Grieving woman turns the tables by door-knocking Jehovah's Witness video

The Dominion Post, New Zealand/May 30, 2016

By Tom Hunt

First came death, then came a Jehovah's Witness.

It led to Wellington woman Jean Sergent-Shadbolt​ turning the tables on what she called the "predatory" religion, by door-knocking a stranger.

She was looking for the woman who hand-delivered a personalised letter to her and her dead flatmate, friend, and step-cousin Michael Boyes, three months to the day after his high-profile death from a sudden brain bleed.

Jean Sergent-Shadbolt tells how horrified she was to receive the Jehovah's Witness letter, and of her intention to find the sender.

A leading Wellington Jehovah's Witness has now apologised and insisted the letter's timing was a coincidence, but Sergent-Shadbolt believes it could be a rogue Witness targeting grief.

The letter, from a Sue Roberts, urged her to get in touch, and left a return addresss to a house on Farnham St, Mornington, a few suburbs away from her Aro Valley home.

Nobody was home when Sergent-Shadbolt visited on Sunday, so she returned on Monday to discover Sue Roberts had never lived there.

She wanted to ask if she had been targeted after the death of her friend, whether Roberts knew he was dead, and what right the religious organisation had to impose on her grief.

The Farnham St address was the home of  Wellington West Jehovah's Witness co-ordinator Ron Winiata, who apologised to her and said the timing of the letter was an unfortunate coincidence.

He refused to give Roberts' address, but did pass on a phone number.

"We have got her name, but your address," Sergent-Shadbolt told him, accusing him of double-standards. "But she has got my name, my address and the name of my flatmate, who is dead."

Receiving the letter, especially three months to the day after Boyes' death, was "predatory", she told him. "It feels like harassment."

Winiata said that, if the letters upset people, Jehovah's Witnesses would revisit their approach.

The group never set out to upset people: "It is to help people who are in times of need."

When called, Roberts refused to give her address but said "no hurt was ever intended", and she was "more than happy to apologise".

Yet Sergent-Shadbolt still believed she may have been targeted deliberately. A few weeks before the letter arrived, a Jehovah's Witness had come to her door. Sergent-Shadbolt had sent them away, in the process telling them someone close to her had died.

Heather Henare, from grief counselling service Skylight, was not aware of any cases of religions targeting grieving people, but people in grief were more susceptible to sales pitches.

"It is a time, unfortunately, people take advantage of people."

Massey University history professor Peter Lineham​, who specialises in New Zealand religion, believed the letter's timing was coincidental.

But, if targeted, it could be a sign the religion's members believed Christ was coming again soon and so were trying to recruit members.

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