The Feast of Tabernacles has always been the highlight of the year for God’s people! It’s a time to learn about the coming Kingdom of God. It’s an opportunity to refocus and get re-energized. It’s a chance to renew old acquaintances and make new friends. It’s an opportunity to build priceless memories between parents, children, brothers, and sisters, and to also get to know our spiritual family! And, as life gets more challenging in a society increasingly rebelling against God, it’s a time for His people to enjoy a respite from the world. As one Festival Coordinator said as this year’s Feast began, “Feast-goers heaved a sigh of relief, having left behind the business of the past year, dramatic and traumatic for many.” What a blessing the Feast is!
Overall, Living Church of God Festival 2019 attendance was 11,069, a 4.7 percent increase over 2018’s Feast and the first time that either the Global Church of God or the Living Church of God has passed the 11,000 mark. The Feast was observed at 61 locations in 37 countries. Eleven of these Feast sites were organized in the United States, with a combined attendance of 5,219. Fifty other sites were outside of the United States, with a combined attendance of 5,850.
What were the highlights of the Feast for you? In the following pages, we will review some memories of the Feast of 2019—the inspiration, the encouragement, and the focus on our fabulous future!
Spiritual Meat in Due Season
God’s word shows that we are to participate in the Feast to “learn to fear the Lord your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:23). How does that happen? In the book of Nehemiah, we find that when the exiles returned from Babylon, they kept the Feast of Tabernacles. Here is how they kept it: “Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he [that is, Ezra] read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner” (Nehemiah 8:18). The pattern of gathering at the Feast to learn from God’s servants was set millennia ago.
At 2019’s Feast, God’s ministers gave sermons with titles such as “Why Are We Here?,” “Embrace the Fear of God,” “The Sabbath and the Millennium,” “Our Magnificent Transformation,” “Character of Kings,” “Utopian World Economy,” “We Are the Teachers of Tomorrow,” and “A Future Full of Peace,” to name a few. These and other messages helped all of us focus our minds on the future. They guided us in understanding what God is doing in our lives and how to handle the challenges we face. And they opened our eyes to a better understanding of our calling and how we fit in His Work.
With members and guests hailing from many different countries, messages were given in and translated into numerous languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Swahili, Cebuano, Tagalog, Indonesian, and Karen. Many brethren commented on how inspiring and helpful the sermons were. One Feast-goer attending in Carry-le-Rouet, France, observed, “God was really present at the Feast site. Very instructive messages were given by excellent speakers!” A member keeping the Feast in Punta Leona, Costa Rica, commented on the “strong spiritual meat delivered by the sermonettes and sermons.” Another in Montego Bay, Jamaica, commented on the “eye-opening” quality of the sermonettes and sermons given at the Feast, “knowing that one day all this will become a reality.”
And it will become reality! That’s the central message of the Feast of Tabernacles. The messages we hear form the cornerstone of the teaching that helps us see the reality of God’s coming Kingdom more clearly. And it’s a full plate—in the one-week period of the Feast, we hear about 11 percent of our yearly intake of sermons. Clearly, God wants our Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day experiences to leave profound and lasting impressions on our minds.
Don’t let the spiritual lessons and impressions of this past Feast fade into the distance! Maybe you were inspired to make changes in your life. Perhaps God helped you to see new ways to apply His word to situations you face. Maybe He inspired you to face challenges with renewed zeal. The Feast of 2019 may be in our “rearview mirror,” but don’t let those lessons end up there as well!
For many decades, the Church of God has sought out aesthetically pleasing and naturally inspiring Feast sites. As we immerse ourselves in the beauty of creation, we can find it easier to get into the mindset of worshiping and learning from our Father and His Son. While “big city” Feast sites can be very exciting locations, sites with access to natural wonder often seem to provide a special blessing all their own.
With such variety in God’s creation, 61 Feast sites around the world meant a vast array of climates and scenery for Feast-goers in 2019. In Taupo, New Zealand, attendees were treated to views of beautiful Lake Taupo and distant, snow-capped mountains. Brethren in the Hill Country of Boerne, Texas, were treated to regular encounters with curious deer in the evening, even in a parking lot! In Davao City, Philippines, brethren stayed together in the refreshing environment of a water-surrounded compound dotted with trees and grass, while the Feast site in Orap, Vanuatu, was situated beside a stream that flowed gently into the ocean. Here is how one Feast-goer summed it up at Seaside, Oregon: “Coastal sites are wonderful to reflect God’s handiwork of creation. I envision His hand swooping down to the water and creating the oceans and waves, the sound, the voice of His doing.”
Clearly, whether you’re surrounded by the majestic mountains of Midway, Utah, the dazzling autumn colors filling the valleys near Mt. Snow, Vermont, or seeking respite near the tranquil, glittering waters of Kendu Bay, Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria, immersion in the natural beauty of God’s creation is a high priority when it comes to keeping the Feast.
Peace, Safety, and God’s Intervention
Perhaps one of the most important millennial attributes of a Feast site is simply its safety. Many of us live in environments and neighborhoods that are relatively free from crime, but in some parts of the world, security and safety are never taken for granted.
Just before the Feast of Tabernacles began, protests and violence erupted in Haiti. Festival Coordinator Wilner Pierre had been planning to spend the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles with brethren in Port-au-Prince, Gros Morne, and L’Asile, but regrettably, as a result of the violence, the international airport in Port-au-Prince was closed and all flights were canceled. With curfews imposed and rioting rampant, transportation in and around the city was difficult. In spite of all these challenges, however, God blessed our Haitian brethren, who helped one another with needed supplies and necessities when shops closed, and they were able to attend services together in peace.
South Africa has also been troubled in recent months as violence against foreigners has intensified. With brethren travelling by bus into South Africa from neighboring countries, this was a great concern as the Feast approached. However, God blessed the South African Feast sites, and brethren were able to travel and meet together safely. Numerous attendees commented on the Feast surveys that one highlight of this Feast was simply being safe and secure. God protected our brethren, and we were able to have sites in three places in South Africa—Stillbaai, Port Shepstone, and Roodeplaat Dam.
At the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, site, brethren witnessed a special miracle. A member fell down early in the Feast, and was taken to the hospital and into surgery. Complications arose during the operation, and he experienced uncontrolled bleeding. For several days he was in a very precarious situation, and doctors were concerned that they might lose him. He was anointed, prayers were requested at services, and the bleeding began “inexplicably” to slow down. Everyone was excited and grateful to God to see both him and his wife—who had also fallen and had broken her hip—attend services on the Last Great Day, knowing they were witnessing a miracle!
Spending Time with the Family
Some brethren are blessed to be able to share the Feast with many family members and extended relatives. In Cathedral City, California, coordinator Stephen Elliott reported, “Four generations of one family attended, and two of their babies were part of the Blessing of Little Children.” As the years go by in the Millennium, multiple generations of family attending the Feast together will become the norm rather than the exception! But growing as a family at the Feast goes far beyond just spending time with our blood relatives. In the ultimate sense, we have more in common with our spiritual family than our physical family, because we share the same “spiritual DNA,” so to speak. The Feast is a chance to get to know that spiritual family better!
During the Feast, we are blessed with ample time to share wholesome and inspiring activities with our Church family. Why do we do this? Actually, we are following the example of God’s people in Scripture. When the exiles returning from Babylon rediscovered the fall Holy Days, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites told them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The Feast of Tabernacles is a time to see this in action. Festival Coordinator Richard Franz reported that in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, some brethren went out of their way to help a newly-baptized member attend the Feast who otherwise would have been unable to, showing a spirit of caring, giving, and selflessness. In Baguio City, Philippines, brethren showed their generosity by “hosting other brethren, new attendees, and the visiting minister for Sabbath fellowship dinner.”
Feast coordinators exercise great creativity when it comes to planning ways for God’s people to share their resources and time in an enjoyable and educational setting. In Orap, Vanuatu, for example, brethren participated in a Bible quiz on Friday night. In Carry-le-Rouet, France, “the activities were tailored for all age groups: arts and crafts for children and adults, board games and outdoor games, a blind test on French and Anglo-Saxon songs of all kinds during the singles’ night, and a special lunch for seniors.” Coordinator Simon Muthama reported that in Ukerewe, Tanzania, “the children presented a skit demonstrating how God separates His people from the world when we make the choice to obey His laws, based on the article written by Mr. Dexter Wakefield, ‘The Theme of Separation in the Fall Festival Season.’ Immediately after the presentation, a program began with brethren singing in groups and even giving thanks to the speakers through singing.” Brethren in Vouliagmeni, Greece, appreciated group activities for making it “easier to meet new people and bond…. It was inspiring to walk where the Apostle Paul might have walked and talked. The temples made with hands offered a unique contrast to our celebration of the coming Kingdom of God.”
In Port Shepstone, South Africa, brethren participated in the “Family Day BBQ and Amazing Race.” Coordinator Lawdi Ferreira explained, “While two sheep were prepared on the spit-braai [spit roast] eight teams made up of families and groups of five people participated…. The activity consisted of twelve specific stops…. The challenges created good opportunities for laughter, teamwork, thinking, sharpening your concentration, and working together.”
In Georgetown, Guyana, as with a number of other smaller sites, brethren gathered in settings where they spent much of the Feast cooking, sharing meals, and fellowshipping together without the busyness some larger Feast sites are known for. Circumstances such as this create a unique experience, along with many opportunities to fellowship and serve one another. Though there’s certainly nothing wrong with larger sites, Feast-goers often remark that smaller sites offer some of the best opportunities for really getting to know their spiritual family members.
In Port Macquarie, Australia, “teens and preteens were thrilled to have the opportunity to have an exhilarating surf lesson together.” As Festival Coordinator Anthony Mew commented, “This unique opportunity was a great way for all these spirited youths to build friendships.” The Scriptures reveal the Millennium to be a time when young and old will join in a dance (Jeremiah 31:13) and children will play in the streets (Zechariah 8:5)! Capturing a vision of the future under God’s government includes activities that are fun for the whole Church family and leave no regrets—they are fun tomorrow as well as fun today. That certainly was experienced in 2019. As brethren enjoyed bunco in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, curled in Gimli, Manitoba, engaged in team-building activities and beach games at Pebbles Beach, Barbados, or experienced an authentic Tejas Rodeo in Boerne, Texas, the Feast once again provided a unique and special time in which to grow together as a Church family.
Old-timers and Newcomers
It can be frightening to come into a group where you don’t know anyone. Yet for newcomers to the Feast who are willing to take that leap of faith, the rewards are profound. This year was no exception. Festival Coordinator Felipe Casing reported that in Davao City, Philippines, “some first-timers cried” with joy at their experience of the Feast. Another first-timer, in Warrnambool, Australia, reported to Coordinator Martin Montgomery that “the hairs on his arms stood up as he heard aspects of God’s plan that he had never heard or understood before explained in sermons.” Another first-time attendee, in Port Shepstone, South Africa, mentioned that she was “overwhelmed by the love, respect, and family atmosphere that prevailed among God’s people.” Their example encouraged her, she said, to “become baptized and completely follow God’s way of life.”
Coordinator Adam West explained that in Mount Snow, Vermont, “One first-time attendee mentioned how he had been to church ‘retreats’ and conferences before, but this time was different. He always walked away and just kept doing as they had done before, but attending God’s Feast made him feel that he had changes to make but with the added motivation to follow through.” Many brethren attending the Feast in Djoum, Cameroon, were keeping it for the first time. As Festival Coordinator Urbain Hazoumé reported, the Feast was an excellent opportunity to be “instructed on important points of our doctrines, in particular the tithes, is it good or not to wear a veil for the women, the preaching of the Gospel, the governmental structure in the Church, etc.” The messages and even the “question and answer” games “clarified areas of uncertainty and built each other up.” To all of our newcomers to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Living Church of God, welcome! We’re glad you’re here!
But we are not only thankful for our newcomers—we are also grateful for those who have steadily, faithfully obeyed God by attending His Feast for 40, 50, or even 60 years. Festival Coordinator Paul Shumway reported that in Pebbles Beach, Barbados, “Attendees even included several members who were present for the inaugural service with Mr. Herbert Armstrong and Mr. Dibar Apartian, 51 years ago!” As Festival Coordinator Simon Roberts described, in Harrogate, United Kingdom, “Two members were attending their 60th full UK Feast and sharing their memories of Bricket Wood, Ambassador College, and Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong.” One of our longtime members, attending in Seaside, Oregon, commented, “I feel very strongly that God was not only refining our focus this year at the Feast, but also seemed to be drawing together in the spirit of unity those of us who are inspired to have that focus.”
Letting Our Light Shine
Wherever in the world we are keeping the Feast, we should let our light shine as Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 5:16). Whether to people we meet in the supermarket, on the street, or in the hotel, the Feast of Tabernacles is a prime opportunity to provide a positive example. And it’s gratifying to hear that there were numerous reports of venue staff being very pleased with members and guests attending the Feast in 2019. Festival Coordinator Simon Roberts reported that in Harrogate, United Kingdom, “The Hotel staff described the brethren as the best conference group they had experienced. They were very sad to see us leave, recognizing that the different atmosphere from the previous nine days no longer existed.” One hotel staff member was so interested in the Feast that Mr. Roberts invited him to stay and listen to the services!
Festival Coordinator Anthony Mew mentioned that in Port Macquarie, Australia, the supervisors of the venue commented that “this was the best conference they have been involved with in a very long time, and that the brethren were always polite, positive, happy, and quick to help.” Richard Franz relayed that in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, “The staff at the Lodge of Four Seasons was very impressed by the manner and decorum of all the brethren, especially those who needed to interact with them—i.e., sound crew, head usher, head greeter.”
It’s encouraging to hear positive comments from venue staff—especially positive comments about our children! Festival Coordinator Gary Stein commented that in Boerne, Texas, “The Bevy Hotel staff commented on how well-dressed everyone was. They loved our children and how nice and friendly our people were. One indicated that ‘we were dreading a church group coming in as most are difficult to deal with and to please, but yours has been a very pleasing experience.’”
Setting a good example is more than just leaving a good impression with the hotel staff. It’s about understanding that we represent Jesus Christ to the world, and that we are preparing to take the lead, under Christ, in showing the world a new way to live. In that light, it was very meaningful when one hotel staff member told one of our ministers in Seaside, Oregon, “The world needs more people like you all.” Yes, that’s what we’re preparing for!
Service comes in many forms, such as parking duty, running the sound, setting up stage decorations, or serving at the Business Office. It may involve providing music at the Feast or giving assistance as an usher or greeter. The secret is that serving actually helps us enjoy the Feast all the more. As one Feast-goer at Lake of the Ozarks put it, “I served as a greeter, and I absolutely loved it!”
Sometimes brethren aren’t able to attend the Feast for health reasons. Those of you who are in this situation know how vital the service of the phone hookup or video stream is! Here is what one shut-in wrote regarding “dialing in” to services at Cathedral City, California: “We were scheduled to come to Cathedral City, but various health issues kept us at home attending through webcast, and we wanted to say how thankful we are for it.” Another grateful member, assigned to Midway, Utah, wrote, “I attended via computer. Thank you very much as it was great to be able to attend…. I’m in a nursing home and everything was perfect, except I wasn’t there in person. Hope to be with you all next year. Thank the GREAT GOD that made this possible.”
The Feast is about training, and in some cases, it provides a prime time—or the only time—to train local leaders. In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Festival Coordinator Graeme Hemphill reported that one afternoon was spent training men to lead hymns. It is also a wonderful time to make beautiful music together in praise to God, an act of service that stirs many to gratitude. Festival Coordinator Lascelles Fraser passed along this report from the Caribbean: “Many brethren expressed how well coordinated the choir was and their appreciation for the inspiring music.”
Others find simple joy in just being able to come together and share their talents, and serve with their sheer enthusiasm. During a dance in Lowlands, Tobago, those who did not join in the actual dancing still sang along to the music, to the delight of all on the dance floor.
In one way or another, we all serve each other at the Feast. Everyone’s contribution is needed and appreciated, and that’s the way God designed it. As one Feast-goer in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, noted, “I was most impressed with the way all the brethren jumped in and helped with the meeting hall setup and breakdown, and with the overall serving attitude throughout the entire Feast, but that’s how God’s people are!”
Summing up this year’s Feast, one member who attended in Penticton, British Columbia, noted, “God’s Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day was a memorable time for me, personally, from the wonderful and meaningful sermons to the special music, activities, and fellowship. I’m grateful to God, to the organizers, and all assistants, who together made everything work wonderfully.” Another Feast-goer, attending in Williamsburg, Virginia, described how important attending the Feast is to confronting the loneliness that many isolated brethren deal with throughout the rest of the year: “I am the only member where I live and before the Feast I was quickly sinking into a depressive state, but being able to serve and fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ changed that very quickly. Thank you so much.”
God richly blessed the Feast of Tabernacles activities and services of the Living Church of God in 2019. He inspired us to take what we learned and go forward as we press toward the Kingdom! As was said in Stillbaai, South Africa, we now must “byt vas,” or “hold fast,” as we persevere with faithfulness until our Savior returns. God speed that day!