The United Church of God and United Church of God, Ministries International put aside minor differences and collaborated for a joint Feast site last year. They left encouraged and hopeful for future opportunities to joyfully worship God in unity.
Two separate Church of God congregations that meet on the island of Trinidad met to hold the 2013 Feast of Tabernacles as one. They joyfully joined together on the tropical island of Tobago to keep the appointed Feast of Tabernacles and Eighth Day. A new hope was rising in these brethren. Rather than finding ways to segregate and divide, maybe this joint Feast would become a catalyst to heal the Body of Christ and bring true unity of fellowship.
Something that never seemed to occur to most at the onset was that Jesus Christ would aid us in this new challenge, but as time went on we felt that Christ did aid our efforts. When the United Church of God (UCG) Council of Elders approved the proposition of a joint Feast with the Church of God, Ministries International (COGMI), the idea that a joint Feast of Tabernacles was possible now seemed to move more towards reality.
This joint venture was met with some reservation by even those who had prayed for an occasion just like this. Two small separate congregations in Trinidad and Tobago were now working to achieve a sense of unity and oneness. At the end of this Feast, many felt that they were part of something historic.
Even though most of the members all knew one another, having a background in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), their recent years of involvement in different organizations still provided hurdles that seemed to block this shared Feast attempt.
As both congregations began to work through the organizational details, a thought arose between them: What is the Church to become as the unified Bride of Christ and what should be our goal as we work to keep this Feast as mutual brethren? This led to an awareness of the ultimate unity stated by Jesus Christ about those whom He would claim in John:17:22: “That they may be one, even as We are one…” This thought gradually became the background against which everything was conducted, and this scripture was eventually chosen as for the theme of the Feast.
We do not think we are treading on new ground when we state that almost every Church of God member, no matter where they come from, sees and understands that the Body of Christ is framed within this set of scriptures found in Ephesians:4:4-6: “There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all.” And so we prepared to “set in order” an expectation to keep this Feast of Tabernacles with hearts that would strive to live by those words too.
Planning for the Feast
We came to realize from the start that our challenges for this Feast were organizational, not scriptural. We saw clearly that we shared a common bond of understanding for the Feast of Tabernacles and its vision within the Holy Day plan of God for all mankind. So meetings between the two organizations began in early March 2013. At the onset of our meetings, we were two congregations about 15 miles apart, with different times for services and limited manpower. We also realized that the approach of setting up committees to coordinate critical Feast functions was not going to work. So the concept of planning teams was abandoned, and then trusted individuals were assigned to these critical tasks, which ultimately proved to be the wisest method of coordinating the needs of the Feast.
The teams worked in collaboration making compromises, as they sought to “become one in worship of our Father and His Son.” An early sticking point was the number of songs to be sung at services. In UCG five or six are the norm. But at COGMI the brethren sometimes sing more than twice that number. We ended up with a compromise of eight.
Fears that the use of Caribbean rhythms to which COGMI has adapted some of its songs might cause offense ultimately turned out to be just that, fears. The fact is many of their songs are adaptations of Dwight Armstrong’s music from the 1993 Worldwide Church of God hymnal. As the Feast progressed it was obvious that the tempo of the hymns was not an issue and the COGMI brethren’s work to enhance the beauty of the hymns was so enjoyed that most of the brethren from the U.S.A. wanted a copy of the music to introduce the rhythms to their home congregations.
Plans Come Together
Special greetings on the opening night reminded brethren, “Except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm:127:1). They were encouraged to live the words of Psalm 133: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
The first night song service that followed, now expanded to eight songs, included hymns that were specifically chosen to echo the “unity” theme of this Feast. Songs like “We Are God’s People,” “One Faith One Love” and “How Good and How Pleasant” impressed the theme on the minds of the brethren.
The opening evening’s special message urged everyone to “Let us strive, therefore,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians:10:31, “to ensure everything that we do during this Feast, will be done to the glory and honor of our Father in Heaven,” which, as Romans:12:1 says, “is our reasonable service.”
And the brethren responded! For the next eight days they lived the words of Psalm 133. Chairman of the Church of God, Ministries International, Tom Kerry, donated a commemorative plaque to be displayed in each local Trinidad church. Visiting COGMI minister Clayton Evans presented the plaque to pastor Malcolm Murray of UCG (see image top left).
Inscribed on the plaque were these uplifting words from Malachi:3:16 that emphasized the theme of unity: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.”
A Book of Remembrance
As the Feast drew to a conclusion a thought arose from several members about the unique historical aspect of this joint Feast. So in memory of this occasion and in memory of those who were present for this joint occasion, there was a book of remembrance set up by the members of these two Trinidad congregations. This book contains the names and comments of many who attended this shared Feast. The remembrance of this occasion may not be attention grabbing to many, but two separate Church of God groups agreeing to put aside their minor differences and then focus on the things they have in common seems remarkable considering the results of what we have witnessed over the last several decades in the Church of God. The presence of a large contingent of brethren from the U.S.A. also contributed to the theme of biblical oneness. They also came realizing the catalyst this Feast might bring for harmony within the Body of Christ in the future as we look forward to the future of the Feast in uniting all mankind under one Kingdom of worship.
We must be honest, too, that there were a few minor hiccups in organization, but most who attended will testify that it was one of their best Feasts ever. And given all that could have gone wrong, what we experienced in Tobago this year was a successful Feast of Tabernacles, of two groups working together to make the Feast a time of joy and worship to our Father. We felt we experienced a Feast that was a modern day success in the Church of God. We prayed for this to succeed because we see that Christ and the Father are “One,” and therefore we must become one. We felt that Jesus Christ wanted it to succeed. We pray that future opportunities will lead God’s Church “to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”