Volume 13, Number 3, September-October 2009
Wonderful Feast in Utica
by Norman Edwards
What I am about to say I am not saying lightly. The Feast of Tabernacles, 2009, at Utica, Illinois was the most wonderful that I have attended. I say that as having been the primary organizer of 10 Feasts of Tabernacles during the past 14 years. The mixture of fellowship, teaching, good food and activities all centrally located was a great inspiration and most pleasant to behold. Over 300 people attended and over half of them were young people.
Utica Feast Pictures 2009
Click on each picture to enlarge.
This Feast was a wonderful testimony to what capable, hard-working believers can accomplish without a formal organization. Everything flowed smoothly and began and ended close to on time. Yet there was variety in music, teaching, activities and dress not found in most Feast sites. Many people remarked that they were amazed that there was no promotion to join a group, get on a mailing list or do something else that is so common at Feast sites.
The Feast was held at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Lodge. It was a very good setting as it had regular motel rooms for those who wanted them, as well as 1800 sq. ft. villas for families. These were all within easy walking distance, so brethren—even children—could come and go from their living quarters to the studies and activities at will. Beside all of the items in this article and on the schedule, there were many impromptu studies, meals and other get-togethers. It was very easy to meet other brethren—and invite 30 of them to one’s villa if so desired.
All of the offerings given at the Feast were used at the Feast. This reduced the cost of the rooms, and paid for five group meals and all the activities. Offerings were simply placed in a box in the meeting room and an announcement was made when enough funds were collected to pay for the Feast. Leftovers will be used as seed money for future feasts.
The schedule for the Feast was much more varied than the traditional “Church of God” Feast schedule. The scripture only commands “holy convocations”—assemblies of all the brethren—only on the first and eighth days (Lev 23:35-36). So services were held on those days (both Sabbaths), with additional services on the Sunday and Wednesday. A morning praise and worship service was held on all of the other days.
Teachings on the other days consisted of 12 one-hour seminar clusters. Each cluster had two adult studies, a young-adult study, a teen study, a pre-teen study, and a children’s study. Anyone was welcome to attend any study, and it was a common site to see a few young people in the adult studies and parents checking out the teen studies. There were also some evening sessions devoted to prophecy, speculation, calendars, marriage videos, etc.
Some of the brethren, who were using a different calendar system, kept the Feast for two more days in accordance with their understanding. They also used early morning time slots and occasionally alternative rooms where Don Wales organized the reading of the book of Deuteronomy, as the Scripture instructs us to do at the Feast every seven years (Deut 31:10-13).
There were so many valuable seminars and sermons we cannot begin to describe them all here. Most presentations had computer slides. A brief summary of the presentations as well as the whole audio or slides are available on the website: www.feast2009.org. The article Teens Message to Parents on page 23 describes one seminar: a short teaching to teens followed by their answers to six questions on how we can spiritually serve them better. A brief description of two particular teachings is included as they have not been commonly taught in the Church of God in the past, but this writer believes they are important:
History of the Bible
Matt Gaffney presented: Where did your bible come from? The story of the men who copied, translated and preserved the scriptures throughout the centuries is truly awesome. During the middle ages, the catholic church emphasized its own doctrine over the Bible and biblical scholarship languished. Good copies of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts were difficult to find and those extant suffered the effects of aging. Desiderius Erasmus consolidated the Greek texts into a single parallel Greek/Latin Bible. John Wycliffe used it extensively to prepare his English Bible and Martin Luther to prepare his German Bible.
These men and many others who fought to translate, print and place the Bible in the common man’s hands were generally not the heads of big churches or state governments. They were independently minded believers with a desire to serve God no matter what the cost. Indeed, many Bible translators were executed for doing what they did. Others expected to lose their jobs or be killed during most of their lives. While Christians know that the King James Version was produced in 1611 at the command of King James, they do not know that the KJV was the states reaction to the Geneva Bible (and other prior versions). King James wanted one “authorized version” with no notes or alternate readings, rather than the many versions with wild notes in them such as “the Pope is the Beast of Revelation”.
All of the English Bible translations up through the KJV were largely based on the work of William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake by Henry VIII in 1536. His last sentence was a prayer asking God to open the eyes of the King of England, to allow free distribution of English Bibles. Three years later, King Henry commanded the publication of the Great Bible, with a copy to be placed in every church and readers to read it.
There is much more to the story. An excellent chart as well as the slides from the presentation is available in the 2009 Messages section of www.feast2009.org.
The Tabernacle or Succah
Hal Geiger explained the biblical reason to build a succah (Hebrew for “tabernacle” or “booth”) at the Feast of Tabernacles. Many people put the leaven out of their houses in the spring to teach the lesson of putting sin out of their life and taking on the unleavened body of Christ. While many Church of God groups have not built a succah in the past, they are missing out on the vital teaching of the scripture:
“Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 23:39-43).
And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness (Neh 8:14-16).
It is very clear from the above scripture that they were building symbolic booths at their houses and in prominent places—and that the practice was also done during the time of Joshua—when Israel was serving God (Josh 24:31). The Hebrew word translated “dwell” in these verses (yashab Strong’s #3427) does not mean “live in (including overnight)” as our English word “dwell” means. The Hebrew yashab has more of a meaning of simply “to occupy”—whether day or night. It is translated “sit” 172 times, “dwell” 437 times, and many other ways 479 times. When used with the Hebrew qal stem, as it is here, “sit in booths” or “occupy booths” would be a better translation.
A succah is not a hotel room—it is more like a shed. It is not fancy. Staying in a hotel—especially one that is nicer than our own home, does not picture the symbolism in the above verses. Hal Geiger explained seven things that God does for us—that are symbolized by the succah or tabernacle: defends us, saves us, hides us, produces fruit in us, calls us His branches, changes us from temporary to permanent and offers us the tree of life.
Leviticus 23:40 also mentions rejoicing with branches, as was done when Christ entered Jerusalem (John 12:13) and as will be done by the “innumerable multitude” when they praise the Lamb (Rev 7:9). Several brethren brought palm branches that many of the brethren waved as they sang “The Days of Elijah and other inspiring music”. (see pictures pages 20-21).
The congregational music at the Utica, Illinois, Feast was very inspiring. It was a variety of traditional hymns and modern praise and worship music led by a group of both younger and older musicians. I admit I might be biased because my children were involved, but there were others who commented to me that this was the best music they had experienced in 30 years or more of Feast keeping. Certainly most of the brethren came for the music services, and many clapped along to the vigorous songs and applauded afterward. They had the inspiring feeling that one feels in a large, well-run concert.
Kevan Umberfield and Josh Edwards organized the congregational music. The words were always on a large screen so that everyone could see them and sing looking up. There were always several singers accompanied by two or more guitars, bass guitar, piano and drums. The Bible has numerous references and even commands to praise God with multi-stringed instruments, tambourines (a type of drum) and cymbals.
The drums had microphones and were run through the sound system. This is the first time this writer has seen that done at any independent Feast and was concerned that there might be a lot of complaints about “loud drums”. But he has learned over the years that when people complain about “loud drums” it is usually “not so good drums” that are the real difficulty. Anyone can make a sound on a drum set. But to stay precisely in rhythm and enhance music and its message, rather than just add additional noise, requires a lot of skill and care. Jesse, Norm's third son, with more than 10 years of experience and two years of music college more than filled the bill.
The instruments and singers blended well together to provide powerful but worshipful music which was an inspiration to young and old alike. Nearly all the little children were standing up with excitement; some were singing along or pretending to play guitar or drums with their hands. A few times, people used an empty place at the back of the room for praise dancing (Psalm 149:3; 150:4). Add to this the occasional blast of the shofar (rams horn trumpet) in appropriate places, it was a Feast to remember and to hope to experience again.
The special music was equally stirring and even greater in variety, from vocal solos, to instrumental solos, to different sizes of vocal and instrumental groups to artsy sign language. Some numbers had been rehearsed for weeks before the Feast, others were put together at the Feast—with musicians from across the country. There were more songs available than there was time to schedule.
Utica Feast Family Dance Pictures
This Utica Feast had a wide variety of well-organized activities. See the pictures on pages 20-21 and 30. Around 250 people attended each of these major activities:
Picnic and Family day at Buffalo Rock State Park. Brethren grilled the meat and provided the other food for a very nice outdoor meal. Any brethren who wanted to participate—children to adults—were divided up into 13 teams for a “chariot race”. They were given wood, rope, plastic, cardboard, paint, hammers, nails, saws and about an hour to build a “chariot”—more like a sled—and a safety helmet to certain specifications. At least one member had to ride on the sled, and the others had to pull them around the race course. It was a definite advantage to have a young child on the team—a lightweight rider. Some of the “chariots” were works of art, others were designed for strength and efficiency to win the race. One team finally won the race, but everybody had a good time learning to work with other brethren in new situations.
Group Lunch between Seminars. This certainly was a welcome break during a long day of seminars—and made it easy to have a nice meal and be on time for the first seminar after lunch.
Family Dinner Dance at Starved Rock State Park. The lodge was beautiful and the food was excellent. The dance included a limbo competition and a “moon-walk” competition. Dennis Gonzalo did an excellent job of putting together a variety of old and new music, with lots of energy, but avoiding the perverted messages that are so common in music. As might be expected, the young people made the greatest use of the dance floor. Much of the dancing was line and group dancing—not the competition for who is going to ask who to dance, as too often occurs.
Progressive Dinner at Brethren’s Villas. Residents of six pairs of villas served appetizers, drinks, salad, soup, entree, and desert. The brethren wandered among the villas, eating their meal as they desired. More people volunteered to serve than were needed. They were well organized in shifts so the servers had a chance to go around and eat also. It was a very natural way to meet and have something to talk about with many different fellow-believers. Some places one might accept the food and eat it walking out the door, in other places one might sit down and talk for half an hour.
Feast Extravaganza 2009—the Family Fun Show. This show lasted over three hours and most Feast-goers stayed till the end. It was an entertaining mix of comedy, instrumental solos, dance, vocal solos and combos. All but a few of the participants were young people—some as young as six. But some 50-year olds gave it there best, too. Special instruments included the flute, violin, viola, cello, mandolin and conga drums. One young lady, who was attending the Feast for the first time said, “This was awesome. It was my first time to sing with a live band.” The entire show program is posted at www.Feast2009.org.
Touch Football Games. These were not on the schedule, but football games were certainly took place several times on the field between the villas. There were as many as 10 on a team at times. It was spirited, energetic fun, muddy at times, but no injuries.
Friday Night Group Meal. The final group meal was held at the main lodge. It is a wonderful thing to be able to get up and walk among the tables and converse with old friends and meet new brethren, without the distractions inherent in secular restaurants. This must have been what it was like during the time of Joshua and the Elders, when God-fearing people came to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts.
This writer will hope that the brethren who organized this Feast will continue to work together and plan another one for 2010. They are doing a good work, and the world needs more good works right now. This is one of the few Church of God works that is growing and one of the few that is attracting young people. Some Feast sites appear to be more of an eight-day infomercial for their sponsoring organization.
Economic times are getting more difficult, and it might be good to find less expensive surroundings—but still a place where everyone can stay, eat and meet together. More progressive dinners and brethren-run picnics would also help keep the costs down—and serve to improve the fellowship.
May the Eternal bless everyone who is planning to keep His Feasts with a good heart in this coming year. &
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