More than 60,000 adherents of a global religion have flocked to Melbourne to sing, pray and be dunked in water at one of the city’s most hallowed sporting grounds.
Jehovah’s Witnesses from over 60 countries are attending a three-day conference at Etihad Stadium in the Victorian capital.
A little religious rivalry has developed, with the faithful hoping to beat the stadium’s previous attendance record of 70,000 claimed by Catholics at their Jubilee Mass in the year 2000.
Fairfax Media reports that the average cost of a hotel room in Melbourne has soared from $150 to $500 over the weekend in anticipation of the event.
This year’s conference celebrates 100 years of Christ’s rule as “King” of God’s Empire, a tenure that supposedly began in 1914. Highlights will include two Biblical reenactments and a mass baptism.
Each year, church members attend large international conventions like these, which always last for three days – the same length of time that Jesus Christ was buried before allegedly rising from the dead.
The program will be live in five languages (English, Auslan, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese) and simultaneously interpreted into 8 languages (Greek, Spanish, Italian, Croatian, Samoan, Arabic, Tagalog and Japanese).
While Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christians, their beliefs are recognised as distinct from mainstream Christian faiths.
The church’s members numbered almost 8 million in 2013, the JW website estimates, and spent a total of 1.8 billion hours of door knocking over that year.
The religion is not to be confused with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, which was also founded by an American in the 1800s.
Jehova’s Witnesses are known for their tireless door-knocking and pamphlet-dropping campaigns.
The event is free and non-members of the church are reportedly welcomed. Those worried about being pressured to donate need not fear – collections are never taken, the church confirmed.