LCN Article
Let Us Come Together

September / October 2021

Gerald E. Weston

Dear Brethren,

It has been a long road since March 2020, with various degrees of restrictions and shutdowns around the world due to the pandemic. Thankfully, most of us were able to meet in person for the Feast of Tabernacles last year—but, sadly, some were disappointed when government edicts restricted meetings and travel and venues locked their doors.

Last year, the State of Vermont shut its borders to outsiders, but we were successful in replacing the planned site at Mt. Snow with one in another state. The Canadian province of Quebec closed its borders—even limiting travel within the province—24 hours before Opening Night, and meeting restrictions shut down the planned venue, making it impossible for members to keep the Feast as planned. This happened in other parts of the world and was a great disappointment to those caught in such circumstances. We had to line up four sites in Kenya late in the game due to government restrictions. Happily, with the exception of those in Quebec and Mexico, most members were able to attend the Feast in North America without the need for livestreaming. It should be noted that some countries restrict travel at the point of a gun!

Most of us look forward to “going up to the Feast” as instructed in Scripture, but are there any exceptions? Were we the first to face a situation such as that of 2020, when it was not possible for all of our members worldwide to attend in person? Do the Scriptures reveal the mind of God on what to do during abnormal times? Are there any reasons why a true servant of God may keep the Feast at home and not be in violation of the law of God? And should we make the exception the rule?

We read, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Deuteronomy 16:16).

Why is this command only stated with regard to males? Does this imply that these Feasts were not also for wives and daughters? Not at all. We see that they are also included in verses just preceding the above statement: “And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates” (v. 14).

Women are also included in the command found in Deuteronomy 14:26, which says that “you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” Then there is the example of Jesus’ family, all of whom went up to the Feast each year, including Mary, His mother (Luke 2:41, 48). So, if God expects the whole family to attend the Feast, why does the statement in Deuteronomy 16:16 only appear to require “males” to attend?

There Are Exceptions

When I first began attending services, instructions were given each year for women in their last month of pregnancy to stay home and not go to the Feast. Having a baby at the Feast carried with it risks and problems on top of the stress of traveling for what could be two to four days each way when we had just one or two sites in all of North America. Deuteronomy makes an exception to accommodate a happy condition that younger wives often found themselves in; remember, until recent times, it was not at all unusual for a woman to become pregnant and even give birth five to 15 times. When necessary travel would be on foot or on the back of an animal, not requiring women to attend under such strain would be very understandable.

The Bible also instructed mother and child to be separate from the temple for a set period of days—though we have never taken this instruction or similar ritualistic rules as requirements for Christians today (Luke 2:22; Leviticus 12). However, following the principles found in God’s word, the Church did instruct mothers to stay home from Sabbath services for a month to rest and give the infant time to adjust to a new world outside the womb.

There are other situations in which the Bible strongly indicates that servants of God failed to go up to Jerusalem—the only site at the time—during the Feast. Elijah hid out from King Ahab for three-and-a-half years. Ahab’s wife Jezebel “massacred the prophets of the Lord” and so Ahab’s servant Obadiah “had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water” (1 Kings 18:4). Even today, we recognize exceptions for both men and women to stay behind due to health issues, if the place where God has set His name is too far from them (Deuteronomy 12:21), or when a family member has a health issue and should not travel to the Feast, or is at the point of death. The Bible—the mind of God in print—makes it clear that, although they should not be abused, there are legitimate reasons why someone might not travel to keep the Feast.

The Exceptions Are Not the Rule

The year 1961 was the first year the Church opened a Festival site in Squaw Valley, California—the second in North America in addition to the one in Big Sandy, Texas. I was absolutely brand new in God’s Church at the time and it seemed that there had been some controversy over the subject of how God places His name for the Feast, and I remember hearing a full sermon on the subject while on my way to the Feast. God has never left it up to the individual to determine where He “has placed His name.” God works through the government of the Church to make these decisions.

Now this is important, dear brethren: Last year was obviously a difficult and disappointing year when large meetings were not always possible. In Mexico, Mr. Mario Hernandez and Mr. Cristian Orrego arranged 13 small in-home groups and tied them together with services electronically. I had the privilege of giving one of the sermons to all our Spanish-speaking brethren throughout Central and South America, as well as some who were there in person in New Bern, North Carolina. This is how and where God chose to place His name for His Spanish-speaking people last year. This was arranged by the Church under exceptional circumstances, not only to comply with government mandates, but also to guard the health of our members. Sadly, some self-willed individuals may have a problem with this, as they do with other decisions the ministry makes dealing with controversial issues.

We are talking here of obvious exceptions, but we must not make the exception the rule. There does appear to be a trend among a few to think that where they keep the Feast is solely a matter of personal preference. If a Festival site is more than two or three hours away, some may simply think, Let’s keep it at home this year. Every year, we have members of other Church of God groups who want to attend with us because we are closer to where they live, and we know a few of our members think similarly—but is it the mind of God to just do what is convenient?

I’ve talked in this letter about exceptions, but we must not fall into the satanic trap of thinking it is okay to decide on our own where God has placed His name, especially staying at home for mere “convenience” when there is no compelling reason to do so. And the same goes for attending Sabbath services.

We provide DVDs and streamed services for those whose situations may prevent attendance in person, but we have never taught, other than during an exceptional time such as last year, that many of us might have an emergency need to “keep the Feast” in our homes. And always, we are to save up our Festival tithe “year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide… that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:22–23).

Let us all do our best to come together and rejoice before our Creator in the locations where He has chosen to place His name!

Gerald E. Weston signature