I had wanted to attend one of those for several years but either I didn't have time on that day or something else got in the way. This year, I made it.
I found the building fairly easily, and noticed that quite a few people greeted me as I made my way inside. I was about 25 minutes early, which was fortunate as the hall had already filled up appreciably. Someone directed me to a seat in the front row, which was both good and bad: good because I could see what was going on in front but bad because that way I couldn't watch the participants during the actual passing of the sacrament, to see whether anyone actually partakes, for example.
It started off with one brother greeting us, explaining briefly why we were here, and handing over to another who gave a talk. He started right at the beginning, with Adam and Eve, and why Christ's atoning sacrifice was necessary (or should I say "Jesus's atoning sacrifice"? They tended not to use the title "Christ" a whole lot.). I got the impression that Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the original sin, which surprised me a bit.
Parts of the talk seemed tailored expressly to non-JW listeners, which reminded me of a chat I had had a couple of days earlier on Rhizomatic #perl with an ex-JW who had said that the Memorial, being the prime occasion to invite guests to, causes a lot of JWs to be rather self-conscious since they feel they're being watched.
The speaker went on to speak about the 144'000 and the new covenant, and how the sacrament was instituted. He said the 144'000 have been gathering for 2000 years now, which also surprised me a bit; I had had the impression previously that they believed that the 144'000 were all alive in 1914 when Jesus came back to earth, since when he has been governing invisibly from the clouds, or something like that.
(Incidentally, the first person had mentioned that last year, about 15 million Jehovah's Witnesses and guests attended the Memorial, of which about 8000 partook of the emblems to show that they had a hope of eternal life in heaven, showing that the gathering was nearly complete.)
A brother came up to say a prayer before the bread was passed. This was different from what I was used to since it was not a fixed formula but more like a normal prayer; he thanked for what Jesus had done for us, etc. Then, the bread was passed. This was unleavened bread, but I was a bit disappointed when I saw it looked like cream crackers, the kind you sometimes eat with cheese; I had expected something more like pita bread or the stuff that Turkish pizzas (lahmacun) are made on. There were four plates which went around. (By the way, the hall looked rather like an LDS meeting-house, I thought. It could nearly have been Neumünster ward, for example.)
After that came another prayer, for the wine. Again, more a prayer of thanksgiving and expressing the hope they had through Christ. I think they neither blessed the bread and wine explicitly, nor did they have a formula like "take, eat; this is my body".
While the wine was being passed around (four wine glasses), the speaker addressed the congregation to state that Jehovah's Witnesses did not believe in transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine become literally the body and blood of Christ. I thought it was a bit strange that they pointed out what they did not believe in rather than simply talking about their beliefs. After all, most people identify with what they are, rather than with what they are not.
After the sacrament was over, the glasses were brought back to the table and covered with a paper towel. There was another talk, which included something familiar: to start by gathering knowledge (John 17:3 was cited here), which leads to faith, then contrition, then baptism, then remaining faithful. It sounds like the first four principles and ordinances of the Gospel: faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The meeting concluded with a hymn and a prayer. As with the opening, the congregation stood during the hymn and the prayer. The hymns were accompanied by a piano and a small band consisting of two guitars, a violin, and two accordions. The effect was a bit like a Hamburg shanty choir, I thought at times.
As soon as the meeting was over, the man who had sat to my right asked me whether it was my first time in a meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses and then involved me in a conversation which I managed to escape after five minutes.
On my way to the bus stop, I met a lady who had talked to me briefly before the meeting. She asked me whether I had liked the meeting and said that there were probably some thoughts I had heard there that I hadn't come across before—for example, the hope of eternal life. I had to disappoint her on that count :), which rather surprised her; she asked me whether I had studied the Bible much then.
I think the meeting I attended was not really the "right" one for me; there are two congregations meeting in that building and, as far as I could see from a map in the foyer with congregation boundaries marked in and gathering from the names of the congregations, the one responsible for where I lived was the one that had their Memorial at 21:30 rather than at 20:00. But 20:00–21:00 was already a bit late by my standards.
I found out when they meet during the week; apparently, it's Sunday 16:00–18:00 and Thursday 19:00–20:45 for the congregation I attended and Sunday 10:00–12:00 and Friday 19:00–20:45 for the one I "belong" to; in addition, there are private book study groups meeting in individuals' houses.
Maybe I'll drop in on one of their weekday meetings; Chip had said that those can give more insight into what they're like, during Theocratic Ministry Schoolwhen they receive training in how to talk to other people or things like that, and the congregation meetings afterwards. Have to see.
Stella wasn't particularly enamoured that I went but she let me go.