Whom did you meet for the first time this year at the Feast? With whom did you deepen a friendship that you already had? The primary reason for going to the Feast is to fulfill God’s command found in Deuteronomy 16: “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress…. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands” (vv. 13, 15). But keeping the Feast also gives us a great opportunity to build relationships. It’s a special time of the year when we can spend eight whole days with one another as brethren. And our relationships can be deepened and broadened if we take full advantage of this opportunity.
So, how do we do that? How did we do it this year? As we relive the memories from Festival 2023, let’s examine the ways it helped us build bonds of brotherhood—and how we can strengthen those bonds in the future.
In 2023, the Living Church of God conducted 93 Feast sites in 51 countries. Sixteen sites were in the United States, and 77 were outside the U.S., with an overall attendance of 11,366. God’s people around the world had the opportunity to come before God in peace and safety to glorify Him together.
When asked what was one of the best activities for helping brethren grow in unity and harmony, St. Augustine, Florida, Feast site coordinator James Sweat replied, “Just going to services!” And that is true. Think about it: When we attend daily services, we are participating in the largest “group activity” the Church organizes during the Feast, and we are following scriptural guidelines exactly. As Moses instructed the Israelites, “Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12). When we participate in worship services—listening, learning, studying the Bible, taking notes, and singing hymns together—we are functioning as the body of Christ. We are coming before our King together, as one body with one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), and real unity ultimately comes from the Spirit of God in us all (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Together, as many members, we all comprise the body of Christ. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” The most important activity at the Feast is presenting ourselves before God to learn His way of life—and that’s true whether we are feasting near the lush waters and trees of Cavan, Ireland, beside a large and peaceful lake in Taupo, New Zealand, or enjoying the sight of a beautiful, calm sea in Penang, Malaysia. It’s true whether we are enjoying God’s creation amongst the garden fruit trees in Parika, Guyana, taking in the scenery of the “18 mountains” region of Man, Côte d’Ivoire, or keeping the Feast beside the coconut trees and wide beach in Sorsogon, Philippines.
On a more sobering note, God’s protection was evident in giving brethren safety and peace in Kalaymyo and Myaungmya amidst a civil war in Myanmar, granting brethren in Haiti safety and security while attending the Feast in their local Sabbath halls, and granting Guatemalan brethren protection when they were delayed by blockades as they returned home from Cortés, Honduras. Wherever and however we go, the priorities are always the same: We are there to learn God’s way of life.And in the process, as we experience the Feast in these surroundings, we have the opportunity to be transformed by God (Romans 12:2).
We are still living through the shockwaves of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in nations hit particularly hard. In Mur-de-Bretagne, Coordinator Adrian Kaefer noted that “many brethren expressed appreciation for being all together [in continental Europe] after the years of separation due to COVID restrictions.” In Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada, coordinator Shane Kruse also noted, “This was a wonderful Feast this year. It is the first year since COVID where brethren were able to really get to know one another and converse freely leading to spiritual growth.”
The pandemic also brought unexpected blessings, such as the development of streaming capabilities that continue to benefit the Church today, especially in remote areas or sites lacking manpower. Some Feast sites were able to share live services, such as Drummondville, Quebec, Canada, streaming to brethren in the French Caribbean—Guyana, Haiti, and the Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific. French-language services were also streamed from Mûr-de-Bretagne, France to sites across French-speaking Africa, including Porto-Novo, Benin. Spanish-language Feast services from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, were streamed to Samaipata, Bolivia; Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina; Cortés, Honduras; and Guatemala. Services from Harrogate, United Kingdom, were streamed to scattered members in Europe, and the small Feast site in Ghana. Services from Australia were streamed to sites including Mangalore, India.
Feast services were also made available to brethren unable to attend in person for health or other reasons. This has been a great encouragement to those in this challenging situation. One Feast-goer, regarding the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, Feast site, wrote, “I was unable to attend the feast…. Viewing the fellowship online caused me to pray for the members of LCG attending to unite with one another.” So, the Feast of Tabernacles 2023 was a time of growing in bonds of brotherhood, just from the fact that we were communing with God together, in worship of Him.
The Apostle John wrote that what “we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). When we arrive at the Church hall before services—on the Sabbath or at the Feast—and greet one another with a smile, we are adding to the morale and camaraderie of the group. When we greet unfamiliar brethren at the Feast, and perhaps ask them where they are from and what congregation they attend, we’re taking the first step in expanding our friendship base. We’re reaching out to one another. We’re expressing the desire to get to know them, and as we do that, the bonds of brotherhood begin to grow.
We cannot overestimate the importance of just being friendly and cheerful as we get to know one another at services. One Feast-goer from the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, site noted how much he was impressed by “the way the ladies and the gentlemen come right up and shake your hand and introduce themselves and say hi. From day one I felt like I belonged and was appreciated. Because of my job (truck driver) that was deeply appreciated and needed. It felt like the Kingdom was already here.” Clearly, it meant a lot to him! As we care for one another and get to know one another, we are becoming one body. Paul explains in Ephesians 4:16 that as “every part does its share,” it “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” We all have a part to play in fellowship, contributing to the growth of the body.
What encourages fellowship? Refreshments! That may sound overly simplistic, but it’s true. Some Feast sites, such as Arroyo Grande, California, utilized a hospitality corner with coffee and snacks to provide an incentive for Feast-goers to arrive early and stay late. Speaking of his site’s hospitality corner, Rockport-Fulton coordinator Jonathan Bueno explained, “Our hospitality corner, which was an expanded tea, coffee and snack service, really facilitated fellowship before services…. [People spent] some extra time fellowshipping to the backdrop of the Aransas Bay right out of the windows of the meeting room.” In Stillbaai, South Africa, a similar station was set up for one hour before and after services. Note what one of the members said: “The tea station really had an amazing effect on us bonding with each other before and after church. It made everyone feel included, and interaction so much easier.”
Even something as mundane as the seating arrangement in the meeting hall can have an effect on fellowship. One result of the COVID pandemic was the pattern some Feast sites have adopted of letting brethren sit in the same seats for the entire Feast. Since then, some coordinators have continued this practice, with notably positive results. Many brethren commented on how much they got to know the people around them—because they saw them day after day. As one member from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, mentioned, “The assigned seating at the Pigeon Forge location allowed us to see the same people every day and build bonds with those we were around.” Eating, drinking, and sitting together lead to growing stronger connections together.
Every year, we are all heartily encouraged to serve at the Feast. The needs are many, and it’s a wonderful way to get involved and help others. What shouldn’t come as a surprise is how much it can help us build friendships. Whether it’s singing in the choir, crafting flower arrangements, or helping the elderly disembark from their cars, serving gives us an opportunity to establish connections with and learn about others at the Feast. As Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada, coordinator Barry Walker noted, God’s Spirit was evident at the Feast in so many brethren’s willingness to serve and help others in need.
Where did you serve this year? What friendships did you develop as a result of it? How did it impact your relationships? New Bern, North Carolina, coordinator Wyatt Ciesielka had a “car-to-seat” plan of helping the elderly who needed assistance walking, making sure they had someone by their side from the parking lot all the way into the meeting hall. It was gratefully appreciated by those who were served. But it’s not just those we serve to whom we grow closer—we also grow closer to those we serve “next to.” One Feast-goer from Fontana, Wisconsin, said that one positive effect of this year’s Feast was “being a greeter with someone from a different Church area and getting to know each other.” Another member from Florence, Oregon, added, “Working and serving together helps to build bonds between brethren and you can do that at all Feast sites.”
Stillbaai, South Africa, coordinator Lawdi Ferreira explained, “One of the most striking aspects [of the Feast in 2023] was the genuine love, care, and unity that prevailed among all the members. The unwavering commitment to serving each other and the remarkable spirit of teamwork stood out prominently. As one member mentioned, ‘The serving attitude among the brethren is contagious and it automatically causes you to want to serve and help where needed.’ This inclusivity extended even to the young children, who actively participated as junior greeters, assisting the elderly by carrying their belongings and welcoming them with cheerful smiles and affectionate hugs at the entrance every morning.”
When we work on a team for a greater good, we have the satisfaction of working shoulder to shoulder with others of like mind. We get to meet people that we would otherwise not meet. And the act of giving to others is extremely fulfilling. We feel part of a team. Why? Because we are fulfilling Paul’s instruction in Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Looking out for and serving with one another builds friendships and connections.
Joining in Activities Together
When we go to the Feast, we have more time to be together than any other season of the year. We can spend an abundance of quality time in the relaxed atmosphere of planned—and informal—activities. Who did you meet this year through the Feast activities you participated in?
When God commands us to rejoice at the Feast, He mentions eating and drinking: “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26). But we are not to just rejoice by ourselves, off in a corner, in isolation. In Nehemiah’s day, this is how the instruction was given during the Fall Holy Day season: “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared” (Nehemiah 8:10). In other words, the Feast is a time to share our resources, our time, and ourselves with our fellow brothers and sisters. That builds bonds of brotherhood.
Why does the Church organize activities at the Feast? Is it because the Feast Coordinators aren’t busy enough—that they have too much free time on their hands? Of course not—nor is a Feast Coordinator to be a sort of “Cruise Director” whose sole responsibility is to provide non-stop entertainment and recreation for attendees. That’s not the purpose of Feast activities! Mr. Gerald Weston, Presiding Evangelist of the Living Church of God, has encouraged us in recent years to avoid having activities “just to have activities.” We don’t have certain activities “just because we always have.” There needs to be a purpose, and that purpose needs to align with God’s values and His purposes for calling us to be there in the first place. Likewise, Dr. Douglas Winnail, Director of Church Administration, has encouraged us to leave “white space” on the calendar, so to speak, so members have time to plan their own get-togethers and schedule their own group outings. He has encouraged us to take time to walk along the ocean (if we’re near an ocean), take a short hike (if we’re in the mountains), and to look up at the stars in the evening and think. We are at the Feast to reinvigorate our desire for God’s kingdom. Rushing around frantically for eight days, and then collapsing, exhausted, does not accomplish that purpose.
Accordingly, our Feast Coordinators have tried very hard to find a balance of good, wholesome, inexpensive activities that bring the maximum number of people together. And again, why are we trying to bring God’s people together at the Feast? To build bonds of brotherhood—to encourage the formation of strong, personal connections as we build memories together.
With that in mind, here is a taste of some of the organized activities that went on at this year’s Feast. As you read, think about the activities you enjoyed at the site you attended, and ask yourself how they helped you grow stronger and deeper personal connections with other brethren.
Kicking off the Feast
Many of our Feast Coordinators provided hospitality mixers early in the Feast. On the second day of the Feast, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, also hosted a “Meet & Greet” reception after services. Coordinator Ron Poole explains, “We had five food and drink tables sponsored by congregations from the five pastorates assigned to the site. It lasted about two hours and was attended by the majority of those at the Feast, and was intended to provide an opportunity to get to meet new brethren.”
Mr. Alex Celan, Feast Coordinator at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, also scheduled a large, general event early in the Feast: “We had a family evening dolphin cruise. Singles and families enjoyed the natural beauty of the South Carolina coast and marshlands. Since this was an event early in the Feast, the brethren had the opportunity to build relationships and make plans for other activities during the rest of the feast.”
Progressive Fellowship Activity
Several sites in the United States, including Rockport-Fulton, Texas, held a “Progressive Fellowship Activity” early in the Feast. For this activity, different courses of a meal are prepared by brethren who volunteer to open up their homes as hosts. Then, those who sign up to be participants are assigned host homes to visit, at a set schedule, for each of the three courses of the meal. At each course they interact with a different small group of other brethren. Thus, within a short period of time—several hours—they are able to break bread with and fellowship with a large number of brethren, many of whom they didn’t know.
Regarding the Progressive Fellowship Activity held in Poconos, Pennsylvania, coordinator Michael Aviles explained, “The primary benefit of the Progressive Fellowship Activity is that it mixes and matches the members where they get to meet and talk with others they may not have had the opportunity of sitting with otherwise.” Where Progressive Fellowship Activities have been tried, they often become among the best-attended and favorite activities, as mentioned by one of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, members who participated in that site’s activity: “Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a Progressive Fellowship Dinner during the Feast, it’s always been the very best way to get to know one another. We not only meet with three different groups of people—we get to spend time with, eat with, and get to know one another. The very best part is that at services the next day, we have a whole new group of friends to greet.”
Bunco and Bingo
Many Feast sites, including Williamsburg, Virginia and Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia, were filled with many laughs and fun for Feast-goers of all ages. A game played at some sites was “Bunco,” a dice game involving groups of four, sitting at tables, where after each round two people move to a new table. Thus, within a short period of time, even in a large crowd, everyone can interact with many different people. In Fontana, Wisconsin, coordinator Bob Rodzaj explained, “It’s a great mixer game for all ages. It’s easy to learn and fun to play.” In Hilton Head, South Carolina, coordinator Alex Celan noted, “Early in the Feast we held a very enjoyable mixer for singles and young married couples where everyone played Bunco. This provided opportunities to meet many different people as it required many people to move from table to table.”
Bingo was another game played at the Feast with large groups of people. St. George, Utah, coordinator Steve Elliott reported, “The Bingo Night activity was another big hit with a full banquet hall of participants…. The members brought novelty gifts for the winners.” Branson, Missouri, coordinator Shannon Christal noted, “The Bingo night was a huge hit, because everyone stayed together and had a great time. Over two hundred brethren participated.”
Bible games were also enjoyed by brethren at Feast sites all over the world. In Bon Accord, Tobago; Pebbles Beach, Barbados; and Montego Bay, Jamaica, brethren were treated to an evening of “Bible Bowl.” In Orap, Vanuatu, and Porto-Novo, Benin, brethren participated in Bible games. And in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada, the Bible game “On The Road to the Kingdom” consisted of a series of questions from Psalms and Proverbs that people, in teams of eight, had to answer in a certain order to complete a verse of Scripture. Here is the comment from the Batu, Indonesia, Feast site by coordinator Firman Bramantyo Yohannes concerning their Bible game night: “The Bible game this year was so engaging for teenagers and kids. We purposely made it different this time to lower the gap of the biblical knowledge of the older generation and the younger generation. We wanted the younger generation to enjoy and develop interest in knowing and learning God’s words.”
Are games so trivial as to be of no value at the Feast? Absolutely not. As Russell, Manitoba, Canada coordinator Michael Brown noted, “The games at the lodge really brought people together and were especially helpful at helping the youth break the ice with one another and build friendships. Something as simple as games—of all sorts—can be a wonderful tool in bringing brethren closer together.”
Picnics and Dances
The Bible gives an encouraging and inspiring picture of the future under the reign of Jesus Christ. Instead of war, there will be peace. Instead of strife, there will be tranquility. Scripture describes that world as a time when “old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem…. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:4–5). Similarly, when we have picnics and outings at the Feast, we’re mirroring the peaceful outings and fellowship that will occur in the Millennium.
Accordingly, in 2023, many Feast sites planned picnics and outings for Feast-goers. A picnic in the park in Boerne, Texas, featured a Texas favorite—smoked brisket and chicken—while 107 brethren in Natchez, Mississippi, enjoyed hamburgers and hot dogs at the Duncan Park family day. Family day picnics were also held in Busselton, Western Australia, and Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Hervey Bay coordinator Martin Montgomery noted that “On the family day an ice cream van attended the park we were using. Two ladies paid for everyone…. The ice cream vendor said, ‘Who are you people? You’re all so polite and patient.’”
In Bela-Bela, South Africa, a family day “braai,” or barbeque, was held, with lots of fellowship under shady trees. In St. Luce, Martinique, coordinator Etienne Duval reported that they had “méchoui (North African style barbecue lamb) with three lambs prepared by members [and] grilled on roasting spits.” In Flic-en-Flac, Mauritius, off the South African coast, coordinator Rees Ellis noted, “We were invited by a prospective member for a BBQ picnic after a short boat ride in a typical Mauritian lagoon. Old-time members renewed friendships and made new ones. A highlight was the baptism of a couple at sunset in the Indian ocean. They are our first two LCG members from Madagascar! They had been following the truth for some years and pulled out all the stops to attend the Feast.”
Scripture describes celebrations that will take place in the Millennium. Will dancing be a part of that future? “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old, together; for I will turn their mourning to joy, will comfort them, and make them rejoice rather than sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13). In 2023, Feast sites held a variety of dances to reflect the wholesome fun and entertainment that will be found under Christ’s rule. In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a formal dinner dance was held, complete with a mariachi band and a glass dome to view the stars above. In Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, a dance with a local cultural theme was organized. According to coordinator Raul Colón, “Even the employees of the hotel serving food and drinks to us were dancing and singing.” New Bern, North Carolina, held an ice cream social and Western-themed dance. In Mt. Moriah, Malaybalay, Philippines, some brethren took a dance class in their free time. In Harrogate, United Kingdom, a “Ceilidh Dance” was held, described by coordinator Simon Roberts as “good, wholesome fun for everyone. Participants not only learnt their left hand from their right hand but also how to have genuine joy together, as we gathered to foreshadow the future Kingdom of God.”
The Feast is not only about activities. We go to the Feast to worship God, have fellowship with brethren, and learn to serve—all of which help us grow in the bonds of brotherhood we share with one another. Still, activities are not unimportant; the right mix of Feast activities can enhance and extend our fellowship in a powerful and meaningful way. And when we make it a priority to deepen our relationships with other brethren, the Feast can be a life-changing experience.
God’s Feast of Tabernacles can truly become the highlight of the year, because we yearn to be with our family. When we consider our destiny, the importance of being together with our spiritual brothers and sisters cannot be overstated. We are becoming part of the family—God’s family. Everyone is important, and we need to get to know each other. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:14–15, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”
Coordinator Mike Heykoop of Leamington, Ontario, Canada, said that, in 2023, “there seemed to be an atmosphere of joy and contentment in keeping the Feast together. I have never had more people comment to me on how uplifting of a feast it had been.” Savor your memories of building bonds of brotherhood in 2023—and prepare to strengthen those bonds in 2024.