October 2021 Member Letter
October 7, 2021
I am sure most of you are like me, and the Feast of Tabernacles is still very much on your mind. My wife and I are still trying to assimilate all that has happened in the past two weeks. Sharron and I left Dallas for St. Petersburg, Florida, on Sept. 15, the day before Atonement and just returned home last Friday, Oct. 1. This is the longest trip we have taken in almost two years, and it became quite an expedition! We traveled on nine airplanes through six airports in two countries, as we visited three Feast sites: Fort Myers, Florida; Tucson, Arizona; and Costa del Sol, El Salvador.
When I think about this year’s Feast, I am again struck by its importance and the part that God has allowed us to play in rehearsing His plan for one more year. I never want to take this for granted. The original command concerning the festivals is found in Leviticus 23:1-2: “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.’” It should not be lost on us that the festivals do not belong to us—or to the Jews or the Israelites. They belong to God, as it is stated in the beginning and again at the end of the chapter: “So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD” (Leviticus 23:44).
In this same chapter there are more verses devoted to the Feast of Tabernacles than to any of the other festivals. Further instructions for the Feast can be found in Deuteronomy 14, where we are told to go to the place where God has placed His name. “And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide … take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses … you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14:23, 25-26).
These verses tell us a lot about the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day, the Last Great Day. We see that God is the owner of all the festivals, and there is no record that He ever relinquished that ownership. Our attendance at the Feast of Tabernacles is by His invitation to come worship Him during this special time. We are commanded to go to the Feast, and while there, we are to rejoice. These are important elements of the Feast that make it a highlight of the year.
In the modern era of the Church, it wasn’t until 1945 that the decision was made that we should leave our homes and go to another location to observe the Feast of Tabernacles while living in temporary dwellings. Prior to 1945, in the Radio Church of God, the Feast was observed locally, with services only on the holy days. But Deuteronomy 14’s instruction to go to the place where God has placed His name is very specific, and since 1945 that has been the teaching of the Church.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing for the second year in a row, it became even more important for us to be together in selected sites. In some parts of the world we were prohibited from gathering except in very small groups. This was very sad for the brethren in those areas. In the United States we had 12 sites (including three satellite sites), and worldwide we had a total of more than 40 sites. We are still completing a full report, including attendance numbers, which we plan to publish in the next issue of One Accord.
I want to thank all of you for your part in having made this a wonderful Feast of Tabernacles with such positive attitudes and obvious appreciation for the opportunity to be together. This was truly evident in El Salvador, where we held our first in-country Feast in almost 30 years. Normally, the brethren from El Salvador travel to Guatemala, but this year, because of the COVID restrictions, it was not possible to gather in a large group in that country. Prior to the Feast, the members in El Salvador asked if they could organize their own Feast site for this year, and we agreed. A beautiful beach resort was secured for the full eight days in the Costa del Sol section of the country. The entire resort was filled with brethren. Sharron and I spent three wonderful days at this resort with 89 brethren from different parts of Latin America. We came home inspired by all the brethren we met, but especially those in El Salvador.
Of course, we did have to contend with the COVID-19 virus again this year during and after the Feast. We have surveyed all the Festival coordinators and asked for information on any known cases that were detected during the Feast or shortly thereafter. As things stand at the writing of this letter, I have heard from all 12 of the U.S. sites, and eight report no cases or only a few cases, mostly surfacing after the Feast. Two sites reported several cases that appeared after the Feast, and only a few during the Feast. Only two sites reported larger numbers—Rapid City and Lancaster. Rapid City had by far the most, and while a few appeared during the Feast, most of these involved individuals who tested positive upon returning home from the Feast. A positive test doesn’t tell you the level of sickness, since some have mild symptoms and some have more severe symptoms. I have heard from most of the international sites, and I am happy to report that to date there have been no reported cases of the virus, either during the Feast or afterward.
While it was disappointing to hear of the number of positive tests that came out of Rapid City, I still hear that it was a wonderful Feast site and that the messages were excellent. Please continue to pray for those who have come down with the virus, asking God for His intervention and healing. In spite of COVID, I believe this festival season was extraordinary, with much rejoicing and many excellent messages. In all three locations where Sharron and I attended, I found the brethren to be focused on the messages and truly excited about being together. While it is easy to focus on COVID, I want to remind all of us that many brethren are enduring severe trials that are not related to the virus. As we were on our way to the Feast, we heard of a dear friend who died suddenly in New England, leaving behind his wife and two daughters. They were preparing to leave for the Feast when this occurred. And during the Feast in Hawaii another longtime member died suddenly of a heart attack while on a beach excursion with his family. Please remember these two families.
The Feast is now over, and it is time to get back to work! We have already begun planning for the Feast of Tabernacles 2022! We have much to do in the office as we process the holy day offerings from this year and make plans to continue preaching the gospel and caring for our brethren. One very important item on the agenda is the restarting of the International Leadership Program. We hope to do that early next year. The Ministerial Board of Directors will be in the office the first week of December to finalize our budget and plans for fiscal year 2022. I am excited about the work God has given us to do and our ability, with His help, to accomplish it going forward.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,