Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/8/2013 (1100 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you work or ride transit through downtown, you've seen them -- standing quietly and politely in pairs on the sidewalk, nodding pleasant hellos to passersby.
They are Jehovah's Witnesses, and they are no longer just coming to a door near you.
"People are not at home more than ever before," says Mark Ruge, director of public information for Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada, explaining why members of the church are now standing on sidewalks downtown.
"We still do door-to-door, but downtown is where the people are."
Although members of the church have been doing downtown witnessing for a few years in the U.S., this is the first time they are doing it in Canada.
They started in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in spring, followed by Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax in summer. Ruge says they will soon be doing it in other communities as well.
In Winnipeg, members of the church can be found on Portage and Graham avenues, standing on each side of a portable literature rack filled with magazines.
"We're doing it to be more visible (as a church)," says Ruge. "But we don't want to be in people's faces."
They are on the street as early as 7 a.m. some mornings. I have stopped to talk with a few of them; they told me they do it as part of their service to the church, and that a number of people stop by to talk, ask questions or take a magazine.
One of the magazines they give away is The Watchtower, the church's official publication. With a print run of 43 million copies of every issue, it is the most widely-circulated magazine in the world. What also makes The Watchtower unique is that it is published in 190 languages and distributed in 237 countries -- something no other publication can likely match.
Some of those translations are available in Winnipeg, which makes it very appealing to immigrants.
"People from other countries are happy to find something in their language," says Ruge.
Is the street witnessing making a difference? According to the National Council of Churches Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, in 2010 the church grew by 1.85 per cent to 1,184,249 members. Only the Mormons and Assemblies of God added more members.
As for Manitoba, the church has 3,320 members, up from 3,232 in 2000. They belong to 47 congregations meeting in 35 Kingdom Halls, worshipping in English, Tagalog, Spanish, Chinese and American Sign Language.
Canada-wide, there are 114,792 Jehovah's Witnesses, up from 110,814 a decade ago.
About the same time I noticed Jehovah's Witnesses downtown, I came across an article in the Calgary Herald about the church's controversial stance on blood transfusions.
Citing the experience of doctors at a hospital in New Jersey, the article noted patients who refused transfusions during surgery on religious grounds recovered just as well as transfused patients--and in many cases, even better.
According to the article, they "suffered fewer post-surgery complications, spent less time on mechanical breathing machines and had shorter stays in intensive care."
Doctors at another hospital in Ohio found something similar; Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions while undergoing cardiac surgery were "significantly less likely to need another operation for bleeding compared with non-Witnesses who were transfused," the article stated, adding that "they were also less likely to suffer a post-op attack or kidney failure."
Asked the reporter: "Are the Jehovah's Witnesses on to something?"
For Ruge, the answer is yes. "We've been saying that all along," he says, noting that while the church refuses blood transfusions for theological reasons, "now different organizations are seeing the benefit."
And if you don't believe me, you can read all about it in a Jehovah's Witness publication. All you have to do is ask one of the nice people downtown. They'll be happy to tell you all about it.