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The end of congregations as charities in the UK

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

On Saturday the 5th March 2022 the Charities Commission removed all congregations from their register as individual charities.This was the final act on a 2 year plan that began back in 2019 and its sole purpose was the complete takeover of all Kingdom Hall properties located in England, Scotland and Wales. In a letter dated November 8th, 2019, the London-based Kingdom Hall Trust announced that all UK congregations will dissolve their status as individual charities and become branches of the KHT. The Kingdom Hall Trust (KHT) is a Jehovah’s Witness legal corporation established in 1939 as the London Company of Kingdom Witnesses. On June 30, 1978, it was officially registered as a charity in the UK. In 1994, the name was changed to the Kingdom Hall Trust. While the KHT was already engaged in the acquisition of property used by Jehovah’s Witness church members, the latest directive “proposedq” that all UK Branch Congregations relinquish their individual charity status and operate under the blanket control of the Kingdom Hall Trust charity. At that time five documents were leaked, including a private letter to all elders, a separate letter to be read to congregations, and an FAQ document explaining the dissolution of congregation charities. Also included are the pre-formatted meeting minutes and congregation resolutions to be filled out, resolved, and returned to the KHT. According to the letter presented to individual congregations, the UK Charity Commission approved the merging of all UK congregations into the Kingdom Hall Trust, with the premise that all congregations in the United Kingdom agree to these changes. The language used cleverly suggested that the merger was optional: “Your charity is now being invited to take part in this process and merge with The Kingdom Hall Trust. Next week a resolution will be put to all baptized members of your congregation so that you can decide whether or not to go along with this proposal.” It may be of interest to the Charity Commission that congregational compliance to central directives is not optional. All resolutions placed before congregation members from the Jehovah’s Witness governing entities are passed without contest. Financial Implications While the Kingdom Hall Trust directors stated that these changes were for purposes of simplification, the leaked documents suggested that permanent control of property and finances were the true motivation. The November 2019 letter to congregation members said: “However, because elders would no longer serve as trustees, your local donations would be administered by KHT as part of its general funds. This could mean that the Trustees decide to use your donations to support the Kingdom work elsewhere in our branch territory and throughout the world to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters. This is in harmony with the equalizing explained at 2 Corinthians 8:14 “… that by means of an equalizing, your surplus at the present time might offset their need, so that their surplus might also offset your deficiency, that there may be an equalizing”.” While Witnesses have always been able to donate funds to the “Worldwide” work, the latest directive appeared to give the Kingdom Hall Trust the ability to extract funds normally marked for local use only, and allocate them for use by Jehovah’s Witness leadership anywhere in the world. The 2019 documents issued from London revealed much more than the mere transfer of Charity Commission responsibilities. They clearly stated that individual congregations no longer owned or control their own properties, many of which have been in operation for more than 100 years. The London Branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses opened in 1900, overseeing less than a dozen congregations. According to the Witnesses’ latest metrics, the number has risen to 1,618. Following the Money There are rising concerns among critics of Jehovah’s Witnesses that surplus funds are being siphoned from various sources and sent to the German branch of the religion, headquartered in Selters. The British-based International Bible Students Association (IBSA) is one of the sources. The IBSA is a longstanding legal corporation formed by the Witnesses in 1914 and continues to operate under the direction of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the public financial statement released in 2018, one of the stated objectives of IBSA is to “financially [assist] legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses with similar aims and objectives, both foreign and domestic.” 2018 IBSA Report, Grants Payable The documents establish links between a number of Jehovah’s Witness-owned corporations while revealing how cash “grants” were provided to Witness institutions in 5 different continents. The largest 2018 financial transfer reported by IBSA was an £8,000,000 deposit to the German branch of the organization. Meanwhile, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, another Witness-owned corporation, forwarded £8,500,000 in cash to the German headquarters In a private interview with JW Survey, one source provided documentation in which the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania requested that an American Witness transfer their $50,000 conditional donation directly to the German Central European Branch. Watch Tower Request to funnel donation to Germany Aside from the necessary public filings, the Witnesses’ handling of private donations is cloaked in secrecy, a fact which should not sit well with the Charity Commission of the UK, or the US-based Internal Revenue Service. The new policies may also not sit well with lifelong members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith who spent decades backing their local congregations in a responsible manner. While many will no doubt support the transfer of property and finances to the JW headquarters, others may privately express misgivings. For this reason, it appears that the Kingdom Hall Trust corporation has instructed congregation elders to spin the merger edict in a positive light. The letter to elders states: “We encourage the elders to speak positively of the proposal and help publishers understand the changes being proposed.” These notable changes come amidst increasing scrutiny of Jehovah’s Witnesses stemming from their controversial child abuse reporting policies. Significant financial judgments against the religion have fueled concerns worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was launched in 2019 because of the failure of religious organizations to protect children from abuse. Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain the practice of handling sexual abuse cases internally, and retain a secret database of child molesters. Whether the movement of large sums of money by Jehovah’s Witnesses is a measure to minimize legal accountability remains to be seen.

The Aftermath

In this post pandemic environment where the zoom meetings have successfully been tested for over 2 years this merger of all congregations under the KHT its too much of a good opportunity to miss.

There has been new accounting system in place since 2919 where congregations only keep on hand "three months operating expenses" and all the rest is sent to the WT Society. So all is left is very little money to the congregation.

According to the GB Update #2 the governing body can't wait going back to meetings.It will be short lived, people are leaving in droves, bad policies terrible doctrine and the weakest governing body in living memory is emptying Kingdom halls at an alarming rate, expect more merging of congregations, more KH put up for sale.We will reach soon in the UK to the point where driving to the meetings will match distances that jws have to cover in Canada or US.

The organisation has proved many times over how little they care about their members and how they treasure balancing their books and ruthlessly moving forward. Expect more KH closures now that the last hardle of the charitable status has been removed and the elders have effectively lost overnight all their legal power over their Kingdom Halls.

Now,apart from monetary reasons another reason that might have cased that merging is privacy concerns. In 2014 the CC launched an investigation into JW's all to do with the Moston(?) congregation in Manchester. It brought a lot of bad publicity and probably caused some JW's to wake up. The CC website for each congregation contains a fair amount of information about each registered congregation, not just financial but a list of the elders or Trustees as they are called. Removing registration stops a lot of prying eyes.

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