In the words of Seinfeld, My next chapter is a pretty big matzah ball I’m just hanging out here.
Navigating one’s spiritual journey can often feel like traversing a winding path, with each turn presenting its own set of challenges and revelations. This was particularly true for me after leaving Bethel and for several years after. when I look back I see it was a period marked by intense personal reflection and a significant shift in my spiritual processing, especially concerning the deeply symbolic act of partaking during the Memorial of Christ’s death.
In the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, the act of partaking bread and wine during the Memorial is a declaration of one’s hope to be among the 144,000 anointed, those believed to be chosen to reign with Christ. You simply don’t partake unless you are certain that you are part of that group. You’re part of the “other sheep” if you’re not a partaking anointed individual. The majority of Jehovahs witnesses chose not to partake and it is almost an unspoken social taboo for them to do so.
My decision to partake was met with a barrage of questions from those who had known me since I was a child and also many rude and disrespectful individuals that I wasn’t even aquatinted with. They wondered whether this change was the result of a personal epiphany, some divine calling, or the immense stress of living up to the high spiritual standards set by the faith. In truth, the reasons were most likely a muddy mess of some of the reasons above, intertwined with deeply personal feelings, complex and multifaceted beliefs, my insane zeal, and my understanding of the Scriptures. It’s intriguing to look back with a different belief system today and process and deconstruct this all.
This is my best friend Brandon pointing over my shoulder. This photo was taken the night of the memorial after I first partook. Brandon was supportive, but it was still a topic of frustration from his perspective. I remember him showing me scriptures and articles about the subject.
Starting to partake at the age of 23 was a bold move, one that did not go unnoticed. Within the congregation, partakers are often placed on a pedestal, expected to exemplify spiritual perfection. Those who do not fit this mold are subject to scrutiny, their mental health questioned, their motives doubted. This skepticism can take a particularly harsh tone when it comes to young individuals or women, with speculations ranging from hormonal imbalances to mental illness.
The scrutiny I faced was intense. For some reason, many felt they knew my heart and hope better than I did. I was not serving as a ministerial servant (deacon) or as an elder at that time, but I was a regular pioneer. My decision to partake led to elders convening meetings, publishers (congregants) whispering, and a general sense of unease. My roles and responsibilities like pioneering and assisting with the sound system in the congregation came under review, as did the potential influence of my actions on others.
On the phone with another “well meaning friend” the day after the memorial where I partook. This friend was talking to me about my actions the night before. He was also reminding me of certain scriptures that pertained to this topic of the anointed and the lords evening meal.
When confronted, I responded many times with a question of my own, “How does my hope concern you?” I didn’t talk about it. I hated talking about it with anyone. I would vomit and became sick when someone wanted to chat about it, because I knew that often times their motive served no positive purpose. This highlighted a crucial aspect of their faith that is often ignored—that a person’s spiritual hope is a personal matter between them and Jehovah. While my responses towed these fellow worshippers stymied direct confrontations, it did little to quell the judgments made behind my back.
In those early days of partaking, I sought counsel from those I respected within the small group of partakers I knew; yes, there is a little group of partakers that keep in touch in most areas. One such individual I relied on was Ken Cook, who became a confidant and guide back at my time in Bethel. Our interactions began with conversations over meals in the dining room at Wallkill. They provided me with a sense of understanding and acceptance that was otherwise scarce.
Ken’s advice was instrumental as I grappled with the visibility of partaking in a public setting. He reinforced the idea that this covenant should not be a private affair hidden from the congregation. I appreciated that advice but didn’t quite understand it. I often felt that Ken helped put a bubble around me as I started navigating the organization after starting to partake. I appreciated the guidance and attention from him then.
I recently looked at correspondence between the two of us and also reflected on my journal entries describing our in-person interactions. Immediately, I started feeling like a failure. He was a busy man and he invested time in me. Now, here I am today, writing very publicly about the flaws of the organization he supports so strongly. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of guilt.
I reflected on the words he spoke to me when I left Bethel because of my actions with Jonathan in 2009. Then, I thought about what he said in the 2022 broadcast regarding the LGBTQ+ community. In that moment, I realized that this man, whom I revered, trusted, and sought guidance from, had given me incorrect counsel and advice. Suddenly, my guilt disappeared again.
But back to the story, we’ll talk more about Ken soon enough.
The act of partaking itself was an experience etched in my memory. The tension in my heart was evident as I reached for the emblems, hands shaking, the ridiculously long prayer over the wine as I was choking on a shard of that terrible stale bread, and the overwhelming relief after fulfilling this “sacred” act are moments I will never forget. This public display marked a significant turning point, positioning me as a spiritual anomaly—a young man who had left Bethel on bad terms, began partaking, and yet continued to flourish within the congregations standpoint. My name was being talked about for all kinds of reasons in our circuit. Some good reasons, and based on what you’ve read about me, obviously there were some scandalous reasons too.
The only thing I had to focus on for quite a while before being reappointed as a ministerial servant and elder was pioneering and studying, it became more than just a religious duty; it was a lifeline. It allowed me to demonstrate my faith through action, conducting Bible studies, supporting publishers, and contributing to the spiritual growth of the congregation. This dedication earned me respect and admiration, especially from the circuit overseer, which frustrated my local elders, yet it helped me integrate into a social circle that provided safety and a sense of belonging. The one I wanted at bethel but never exactly had.
Reflecting on this journey, it’s clear that partaking was not a decision made lightly or without consequence. It was a step taken in the sincere faith and understanding I had at the time. I had full awareness of the scrutiny and judgment it would invite. Yet, now despite not sharing any of the belief’s of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I acknowledge that decision as a step towards authenticity. In its simplest form it was a declaration of a personal belief that overpowered the expectations and challenged the norms of the congregation. I often call partaking “my first coming out.” Ironically the entire experience began to prepare me for when I would leave behind this high control life.