May 20th, 2021
While COVID-19 rages in parts of the world such as India, it seems to be abating in other nations. New Zealand reports very few cases and here in the United States, Texas reported zero deaths from COVID yesterday for the first time. Nevertheless, one of our members in Texas succumbed to the virus a few days ago and she was in her mid-thirties. We know of others who contracted the disease recently and have had a difficult time with it.
It might be easy to let up entirely if we were only a localized church, but we are an international Church, serving people in many different countries, provinces, territories, and states. (Please read the message from Mr. Paul Shumway below, regarding a visit from the COVID Police in Barbados on Pentecost.) One size does not fit all, and we should not stay locked down where it does not make sense. Sadly, everything about this pandemic has become political in the United States and some other countries, making it nearly impossible to trust any one source. So, what is God’s Church to do?
Attending services in a crowded room with poor ventilation for two or more hours is a high-risk situation for spreading any kind of airborne virus. We also know that we have many members who are vulnerable due to age and underlying conditions. We want them to be safe and feel safe, but we cannot hide out in caves and wear masks until Christ returns. We must get back to some kind of normalcy as there are also risks to isolating ourselves and continually wearing masks for too long.
After consulting with others this past week about the evolving situation, we want to loosen up where we can. For right now, we will continue to require masks while singing, and in fellowship before and after services while inside, but we will not require masks during the speaking portions of services where this is reasonable and allowed by law and the facilities we are using—keeping in mind that the priority is to do what we can to protect the vulnerable among us, particularly in areas where transmission is not low. We were looking forward to this in Charlotte last weekend as the result of a regulation change, but our meeting facility changed our meeting room and some 200 of us were crammed into a smaller room in which social distancing was not possible. It made sense to continue another week with masks for the whole service until this Sabbath, when we will be in our regular, larger room. Many areas are already doing this. We will continue to use social distancing in seating, where possible.
In addition, in areas where there is low to no transmission, where mask mandates are totally lifted, and where we are not putting vulnerable people at risk, we want to go back to our normal practice. This does not mean that one cannot wear a mask or that people should be pressured or shamed to take off their mask. Those who choose to wear a mask are free to do so. Any decision to make a congregation mask-optional for the whole service will be made by the pastor after consulting with his Regional Director or Regional Pastor. Regional Pastors should consult with Church Administration when in doubt.
And please, brethren, let us not judge one another regarding vaccination or non-vaccination, on masking or not masking, or what one congregation does based on its unique circumstances versus another congregation. Whatever we do, let’s show love and outgoing concern for one another.
Sincerely, in Christ’s service,
Gerald E. Weston
Unexpected Visitors on Pentecost in Barbados
“We had an unexpected visit by the COVID Monitoring Unit on Pentecost. Perhaps they came to check out the Sunday church [that normally meets then], but we were there instead—the only Sunday we were present! If protocols aren’t being strictly followed, they have the power to immediately shut down [an event] and send everyone home, along with giving a severe citation! They happened to come right in the middle of the morning service, which worked out very well.
“While most of the chairs were set up six feet apart, one concern expressed by the monitoring team was the close proximity of some of the members. When we explained that every non-related individual was separated and that all groupings were for members of the same household, they were satisfied—especially when we told them that we use the same set-up each week, with families sitting in the same seats.
“Another big plus was the greeting table located at the entrance of the hall. Our Deaconess had left the table in good order, with five items neatly organized on top—two sanitizing spray bottles, one on each end of the table, a touchless thermometer in a plastic box, a package of extra facemasks, and a clipboard with the temperature log. We happened to be talking in front of the table when I was asked if we kept a temperature log. Pointing to the table, I picked up the clipboard and handed it to the leader, who carefully looked at it. The members’ names were typed out with the Sabbath dates and [members’] temperatures neatly recorded for five weeks. He was impressed and then placed the log back on the table. At the end of their visit, the leader said, ‘You’re doing a good job. Keep up the good work!’ They then headed out the gate.
“We have been trying to follow the words of one of our Meditation Scriptures (and camp motto): ‘For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.… Let all things be done decently and in order’ (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). This paid off in a big way. Had we not done so on Pentecost, we could have been shut down!”—Paul Shumway, Area Pastor
Saratoga Family Weekend—July 23–25
The Annual Saratoga, Wyoming, Family Weekend, begun by Mr. and Mrs. Ben Whitfield more than 20 years ago, has been enjoyed by brethren throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. This year we will continue this long-standing tradition, meeting along the banks of the North Platte River from July 23–25. Our special guest speaker this year will be the Western Regional Pastor, Dr. Jeffrey Fall. The weekend will be a wonderful opportunity to gather with family and friends. Plans include group meals, Bible Studies, Sabbath services, a workshop, and lots of enjoyable time fellowshipping together.
Registration: Please contact Brandon Fall at 307-333-1502 or [email protected].
Brethren can stay on-site at the Riviera Lodge or camp nearby for a nominal fee at Saratoga Lake. You can make reservations at the Riviera Lodge by calling 307-326-5651. Just mention that you are with the Living Church of God.—Brandon Fall
Feast of Tabernacles
Four Months Away
As of May 21, we are exactly four months away from the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles! Currently, in the United States we have 4,047 brethren and guests registered, and 1,594 more registered for sites outside of the U.S. Many thanks to our Feast Site Coordinators around the world, who, alongside the Festival Office, are managing the registration process as well as working on the next steps in Feast preparation (speaking schedule drafts, organizational charts, etc.). We also thank our Information Technology staff here at HQ for their tireless work on the automated registration system—it is extremely helpful in managing the flow of transfer requests and providing reports for Feast coordinators. Last but not least, thank you to our Festival Advisors, who have lent their support and help to local brethren, assisting them in registration.
We still have a number of USA Feast sites with extra capacity:
- Lake Geneva, Wisconsin*
- Mount Snow, Vermont*
- Boerne, Texas
- Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
- Midway, Utah
- Natchez, Mississippi
- New Bern, North Carolina
- Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- San Diego, California
- Sandusky, Ohio
- Williamsburg, Virginia
*New addition since last week
Living Youth Program
West Virginia Preteen Camp Application Deadlines—Repeat Announcement
Application deadlines are rapidly approaching for Preteen Camp in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. The deadline for staff applications is June 1 and the deadline for camper applications is July 1. Staff positions are filling up, so if you would like to serve as camp staff this summer, be sure to complete your online application as soon as possible. This year’s camp dates are August 1–6. If you have questions, please email me at [email protected] or call 240-707-6280.—Scott Winnail, West Virginia Preteen Camp Director
Camp Registration Continues—Repeat Announcement
We expect to continue accepting camper (ages 13–17) applications for Texas Teen Camp for a few more weeks. Registration will close on June 8. If you would like to attend, please visit https://camp.livingyouth.org for information and to apply. Registration is also open for the Preteen and Adventure camps for campers and staff. You can find more information about any of those camps at the same address.—Joshua Penman
Perseverance—A Vital Quality: Perseverance is one of the laws of success. The word is defined as tenacity, remaining steadfast under pressure, and determination to continue on a path in spite of difficulties and opposition. The Scriptures stress the importance of perseverance. Solomon wrote, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10). Jesus said, “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). The Parable of the Sower warns us not to compromise when we face temptations or become distracted and discouraged when we encounter difficulties and trials (Matthew 13:18–22). The Apostle Paul warned, “let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). The Apostle John reminded the Philadelphians, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world…. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:10–11). When trials or temptations come, let’s remember this important advice—to persevere and never, never, never quit!
Have a profitable Sabbath,
Douglas S. Winnail
News and Prophecy—May 20, 2021
Israel-Hamas Attacks Escalate: For the last couple weeks, an intense fight has raged in the Holy Land. Following an Israeli court case to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in Jerusalem and Israeli police action on the Temple Mount, Hamas began barraging Israeli border cities with thousands of rockets launched from Gaza (Reuters, May 17, 2021). Israel responded with its own targeted attacks on suspected rocket launch sites within Gaza. Nearly 200 people have died in this violence and the count continues to climb. A United Nations envoy warned this conflict could soon become a “full-scale war”!
This recent clash has generated international condemnation, mostly of Israel. In Europe, there have been demonstrations in support of the Palestinians, but there has also been open support of Israel. Europe is also attempting to deal with antisemitic actions that have occurred at pro-Palestinian rallies (Deutsche Welle, May 16, 2021). Germany’s Interior Minister recently warned, “We will not tolerate the burning of Israeli flags on German soil and attacks on Jewish facilities.… Anyone who spreads antisemitic hatred will feel the full force of the law.”
Bible prophecy indicates that the Middle East and especially Jerusalem will become the focus of conflict as the end of the age approaches (Zechariah 12:1–3). Prophecy also reveals that a German-led “beast” power will eventually move into the Middle East (Daniel 11:40–43), possibly as “peacekeepers” attempting to quell fighting between religious factions seeking to control the holy places in Jerusalem. The details concerning how these prophecies will be fulfilled remain to be seen. To learn more about prophetic events in the Middle East, read “The Future of Jerusalem.”
Cyberattack on U.S. Pipeline: Last week, an apparently Russia-based ransomware gang held U.S.-based Colonial Pipeline electronically hostage until it paid $4.4 million in untraceable cryptocurrency (New York Times, May 14, 2021). Colonial Pipeline handles half of the gasoline and jet fuel used on the east coast of the United States. An audit by the American government determined that “the country could only afford another three to five days with the Colonial pipeline shut down before buses and other mass transit would have to limit operations because of a lack of diesel fuel. Chemical factories and refinery operations would also shut down because there would be no way to distribute what they produced.”
This ransomware attack revealed multiple vulnerabilities in the American fuel distribution system and in the internal workings of Colonial Pipeline. These vulnerabilities are now clear, not only to the company and the U.S. government, but also to would-be future attackers. The incident highlights how dependent American society is on readily available fuel—and how quickly a lack of fuel can disrupt life and progress on multiple levels.
While prophecy speaks of wars and conflicts to come, including massive movements of physical troops (Revelation 9:16; 16:12), cyberattacks illustrate that “wars” can also be waged electronically from the safe anonymity of the Internet—where nation-crippling attacks can be launched with very little likelihood of retaliation. These attacks leave companies and nations feeling helpless and at the mercy of the attacker. This may be yet another way in which the “pride of [the] power” of Israelite nations will be eroded (Leviticus 26:19). For more on this subject, be sure to read “Broken Pride.”—Scott Winnail, Francine Prater, Chris Sookdeo, and Deborah Lincoln-Strange