a bridge had been burned and another had to be erected. They pulled out of Del Rio on Thursday morning. On Friday night they changed trains at a junction point in California. All day Saturday Russell was in severe pain and experiencing great weakness. They arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 29, and there that evening C. T. Russell gave his last talk to a congregation. By that time he was so weak that he was unable to stand for the discourse. “I regret that I am not able to speak with force or power,” said Russell. He then beckoned to the chairman to remove the stand and bring a chair, saying as he sat down, “Pardon me for sitting down, please.” He spoke for about forty-five minutes, then answered to questions for a short time. Dwight T. Kenyon says of that occasion: “I had the privilege of attending Brother Russell’s last talk in Los Angeles on October 29, 1916. He was very ill and remained seated during his discourse on Zechariah 13:7-9. How his good-bye text, Numbers 6:24-26, impressed me!”

Realizing that his severe condition would not allow him to go on, Russell decided to cancel the rest of his speaking appointments and return quickly to the Bethel home in Brooklyn. On Tuesday, October 31, C. T. Russell was on the verge of death. At Panhandle, Texas, a physician summoned earlier by telegraph temporarily boarded the train and observed Russell’s condition, recognizing the critical symptoms. Then the train was under way again. Shortly thereafter, in early afternoon of Tuesday, October 31, 1916, sixty-four-year-old Charles Taze Russell died at Pampa, Texas.

- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS