What a year it has been! Against the backdrop of the end time, we have been able to appreciate the precious gift of knowing and keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. Especially as society slides into ever-more-shocking moral depravity, the Feast is a welcome respite, a “spiritual reset.” It’s a refreshing oasis of hope in a world lost in confusion.
In 2021, members and guests of the Living Church of God gathered at 100 sites in 49 different countries. The total attendance was 11,343, with 81 percent attending in person and 19 percent connecting online. It was a time to fellowship and worship God together. Yes, the Days of Unleavened Bread point to our journey out of spiritual Egypt—but that journey doesn’t stop with the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures a time when the whole world will be living God’s way of life, when all humanity will be released from the captivity of the devil. As the prophet Zechariah wrote of that time, “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9).
We go to the Feast to learn to prepare for that soon-coming age and to reject this present evil world (Galatians 1:4). We live in the world, but we must not be like the world, as Jesus prayed in John 17:15: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” That is a profound lesson we learn more deeply each year, as we keep the Feast.
So, what about you? What were some of the highlights of this year’s Feast for you? Perhaps it’s good, several months after the Feast, to review Festival 2021 and reflect on the lessons we learned.
Lockdowns and Livestreams
Like the previous year, 2021 was filled with COVID news. While some sites, such as Great Malvern, United Kingdom, had only voluntary, recommended guidelines, other sites and even whole countries were in total lockdown. In Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, brethren were prevented from travelling and had to keep the Feast at home, watching the livestream from Australia or pre-recorded messages. In Australia, brethren were not able to travel across state borders, and kept the Feast in local areas. In the Philippines, brethren in Central and Northwestern Mindanao could not gather in one group as planned but were able to keep the Feast by congregation. In Davao City, Philippines, members gathered in nine mini-sites in homes to watch livestreams and videos.
On the other hand, God provided some sites with unusual blessings to enable brethren to meet and keep the Feast together. A last-minute Philippine government policy reversal enabled Manila brethren to meet in Baguio City for the Feast. Despite a nationwide ban on meetings, the Church was allowed an exemption in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In Ontario, Canada, the Church benefited from venues being granted “place of worship” status, which meant unvaccinated brethren were allowed to meet as well. In Langebaan, South Africa, brethren benefited from last-minute lifting of some of the COVID restrictions. As Festival Coordinator Lawdi Ferreira explained, “The blessings from God before and during the Feast were a great witness to many of their answered prayers. The lifting of COVID restrictions before the Feast that allowed the whole group of about 178 to meet together, and even God’s intervention in the weather, was a highlight.”
Festival Coordinators and their staff came up with creative ways to encourage fellowship despite lockdowns. While some brethren in New Zealand were able to travel to the Feast, those in Auckland were not allowed to leave the city. So, as Festival Coordinator Paul Kearns explained, in Taupo, New Zealand, a Talent Show was organized with an online component. “Due to the majority of Kiwis being in lockdown, we were able to stream a Talent Show nationwide where performers pre-recorded their acts, and they were compiled to over an hour of talent-filled fun that those physically at the Feast site and those in lockdown could watch online.” For other brethren, the Feast meant the first time they were able to see one another in many months. This made the Feast a special treat in places like Drummondville, Quebec, Canada. As Festival Coordinator Marc Arseneault wrote, one of the highlights was just “being together and fellowshipping with one another after almost 18 months of being confined at home or allowed to meet in very small groups.”
Sadly, not all lockdowns and restrictions disappeared in 2021. But brethren around the world showed resilience and creativity in overcoming these hurdles, rejoicing in the Feast no matter their circumstances. These restrictions were also a reminder that while we are to come out of this world spiritually, we must still function within the laws of the nations where we reside (Romans 13:1).
First Steps on the Spiritual Journey
Each year, brethren new to the Living Church of God join in the Feast for their first taste of God’s Holy days. If this was your first Feast, congratulations! What a joy it is to experience eight days of immersion in the teachings of God as we get a glimpse of Christ’s coming reign. What makes that picture even more compelling is how it contrasts with the pressures and trials of life in our world today.
We had new attendees at Feast sites all over the world. In New Bern, North Carolina, Festival Coordinator Wyatt Ciesielka commented, “We had about fifteen first-time Feast attendees. About eight or nine were from recent TWPs and about six or seven were ‘prospective members’ or first-time Feast guests. It was a joy to be able to fellowship with so many new people.” In Langebaan, South Africa, Mr. Ferreira described a special event just for newcomers: “On the evening after the first Holy Day, we hosted a first-timers cheese and wine event for the 16 attendees that attended their first Feast with LCG in South Africa. This was a good icebreaker for them as they formed bonds that were carried throughout the Feast and immediately slotted in with fellowship and activities. It created an ideal opportunity for everyone there to get to know each other and share stories of how they were called.”
Every part of the body is important. As God calls new members into His Church, they bring excitement and energy as they begin their spiritual journey. On the other hand, “old-timers” who have been in the Church for decades bring depth and stability to the congregation. As Festival Coordinator Lee Page pointed out, one of the highlights in Porto-Novo, Benin, was simply “talking to the young members who are looking forward to baptism, and talking to the older members about their calling.” What better way to introduce new members to God’s way of life than through attending the Feast of Tabernacles? Eight days of warm fellowship and sound biblical instruction provided ideal conditions for new brethren building a strong Christian foundation in 2021.
Confidence in God in a Fearful World
Part of the process of coming out of the world is rejecting and overcoming the attitude of fear the world fosters. When stresses mount and anxieties increase, it is easy to get caught up in the world’s spirit of hopelessness and despair. Yet God has called us to have faith, trust, and confidence in Him. When we come to the Feast, we come to learn what it means to have trust and confidence in God—to “fear the Lord your God always,” as we are instructed in Deuteronomy 14:23.
How does the Feast cultivate faith and not fear? For some with health problems, just coming to the Feast during the pandemic took courage. On behalf of those who are more vulnerable, we thank all our brethren for complying with the protective measures the Church put in place. It shows that we care and respect those whose health is compromised, and it shows that we are willing to put up with minor inconveniences for the sake of those more vulnerable.
The Feast is a time to enjoy beautiful and inspiring music, and the power of music to lift us up and encourage us cannot be overestimated. Assistant Coordinator Ryan Dawson commented on the music performed at the site in St. Augustine, Florida: “The a cappella arrangement of ‘Be Not Afraid’ provided a valuable reminder that God called us to His Feasts to rejoice. That message has never been more valuable in a world filled with division and fear.”
Fearing God also means knowing He can protect us in an increasingly dangerous world. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Some of our faithful ministers deal with dangerous situations as they serve God’s people. Festival Coordinator Rees Ellis and his wife traveled to French-speaking Burundi and Togo for the Feast, and as he notes in his report, “Our arrival in Burundi was not without a bit of [drama]: There was a rebel attack on the Bujumbura International Airport just hours before Fanny and I arrived in Burundi. The army was all over the place assuring peace and calm. That evening Mr. Juvénal Karibwami, our elder in Burundi, left minutes before a grenade attack, close to where he took his bus, shook the capital Gitega, leaving two dead and more than 30 wounded. He was unharmed.”
Cooperation, Harmony, and COVID
The political and social effects of the pandemic and its resulting divisions reach far and wide. It is hard to avoid seeing or hearing the hostility and hatred that have been stirred up in the age of COVID. The Feast stands in sharp contrast as we learn and practice love, cooperation, and harmony.
Despite the inconveniences of COVID protocols, brethren around the world responded with patience and understanding. Perhaps the greatest test of love and patience came from those who came down with COVID symptoms just prior to the Feast. Some brethren had to make the painful decision not to go to the Feast at the last minute after testing positive for the virus. As Festival Coordinator Bob Rodzaj noted in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, “Some acquired COVID pre-Feast, which delayed their ability to attend. Otherwise, with following the guidelines given to us, our site remained COVID-free.”
Festival Coordinator Ron Poole explained that in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, “there was an atmosphere of reverence, respect, and humility. The COVID protocols were enforced primarily by the greeters, and they said there were no negative reactions to the questions or the daily temperature check.… The daily atmosphere was positive and uplifting.”
Festival Coordinator Alvin Cumberbatch commented that in Pebbles Beach, Barbados, “we were not able to have live services or whole-church activities due to government restrictions on the number of individuals meeting physically. This allowed for brethren to serve each other by hosting in smaller groups, which created greater bonds and friendships.” Festival Coordinator Jonathan Bueno, describing the Feast in Florence, Oregon, stated, “Everyone cheerfully complied with all regulations. I think everyone was just happy to be there and most served in some capacity.” Festival Coordinator Lenny Bower explained that in Williamsburg, Virginia, “there was not one single complaint about temperature-taking or mask-wearing. They just showed up, did what was asked, and smiled.” Festival Coordinator Michael Aviles, describing the Mount Snow, Vermont, Feast site, commented, “People seemed to handle the COVID protocols (i.e., wearing masks, taking temperatures at the door) well. People fellowshipped well before and after services, so it doesn’t seem like the masks ‘slowed them down’ too much.”
With the advent of vaccination policies and their potential to divide, brethren in Drummondville, Quebec, came up with a creative and positive solution—fellowship in the parking lot! Mr. Arseneault reported, “The restrictions in Drummondville were that unvaccinated people could not enter any of the meeting rooms. They were staying in their hotel room but could not attend services nor be part of the meals and activities we had inside. [However,] members did not fall prey to the spirit of division that the world pushes… brethren used every opportunity to visit one another and encourage one another; some went to the park to play pétanque, others met in the parking lot, others shared meals in the common areas of the hotel.”
The protocols and restrictions are an ever-present challenge. However, as Taupo, New Zealand, Coordinator Paul Kearns explained, we shouldn’t be discouraged, but should instead be grateful for any opportunity we have to be together. This is true especially when we see more challenges on the horizon. “[In Taupo,] those present had to wear masks and social distance whilst at services. Although this was a challenge for most, it reminded us that more challenges are coming, so we shouldn’t complain about the current status quo but appreciate that some of us could at least be together in person.”
In the few Feast sites where COVID cases occurred, contact tracing had to be done. That meant the Festival Coordinator and his staff asking brethren to quarantine themselves if they had come in close contact with infected brethren. Despite the inconvenience this caused, Midway, Utah Coordinator Brandon Fall said those involved responded patiently and with understanding: “Two households came down with COVID. We had to quarantine a number of households who were potentially exposed to those who had COVID. It was amazing to see the cooperation and wonderful attitudes of those who were quarantined.… One young man mentioned how he personally had learned from the experience of being quarantined…. Another family who had been quarantined even gave a thank-you card for the Feast experience. Even though being quarantined was not something anyone would want at the Feast, these brethren came through the experience as glowing examples.”
Positive Lights in a Negative World
When we go to the Feast, we are admonished to be mindful of the example we set. Most attendees take that instruction seriously. After the Feast, we often receive positive reports of appreciation from hotel venues and restaurant staff, passed on by Festival Coordinators. This year, there were even more than usual. As the pandemic wears on and as societal norms break down, common courtesy and acts of kindness are becoming rarer, even in the “hospitality industry.” As a result, brethren and guests attending the Feast have the opportunity to shine brighter and brighter.
Note some of the comments received by our Festival Coordinators:
The Feast site hotel commented that dealing with the public during COVID has been so difficult they may not have any more functions in their hall; however, they find the brethren delightful to have, and so we are welcome any time (Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada).
Our main contact at Kalahari remarked how easy our group was and that she wished all the groups were as easy (Sandusky, Ohio).
Hotel staff commented several times how well-behaved our group was. According to them they get a lot of groups that are so unlike us (San Diego,
Many of the hotel staff commented that they truly appreciated the politeness and “thank yous” of the members since the vast majority of their other customers do not say “thank you” anymore.... On the last meal we asked the kitchen staff to come out and [they] were thanked for the wonderful meals they had prepared for us. The applause lasted almost a minute and the crew really enjoyed it. The maitre d’hotel told us, “Nowadays, people never do this anymore” (Drummondville, Quebec, Canada).
The convention center director and some of the staff again complimented us as being a joy to work with, and some of their best guests.... I was in touch with the local hotels and restaurants, and there were a couple problem issues with customers who were not Church members that a couple of local establishments informed me of. By contrast, the establishments were very pleased with all of our membership, and the problems with other guests just made us stand out in a positive way even more (New Bern, North Carolina).
The management stated numerous times, that we are their “largest group and the most well behaved.” A condo owner at the resort commented that we were the friendliest group of people he had ever seen
(Hilton Head Island, South Carolina).
A couple of landlords commented that it was the best group and most respectable people that they rented their accommodation to (Langebaan, South Africa).
Growing in Love and Care for One Another
In a world becoming increasingly hostile, the Feast of Tabernacles is a unique opportunity for God’s people to grow in caring for one another. Each day we are taught directly from God’s word, and God gives us time to reflect on our lives, get a bigger picture, and strive for a higher standard. What lessons did we take away from the Feast? Did it help us come out of the world spiritually? Have we since slipped back into old habits or patterns?
This is a good time to reflect on what we learned at the Feast. Mr. Rodzaj noted the love and care brethren showed to one another at the Feast: “It was good to see members mix and spend time with those they didn’t previously know, more than ever before.” Mr. Aviles explained that the Mount Snow, Vermont, Feast site was “somewhat of a remote location so there isn’t much ‘hustle and bustle,’ traffic, etc. This is really nice because it contributes to a calm, peaceful atmosphere.... Also, partly due to COVID, we didn’t have a really packed schedule of activities, which allowed for a more relaxing Feast that allowed for personal time and ‘freedom to fellowship.’” Many of us probably had similar experiences—enjoying more free time than we generally have during the rest of the year. The question is, did that extra time to reflect and be refreshed help us to make lasting changes in our relationships back home? Are we showing more love and respect for our families and brethren than we did a year ago?
Many brethren showed their love for others in sharing generously what they had. In Branson, Missouri, Festival Coordinator Richard Franz reported on the love and concern brethren had for each other, including the elderly, and that he witnessed unusual generosity this year at the Feast. Festival Coordinator Rodger Bardo, who oversaw the San Diego, California, Feast site, commented, “One specific situation stood out: a huge group had their meal paid for, and we still do not know who did it. There were several other situations like this—good works and no one claiming credit.”
Mr. Ferreira expressed the same for Langebaan, South Africa: “Some who had more than one car made their extra car available to others who did not have transport to the Feast. Some drove long distances out of their way to offer lifts to others who did not have transport. Others booked larger accommodation in order to share with those who could not afford accommodation for the Feast. No one was excluded in any activities or combined meals, and those who had more to give gave generous donations to help and include everyone in all activities and meals.” The question for all of us is, are we showing that same generosity now that we are home? Do we have a spirit of sacrifice as we go through our daily lives?
The Feast of Tabernacles gives us an unusual opportunity to learn to serve one another. Serving on work crews enriches our lives and builds bonds with other brethren. And there were many examples of such work at the Feast in 2021. As Mr. Fall related, “The unity and teamwork of those who served at the Feast was really inspiring. There were many individuals who saw a need, reached out, and made sure brethren were taken care of. Seeing that unity, attitude of giving, and teamwork gave us a glimpse of what it will be like working together in the Millennium with the same goal.”
As we find ourselves back in our “normal lives,” it’s good to reflect on the lessons learned at the Feast. Now, our journey continues. As we go forward with faith, let’s continue to come out of the world each day of our lives as we look forward to entering the Kingdom of God.