As was his custom for several years, Jim Rector (Cornerstone Publications) began planning the 1995 Feast near the end of the previous year. He arranged for facilities right on the Gulf coast beach in Destin, Florida. About 120 people planned to attend. Jim Rector had scheduled a variety of speakers, three of which normally attended with his group: Leo Holley, Ralph Pierson and himself. But in addition, he allowed men from other small groups to speak: Norman Edwards (Servants' News), Myron Martin (Patriots of the Kingdom), Alan Ruth (Barnabas Ministries) and John Trescott (Church of God, Anadarko, Oklahoma).
None of these men were assigned a topic. They were simply told which days and times for which they were scheduled and about how long they would have to speak. Does this sound like recipe for confusion? It did not produce confusion! And the actually circumstances were much more trying than you might have imagined.
Three days before the feast began, Hurricane Opal came ashore rendering the intended meeting facility unusable for several weeks. Several of the speakers were already enroute. Jim Rector and Norman Edwards decided to move the site to Springdale, Arkansas. Jim Rector called as many of those planning to attend as he could reach and Norman Edwards found an available hall and a variety of accommodations. Due to the difficulties with available airline flights and the greater distance for many drivers only about 60 of those originally planning to attend were able to attend. About 20 of these people had never attended a Feast with Jim Rector before.
In spite of the difficulty caused by the hurricane, all of the speakers arrived and every service except two were held as originally planned. (One was moved to another day and another was cancelled due to the hall being unavailable). A scheduled family cookout and a family variety show required some adjustments, but were an obvious success. Several other activities were scheduled to replace the lost opportunities of San Destin. The congregation sang the lively feast music distributed well before the feast and added some songs from the The Bible Hymnal (1974) since many of the people attending were familiar with them.
Topics were a fine mix of correction, instruction and Bible prophecy. Jim Rector spoke on coming out of Babylon, being at the crossroads of our lives, and the possible prophetic parallels between the traditional Hebrew wedding and the return of the Messiah. Also, he delivered numerous announcements and several short encouraging messages. Leo Holley spoke on preparing for persecution. The late Ralph Pierson (heart attack 12/3/95) delivered two outstanding messages encouraging personal spiritual growth: Going on to Perfection and Prepare to Meet Your God.
Norman Edwards spoke on learning from our past mistakes in church organizations and the Biblical model for Sabbath services. Myron Martin gave three messages: Comets, Come Lord Jesus and Identifying a Laodicean. Alan Ruth spoke on spiritual gifts and how we can learn to identify ours. He attended half of the feast in Springdale and the rest in Colorado with the Christian Biblical Church of God (and apparently no one was offended). John Trescott's messages were: Finally, Romans 13 Revealed, The Last Great Day, and Circumcision.
While most of the services consisted of traditional singing and speaking, some speakers invited questions and comments from the audience. Two open discussions were held in the evening where about 40 adults openly discussed topics such as how to preach the Gospel locally and how "false Messiahs" will try to deceive people into believing they are the true Messiah.
While we felt that a small percentage of the things preached at this feast were in error, we can look back on our history of WCG feasts and see that a we heard a certain amount of error there, tooprophetic interpretation that failed and doctrines such as "truth always comes into the church through one man at the top." So is there any difference? Yes! In the former days, a person that felt the speaker was in error ran the risk of being put out from his congregation if he tried to point out the error to anyone. In the Springdale feast, people could freely go to the speaker and try to show them their mistake from the scriptures. At least one speaker admitted his mistake and changed his understanding.
Everyone at Springdale agreed that this the kind of format for a feast they would like to have in the future. Rather than just "listening to a message" each person felt responsible for thinking about and in some cases responding to the message. While there was time for good meals and physical recreation, the focus was clearly on the spiritual teaching and understanding.
How was the money handled? It was all very simple. Norman Edwards rented the hall and bought a few other essential items. Alan Ruth bought the initial items for the free snack bar. A box for donations to the snack bar was set up and also a box for general feast donations. The people that replenished the snack bar kept track of what they spent and what they took in from the snack bar box. At the end of the feast, Jim Rector paid for the hall rental, the minor outstanding snack-bar expense, a few other miscellaneous expenses, and used the rest of the money for his ministry. Individuals were perfectly free to mail a portion of their holy day offering to other ministries if they so desire.
While we learned many spiritual lessons from sermons at this feast, one big lesson we learned is this: The desire of the Eternal's people to come to a feast site and learn is far more important than the physical arrangements. Most of the people that came to Springdale, Arkansas did not even know that it existed only four days beforehand. Nevertheless, most of the people were able to stay in reasonably-priced lake-view condominiums less than 30 minutes from the hall. Others found motels only five minutes from the hall.
If we make the "spiritual environment" of the feast site we choose this year a high priority, the Eternal will not let us down. Happy Feast!
-Norman S. Edwards
Here are some guidelines that have been mentioned for messages presented at the feast. These are suggestions right now but can serve as a good starting point in developing something. The people responsible for scheduling would also follow the guidelines when setting up the schedule.
Messages should consist primarily of these four categories:
1) Bible Exposition of a Particular Subject: Speakers should concentrate on what the Bible says about a subject, not on what they or some famous person thinks. Personal examples and interesting stories can add interest and help us to better understand, but they should never replace the scriptures. Studying the original language and other principles of Bible study should be used in preparing these kinds of messages. This category is extremely broad as the Bible covers a great many subjects.
2) Relevant History: Our understanding of truth can be greatly enhanced by knowing what has happened in the past. It is helpful to state the reference works you used or to prepare a list to hand out.
3) Relevant Current Events: It is more and more difficult to get news of Biblically significant events. Short, pointed messages of this nature are a great service to the brethren.
4) Divinely Inspired Messages: Both Testaments are filled with examples where the Eternal gave a message to someone through an angel, dream, vision or some other means. We should listen to individuals who believe they have a message from the Eternal and judge if it contradicts scripture (1Cor 14:29, Deut 13). If the Eternal does not directly inspire you, you cannot give this kind of message. Please realize that interpreting existing Biblical prophecy does not fall into this category. If you think you have studied and come to a new understanding of some Bible prophecies, that belongs in category 1. If the Eternal reveals the meaning of a prophecy in a dream or vision, then it would belong here.
Messages in categories 1 and 2 can and should be prepared well in advance. Present them to a local group first, if possible. Messages for the latter two categories may not be known until shortly before the Feast. A speaker may have to substitute a more urgent category 3 or 4 message for a planned category 1 or 2 message. Those planning the feast schedules should allow for a "last-minute" message.
One hour should probably be the longest time block for a presentation. Topics that require more time should be presented in two sessions. If too many people desire to speak, the brethren may need to select by show of hands which topics they feel would be most helpful.
If a number of people wish to speak on the same topic from various points of view, a viable option would be to put together a panel of those individuals to present the topic and then have an open discussion/question and answer session afterwards.
There are two types of feasts that we are intending on working with. The first is a Non-Aligned Feast. By this label we mean a feast site that we or other individuals have put together that is not affiliated with any other recognized organization and incorporates many of these guidelines.
The second type we are calling an Open Feast. An Open Feast site does not have to adhere to all of our guidelines to be recommended as such. This is a site that is sponsored by a recognized organization but also holds to the spirit of true openness as the main article tries to put forth. Our intent is to be able to recommend an Open Feast site to someone with the confidence that it will be fairly open.