Jehovah’s Witnesses coming back to Tacoma Dome after year off

After last year’s temporary move to Seattle, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses will return to the Tacoma Dome next month for their annual convention spanning three consecutive weekends.

And starting next summer, they will stretch their visit to a fourth weekend.

Witnesses have rented the Dome for their Western Washington conventions every year since the facility opened in 1983. They relocated to Husky Stadium a year ago to accommodate extra attendance from members from three states and 40 countries. The Pacific Northwest was overdue to host a large regional convention such as that one.

Now the faith group is returning to familiar territory, arriving July 3 in Tacoma for the first of three three-day sessions that will wrap up July 19. A total turnout of more than 22,000 people is expected over the three weekends, according to group officials.

The theme this year is “Imitate Jesus!” The all-day programs will include Bible symposiums, music, dramas and full-immersion baptisms.

“It is faith strengthening and encouraging to be there with 7,300 or 7,400 of your spiritual brothers and sisters,” said Wayne Berry, a convention spokesman.

Witnesses from 170 congregations have started going door-to-door to households throughout Pierce County and the rest of the region, issuing personal invitations to the free convention, Berry said.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say they’ve found the one true religion. They believe Jehovah (God) will restore the Earth to an eternal paradise under the rule of a heavenly government for those who follow biblical principles.

Internationally, the group says it has more than 115,000 congregations and more than 8 million adherents.

Dome planners say they’re happy to have the Witnesses back, always knowing the 2014 hiatus would be temporary.

The group provides a solid, timely booking every summer during weekends when the Dome might otherwise sit dark, said Kim Bedier, public assembly facilities director for the city.

“They’ve been so good to work with and so flexible at a time when an indoor arena in the Northwest is underutilized anyway,” Bedier said.

She said most of the regional summer concert business shifts to the Gorge and White River amphitheaters and the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.

The Witnesses have signed a letter of intent to hold dates at the Dome through 2020, including a fourth weekend starting in 2016, Dome officials said.

The conventions typically bring in $50,000 total in city revenue for three weekends, officials said, with projections of an extra $20,000 for a four-weekend booking.

Berry said the Witnesses are glad to be back in Tacoma this year.

“We have a good working relationship with the Tacoma Dome, and we appreciate being able to work with hotels in the area,” said Berry, a Bellingham resident who says he will stay several nights at Hotel Murano and enjoy local restaurants.

“We appreciate the hospitality that’s been shown by Pierce County and the Tacoma area.”