Church of God brethren tell about their festivals

Following are the concluding reports from Journal readers for the 2000 Feast of Tabernacles. This is the third--and probably last--installment of reports.

For many additional reports, see the October and November issues of The Journal.

Meeting and renewing

CALOUNDRA, Australia--This was my first Feast with the Christian Biblical Church of God, sponsored by just a few brethren, in Caloundra, Queensland. Last year I believe there were only three; this year an expected 30 people swelled to 50 on holy days.

Our guest speaker, Fred Coulter via the TV screen, reminded us of the books of Daniel and Revelation and the glorious welcome the Feast pictures. We received uplifting knowledge and instruction each day from many verses of the Old and New Testaments; we made new friends; and we promised to meet again next year and on the Sabbath.

It was a happy, uplifting, enjoyable Feast for us all. To meet and renew past acquaintances was a particular joy. I hope to see you all again next year. Our thoughts and prayers are with all God's people, scattered groups large and small all over the world. Your scattered brethren in Australia ask God's blessings on you all. Lee Stevens, Brisbane, Australia.

Solid messages, warm fellowship

DESTIN, Fla.--For the third consecutive year the Church of God Big Sandy (Texas) played host to the Feast of Tabernacles in Destin. More than 300 brethren from around the country gathered at Pelican Beach Resort in an atmosphere of peace and anticipation of the Kingdom of God.

The Destin site was one of four festival locations sponsored by the Big Sandy congregation. The other three were Big Sandy, Texas; Wisconsin Dells, Wis.; and Angel Fire, N.M. (see previous issues of The Journal for reports on the other sites).

Each day brought uplifting messages about the inspiring future that lies ahead, encouragement to keep the hope of our calling burning brightly and the need to prepare to help lead all humanity to the knowledge of God and the ultimate fulfillment of His plan.

Speakers were Steve Durham, Mark Gully, Dave Havir, John Havir, Skeets Mez, Dennis Mouland, Bob Orosz, Bob Perkey, Luke Przeslawski, Alan Ruth, Jonathan Stahl, Mike Williams, Karl Wilson and Wayne Woodring.

Feastgoers enjoyed the sugary-white sand of Destin's beaches in near-perfect weather from early-morning seaside strolls to picturesque sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.

Among other activities were hors d'oeuvres and fellowship on the opening night of the Feast, daily teen Bible classes, a senior citizens' luncheon, a teen-and-young-adult dance, a dinner cruise, deep-sea fishing, golf and a variety of family-oriented recreational activities.

The brethren in Big Sandy are grateful for the camaraderie and bonds of peace and brotherhood that were so evident among all who joined us to observe God's festival. We look forward to renewing acquaintances and making many new friends in Destin next year. Don Mischnick, Big Sandy, Texas.

Foley Feast and Intercontinental COG

DESTIN, Fla.--Every year we feel this was the best Feast ever, outdoing the years before. This year we visited many sites.

We saw youth groups with smiles on their faces selling snacks and drinks to raise money to fund special Feast activities.

There were restaurants galore and a buffet where the food could be improved only by sharing it with longtime friends.

I saw many people I had not seen for decades. I ran into the Lewis family from Chicago. I had last seen the Lewises in 1966. Their warmth and friendliness were the same as 30 years ago. The only difference was their children were grown and have children of their own.

It is a great feeling to run into someone you have not seen in 34 years and you still recognize each other. It makes me wonder, as a lifelong member of the Church of God, how many hundreds of people did I see whom I did not recognize.

We were treated to a wonderful meal in a great old restaurant in Foley, Ala., at one of the sites. The historic building had been a church more than 100 years ago. The owners left the old beams and installed new windows and decorated the restaurant with beautiful antiques. The food was served on a round buffet with lots of Southern dishes containing sweet potatoes and pecans.

One of the happiest moments in any family is when a baby is born. Traditionally, two weeks after the Feast the blessing of children is held in each local area. This year we were privileged to see Larry Brown and Ron Wallen at the Foley Feast site lay hands on a third-generation member of the Church of God. The baby's grandfather, Lynn Adkins, was blessed to be able to participate in the ceremony.

At the Intercontinental Church of God's site in Panama City Beach, Fla., we witnessed the ordination of Roger Blackburn of Tupelo, Miss. It felt good to see a man ordained simply as a minister of Jesus Christ instead of a minister of a specific church.

The next afternoon we heard Tom Kerry of New Orleans, La., tell Roger and all of the other ICG ministers: "Your job is to care." He told them that "a church must be a home for newcomers." He said they are to "serve the church with all of the might God has given them," and they "must want to serve." He said that as ministers they are to put themselves last and not allow themselves to become weary with well-doing."

I was impressed.

During a Feast sermon Garner Ted Armstrong held up a Bible he had just received from his sister-in-law, Lois Chapman of Provo, Utah. He said he had been given this Bible to use in the "turbulent, final years."

It wasn't just any Bible. It was the Bible that was with his brother Richard on a baptizing tour in 1958. It was during this tour that Dick's fatal accident occurred.

After the Feast I asked Lois for details. This was her reply:

"I am surprised and happy that you are going to write up something for The Journal. I have tried to find a reason to give details of the accident and find that to be less than uplifting.

"However, by way of historical facts, I have no problem with you mentioning that Dick was on a baptizing tour with a fellow minister in Northern California when the other minister, thinking he was still on a divided highway, passed a car and was hit head on. Dick was in the passenger seat and took the full impact. He lived a week in his critically injured state. Little Dickie was two and one-half months old.

"One day in late 1998 I received a call from Leona McNair saying she had found Dick's Bible with some of her boys' things and wondered if I wanted to have it back. I was thrilled and eagerly awaited its arrival.

"The cover and binding were badly broken, so I set out to find a bindery to have it rebound. When I picked it up at the bindery, I remembered hearing Ted say that his Oxford Bible was badly worn and that, sadly, that edition was no longer in print. I thought it would be fitting to send it to Ted for him to use to finish the work his father had started back in 1934.

"Dick would be happy to know his brother has never 'turned back from the plow he had set his hand to' and this 'tool' would still be used and explained. It would still be accomplishing, even though his work was over.

"I'm thankful to be a part of this family that has been called to such an incredible work of warning, witnessing and feeding the flock. No matter what 'organization' we are part of, our roots all go back to the same source--Jesus Christ--and the truth that He inspired Herbert W. Armstrong and the Radio/Worldwide Church of God to bring to us.

"I know when that seventh trumpet sounds and the dead in Christ rise first, no more will there be doctrinal differences, suspicions and rejection. We will all be one family with Christ and God the Father for all eternity.

"I know Dick had great love for all of you in this vast family that he knew and those he has yet to meet in the resurrection and that, if he could pass along a message, it would be to love one another as Christ has loved us.

"I know The Journal is read by many people in many differing organizations. I hope this will help us 'heal' and have more love for one another.

"Please keep in touch. All the best." (Signed Lois Chapman.) Cindy Burson, Big Sandy, Texas.

Camping in booths

PEORIA, Ill.--The Gates of Eden Messianic congregation of Peoria celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles Oct. 13-21 at Zion Oaks Campground. This was the fifth year in a row the Feast has been held at this site.

A large sukkah (booth) was constructed at the center of the camp. Its roof and sides were covered with leafy branches, and the floor was covered with a thick layer of straw.

Some of the young people constructed and decorated smaller booths as well.

Most of the week was blessed with nice weather, so people were able to sleep in the sukkot (booths). This gave campers the opportunity to experience a taste of what it was like for the Israelites who lived in booths for 40 years in the wilderness.

Visitors came from Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Chicago. There were also visitors from the Peoria area, including a Methodist pastor and some members of his congregation.

Brothers from the Messianic congregation took turns speaking at the nightly meetings, and some visitors shared musical talents.

On the final night of the Feast, Brother Steve Vanderwarf, leader of a congregation in Chicago, shared a powerful message. At his conclusion everyone knelt together on the sawdust floor and had a session of prayer to close the Feast.

As always, it was a week of blessing and encouragement and provided a great opportunity for people to make new friendships and renew old ones. Daniel Botkin, East Peoria, Ill.

A city dump in Puerto Vallarta

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico--The Feast in Mexico was life changing! Forty-seven of us gathered in Puerto Vallarta at a Building Bridges Feast of Tabernacles site, and we did indeed build bridges.

Most of us were from Phoenix, Ariz., but we had a large group from Seattle, Wash., and a family from Georgia.

All of us found ourselves on an adventure that would greatly change our perspectives.

Our experiences enriched the whole eight days. We bonded together because we worked together. We spoke about God for what seemed like 24 hours a day. We were in the same hotel, had Feast services in the hotel, ate together and played together. We built bridges with each other.

I had decided a few years back that I had not looked appropriately at the Feast and how I kept it. The first day of the Millennium won't find us in beautiful hotels, spending freely and eating lavishly.

In other words, it will not be a self-indulgent time.

I had felt for 30-plus years that my family and I represented the Millennium selfishly and self-indulgently. You can't instantly get from the opening of the seals and the tribulation to a beautiful millennial setting. First comes day one of the Millennium and maybe year one or year five--however long it takes--before a whole world that has been devastated can be cleaned up.

It struck me that I had never been given the skills to prepare for people who would be crawling out from under rocks and rubble, with their lives in disarray and with me there trying to help them. I hadn't been taught how to help them.

We decided as a group to do a community-service project for a full day during the Feast to represent day one of the Millennium, since none of us has ever been trained in anything at the Feast other than eating, drinking and spending.

Through a series of interesting events, we were in contact with a Christian group in Puerto Vallarta that cares for 40 families that live in the city dump. The group educates, feeds and helps in any way it can to better the dump dwellers' lives, and we were going to be a part of their lives for one day.

This included the adults as well as the children who met with us.

We had collected our holy-day offering and decided to use it for the project. We spent morning and early afternoon helping with feeding the kids at a school and other small projects.

The highlight was going to a local Sam's Club as a group with our offering in hand and purchasing food and other essentials for these people.

Lined up with carts full, we were a sight to behold. We went back to the school and sorted and bagged the food and loaded the bus once again. We were now determined to deliver it to the families.

Words cannot describe the abject poverty they live in. They exist and work at the city dump. The smell alone was overwhelming, and the hovels they live in were made out of things they found in the dump.

We unloaded the bus and all the food and began to carry the bags of food from family to family, also handing out baby formula, diapers, soap and essentials for living.

I know some will ridicule what we did and say it's a waste of time to do this because you can't change the world. But it's made a difference in the lives of those who participated in the project. We looked into the eyes of those with such great need and were able to reach out to them and show them God's heart.

I learned we have to be more than constipated Christians, taking in doctrine and never expressing it to anyone. We learned to put our money where our mouth is. God looks at where the rubber meets the road.

Our project wasn't about changing the lives of the people in Mexico. This was only one day of service to them. What we did will not change the world. Only Christ's return can do that.

For each of us this was about changing "me." It gave me a perspective I'd never seen before.

I guess God is right: It is more blessed to give than receive.

We talk about staying in a hotel as a temporary dwelling or even building sukkahs, so we try to represent the Millennium by what we do. But I never represented day one of the Millennium until this year.

It would be my greatest desire to see Feast sites all over the world doing an act of service, a community project, to represent this most important day: day one.

When people stumble out of caves and from under rubble and stand in front of me, will they see God's heart revealed? How can I show them that if I haven't practiced it?

There's so much to be said and no room to say it.

But, if you're interested in what we did and how you can organize a similar project at your Feast next year, call Wayne and Claudia Speed at (623) 465-0418, or E-mail us at Or log on to the Building Bridges Web site at Claudia Speed, Phoenix, Ariz.

Greetings from Living

SAN DIEGO, Calif.--Warmest greetings to all the churches. Five thousand eight hundred Living Church of God brethren attended Feast of Tabernacles 2000. Roderick Meredith spoke at two sites; the largest gathering was 1,000 of the brethren in Panama City, Fla.

My wife, Jennifer, and I attended at the Courtyard church-headquarters auditorium, where 300 enjoyed the Feast and the mild San Diego climate. We were pleased to fellowship with an international gathering of friends from as far away as England and South Africa.

Raymond McNair attended the San Diego site and received a vigorous round of applause. We observed the genuine love and affection shared by Mr. and Mrs. McNair and scores of members who greeted them by day.

Mr. McNair and Mr. Meredith have both expressed their concern for church members hurt by the Global-Living upheaval. I convey their heartfelt apology. The ministry and membership of Living seek reconciliation with anyone affected, and we join those of the headquarters church in sending our best wishes to all concerned.

The Tomorrow's World telecast is now featured on 100 public-access channels as well as WGN, Chicago, and four new commercial stations in the United States and on the Vision coast-to-coast network in Canada.

It is also on channel 31 in Melbourne, Australia; channel 9 in Georgetown, Guyana; and channel 41 in Auckland, New Zealand.

The program is also on Manx radio in the British Isles and stations in the Philippines, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados.

The church's Web sites, and, have recorded four million hits to date from 95 countries.

The treasurer reports a Feast offering of 11.5 percent over last year, and regular tithes increased by 11.5 percent over the previous month.

Don Davis presented an excellent sermon on the history of Jerusalem. As we near the time when the state of Israel and the Palestinians accept a proposal by the Vatican to declare Jerusalem an open city for all religions, the Living Church leadership will no doubt avail itself of the opportunity to open offices and television facilities in that city, where all major news networks of the world are already gathered.

Our regards to a friend, Jack Webber, who suffered a fainting spell during the Feast on the day his son Robin, a United minister, visited with us. We wish Mr. Webber a speedy recovery.

Note to United members: Check out 15 Grand Cafe on Grand Avenue in Escondido next year. It's close to your Feast site, and the cuisine is exceptional for a special meal.

We trust everyone returned home safely and will continue to keep the faith.

We at Living send warmest greetings to all. Brian Harris, Oceanside, Calif.

Building God's family

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn.--We had a great Feast of Tabernacles in Sevierville. We went with the United Christian Ministries group. The theme was "Building God's Family by Building Godly Families." It was an awesome Feast. It was great to see so many families recognized.

We had lots of people from every age-group, so many were recognized during the Feast. There was a 2-week-old infant and someone who was, I believe, 93.

It was one of the most open and tolerant Feast sites in my memory, with everyone there from a WCG minister to many who were meeting alone.

We had numerous Bible studies; the messages were outstanding. This is one Feast when every message really touched my heart and mind in some way to draw me close to God.

The most important aspect of the Feast was the spirit. On the first day Ray Wooten rebuked Satan and asked God to bar him from the Feast, and I believe God did.

We had some healings take place at the site, which was encouraging to the group. Heather Kemp.

Great job, UCM

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn.--Beautiful red and yellow foliage and bright blue skies in Sevierville helped 240 attendees rejoice in a truly fall festival sponsored by United Christian Ministries.

The theme of building godly families was a much-needed one, with excellent sermons by several of the men, gifts for children and teens, and fun activities. As one man who had come from New York commented, the atmosphere was that of a warm and loving family. He had heard about the UCM group when he was with the Living Church of God in Pigeon Forge.

Jeff and Sharon Ledy also conducted a series of workshops on the same theme. They have taken training in a series of courses by Gary Smalley. I would recommend the workshops to everyone, even if you think you should be the one doing the courses.

Since we had quite a few musicians and singers at the Feast, my husband, Wes, hopes to get a band (country and classic rock) developed for next year's Feast. If we have a large enough facility, we can make it even more family friendly by holding a free family dance on one evening and maybe an outdoor carnival on family day.

UCM did a great job of sponsoring the Feast this year by having coffee, teas, juice and assorted cookies and snacks every day, plus an inexpensive but well-prepared luncheon on the first holy day for all who wanted to attend. Linda H. White, Carrollton, Texas.

Worshipful time

VENTURA, Calif. -- On the beach of Ventura 250 to 300 brethren of various fellowships gathered together in unity to worship and praise God for the second year at a Feast of Tabernacles site sponsored by Guardian Ministries of Pasadena, Calif., and United Christian Ministries of Birmingham, Ala.

Only one beachfront hotel serves the city. Its rooftop meeting facility provides sheer walls that offer 360-degree views overlooking the azure blue of the Pacific and the unspoiled beauty of the Channel Islands and the surrounding San Buenaventura Mountains.

The magnificence of the venue complemented the emphasis on worship and praise to God and His Son for the gift of salvation as well as how to become, through the Holy Spirit, more like Jesus Christ.

What made this Feast site so special was that the ministering was not just to the intellect but definitely to the heart via a dynamic music program each day. The services integrated music into the overall message of the service. This approach, along with Scripture readings, complemented moving and meaningful sermons by Dr. David Antion, Ray Wooten, Wayne Cole and Brian Knowles. Many tears of joy were shed throughout the week as hearts were encouraged and lifted.

New to the program this year was an inspiring interactive service moderated by Scott Scharpen in which everyone participated to some degree. The focus was on sharing the scriptures that gave one the most comfort and encouragement.

A few modern embellishments made the worship more meaningful in the form of overhead projection of the words to hymns. This allowed use of popular hymns from various Church of God fellowships and let the speakers refer to projected scriptures during their sermons.

Weekday mornings began with two simultaneous seminars on subjects that ranged from women's role in the church to a marriage seminar to personal evangelizing to effective personal financial planning.

Group activities included a golf tournament, a softball game, beach aerobics, aquatic aerobics, line and square dancing, a beach barbecue and a teen outing that included a trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain.

There was also Sabbath school for the kids.

A highlight was the final Friday evening, when we had a farewell banquet followed by a worshipful time of special music and congregational singing.

Visit Guardian Ministries at Harold Barksdale, Laguna Beach, Calif.

Relatively short and sweet

WAGONER, Okla.--My husband and I attended the Feast at Wagoner this past October with a combined Feast of the Church of God International and Churches of God Outreach Ministries.

This was our 26th Feast. We have attended with Worldwide, United and CGI in the past, and I would have to say that all in all the sermons and sermonettes this year were the best we had ever heard.

Not only were they inspiring and uplifting, but they were relatively short. Services started every morning at 10:30 and were almost always over by a few minutes before noon. We had announcements, a sermonette, special music and a sermon. We did not feel in the least shortchanged by not having a service that lasted for two hours or more (with a lot of fill-ins to stretch out the time). I believe the ministers are learning that quantity does not always make for quality.

The two groups worked together in a wonderful, loving way. On the first day, when the offering was collected, the CGI was the group of the two that had envelopes with names and addresses printed on them.

CGI minister Ron Elkins of Texarkana called this to everyone's attention and said anyone who desired to make his offering to CGOM could just mark through the CGI's name and address and write in CGOM.

What a spirit of love, cooperation and willingness to work together! Other groups could learn from the example of these two groups. Okemah Epperson, Murfreesboro, Ark.

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