NEW YORK (AP) -- Leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses have ordered the biggest organizational shake-up since the evangelist sect was incorporated 116 years ago, saying it would help the 5.9-million member group expand worldwide.
The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, as the group is officially known, had been run by a so-called Governing Body. Now, religious and administrative duties will be divided, with three newly formed corporations running the group's U.S. operations.
President Milton Henschel, 80, and the group's six other board members resigned their posts on Saturday.
''The reason for the changes was both theological and practical,'' said public affairs director James N. Pellechia.
He said the Governing Body, now relieved of its administrative tasks, would be able to ''concentrate more on the ministry of the Word.''
Don Adams, a 50-year veteran of the organization, has been named president of the organization, and seven lower-ranking members will make up the new board. Henschel will remain a member of the Governing Body, which will have a rotating chairman rather than a permanent leader.
Until Saturday, the head of the Watch Tower society was always regarded as the single leader of the religion, dating back to founder Charles Taze Russell. He began publishing a magazine detailing the imminent end of the world system in 1879, incorporated the Watch Tower society in 1884 and ruled the religion till his death in 1916.
Watch Tower presidents have taken a lower profile since the days of Russell and his flamboyant successor Joseph Rutherford, who died in 1942. ''I don't believe the Witnesses look to any one person'' as leader, Pellechia said.
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