Don Mudge, owner of a local carpet-cleaning company, is the presiding overseer of the English-speaking congregation, which currently includes five elders and 53 active members. Jim Uhrig, owner of a local janitorial and cleaning services company, serves as presiding overseer of the Spanish-speaking congregation, which numbers 42 42 active members and has a body of four elders Both share the 13-year-old Kingdom Hall in south Danville.
At different times on Sunday, both the English- and Spanish-speaking congregations follow the same schedule, which includes the public meeting, where "vital topics on current needs" are discussed, and the "watchtower study," where a question-and-answer session on selected Bible subjects is held. On different days during the week, each congregation hold the ministry school, service meeting and congregational book study.
"Both congregations essentially conduct the same meetings and studies and schools. It's just that they are conducted in different languages," said Mudge.
Also, both congregations follow the Jehovah's Witness practice of being much more subtle than most denominations in their financial stewardship programs. There are no collection plates and no pledges. There is a box in the back of the church where "donations" can be deposited.
"We share the same building but (the Spanish-speaking parishioners) are their own, separate congregation," said Uhrig. "I really miss them."
Process began in 2000
The process that led the church's headquarters to approve the creation of Danville's Spanish-speaking congregation in October 2002 began two years earlier as the church when parishioners and their overseers, like their counterparts in other local churches, realized there was a growing population of Mexicans and other Spanish speakers in the community and decided that if they were going to minister to these people, they had to be able to communicate with them.
At first, in 2000, the original congregation sponsored the fledgling Spanish-speaking congregation. Then, in 2002, the church's leadership in New York City recognized the Spanish-speaking group as an official congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.
"About four years ago we recognized there were more and more Spanish-speaking people in our community, and we wanted to reach out to them" said Uhrig. "Of course, in order for us to do that, we would have to be able to speak Spanish."
Outreach to people of other languages and cultures is important to Jehovah's Witnesses. The church publishes booklets with Bible verses in 96 languages, including Spanish. Before a couple of years ago, Uhrig wouldn't be able to read one of the Spanish language booklets. But that has changed.
Uhrig and his wife, Jaynie, and two other church members took Spanish courses. Uhrig said that before the class, he only knew a few Spanish words. Now, he is able to speak fairly fluent Spanish.
"I do pretty well when I'm making prepared remarks or discussing various Bible passages and topics," he said. "But I admit I do get lost sometimes in general conversations because, like in all languages, there are various idioms and different dialects in Spanish."
But Uhrig said that his Spanish-speaking skills are improving because engaging in those conversations is sharpening his Spanish. Also, he insists that every word spoken during his congregation's five meetings every week be in Spanish.
"When our Spanish-speaking congregation enters Kingdom Hall for our meetings, everything is said in Spanish, from the podium and from the seats," Uhrig said, adding that 90 percent of his congregation are natives of Vera Cruz, Mexico - "there is something of a pipeline from Vera Cruz to Danville" - most of the rest are from other parts of Mexico and the remainder are from Honduras, Panama and Argentina.
There may be another "pipeline" being built from California to Danville.