the painful truth about the worldwide church of god

It Was the Best Feast Ever

Bob M

If you are unfamiliar with the Worldwide Church of God, there are a couple of things you ought to know about its customs before reading this. The Church had what it sometimes called "God's Vacation Plan" for its' membership. In the world, people choose whether they go on vacation, where they go on vacation, what they do on vacation, the time of the year of their vacation, the length of their vacation and how much money they spend for vacation.

As opposed to their worldly counterparts, church members were told when to go on vacation, told where to go on vacation, told how long they would be on vacation, told how much money they had to save for vacation, and basically told what to do and how to behave while on vacation. This vacation was the observation of the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles, which occurs in the fall of the year. It was like a convention, and several churches would combine for this festival where there would be daily church services to which members carried their bibles and notebooks to record sermon notes. If you're thinking this doesn't sound like much of a "vacation" you'll get no argument from me. In fairness to the church, it was possible to get special permission to change your Feast assignment. That way you could attend services in Hawaii and take copious notes of the sermons over there.

The method of funding your "vacation" was to save 10% of your gross (pre-tax) income throughout the course of the year, which was called "second-tithe". If you earned $30,000 annually you should have $3,000 ready for the Feast. If you earned $70,000 you were expected to have $7,000, Any unspent second tithe was to be surrendered to the church at the end of the Feast.

Day 1
Dear Diary:

It's been a long, hard financial struggle this year of 1980 for me, being my third tithe year and all. Mr. Armstrong's latest coworker letter underscored the urgent needs of the Work as Christ puts us "back on track". Most of us have been feeling a little guilty because of our sins and how hard it is for Mr. Armstrong to prepare the Bride of Christ for His Second Coming, as well as tending to the AICF, Quest Magazine, the Plain Truth, running the College, writing books and flying all over the world.

But now it's time for the Feast and I've got $3000 to spend! Woo Hooooo!!!! I've just finished checking into the motel in downtown Fresno, which is within walking distance to church services held at the Convention Center. The only disconcerting thing is the gang graffiti visible all over the building across the street. Only a block away is an adult bookstore. Seems an unlikely place to hold the Feast of Tabernacles, which is supposed to represent the Millenium. I just overheard a Deacon shouting at a member who was asking about changing motels, because we aren't supposed to do things like that. Whatever.

I had breakfast at a nice little restaurant. This is the first time since last Feast that I've been able to afford to eat out, and boy was it fun! I had steak and eggs, hotcakes, toast, orange juice and a bowl of cereal for $22. Went back to the room and did a little Bible Study and then headed off to services. Afterwards, I met some friends and we went to lunch. Had another steak, French fries, a bowl of soup, a piece of blackberry pie and two beers. Total cost: $30. Went back to the room and took a nap until dinner. Then had my third steak of the day, mashed potatoes, gravy, black-eyed peas, a piece of cake and two martinis. Cost: $40.

Let's see. So far I've spent $92 on food, plus $50 for one day at the motel for a total of $142, and my daily allotment is $428.57 per day ($3000 spread over seven days), leaving me with $286 over, so I'll hit the supermarket for some goodies. Got three six-packs of beer, four bags of chips, a giant can of beer nuts, a pound of apples, two pounds of bananas, a pineapple, six peaches, a can of cashew nuts and a bag of pretzels for $43. Now I've spent $185 today. Got on the phone and invited Tom, Victor and Mark over to the room for a little celebration. Not to be outdone, they brought seven six packs of Bud, eight bags of potato chips, four cans of bean dip, a quart of salsa and two liters of vodka. Guess they had a little money to burn too.

Day 2
Dear Diary:

I woke up feeling a little bad after last night's party. The room looked worse than I felt, but I got up and went to breakfast anyway. The condition of my stomach wouldn't allow for a heavy meal so I just had toast and milk for a paltry $2.95. As I approached the room I noticed the maid giving me the evil eye--guess we left a little mess for her to clean up! Did a little Bible Study and prayer. Oh God, please heal my stomach! At services we were treated to a long and boring sermon out of the book of Jeremiah.

My prayer was answered because I felt a little better and had a great lunch with some brethren I didn't know from the Oakland Church. I had fillet mignon, mashed potatoes, string beans, carrots, peas and three glasses of milk. Then a large slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream washed down with a pitcher of Bud. BRRRRRRRP! Cost: $43. After a nap, I went out to dinner without much of an appetite, so I simply had one large pizza and a pitcher of beer. Cost: $15.

That evening I went to a Singles event but felt uncomfortable at the dance because everyone appeared a little nervous and the atmosphere of "this is the Feast and we're all so happy" seemed contrived. Was happy to get back to the room afterwards. Cost for Day 2: meals and motel $110.95.

Day 3
Dear Diary:

Woo Hoo! I jumped out of bed with an amazing energy, knowing this is the day we will tour the most famous landmark in the city of Fresno--the Sun Maid Raisin Factory! Out to breakfast, steak and eggs, oatmeal, corn flakes, orange juice, a cinnamon roll and coffee. Cost: $21 Returned to the room for Bible study and prayer. Please, God, guide the Apostle as he spreads the news about an Unseen Hand from Someplace to the heathen hordes in China. Protect him as he flies through the stratosphere writing the latest coworker letter. Amen. After a quick lunch of four tacos, a burrito, a tamale and a Pepsi ($13) I headed off to the Convention Center. At services my ass went numb (again) from sitting on one of those folding metal chairs as the speaker expounded in laborious detail the travails of the Israelites wandering through the desert. Yeah, well I bet they didn't have folding metal chairs!

The Sun Maid Raisin Factory was something of a letdown. I did manage to buy a Raisin Tee shirt from the gift shop, a raisin coffee mug and a white ball cap with a big black raisin on it. Stylish. Although I don't even like raisins, I bought a big five-pound box. These souvenirs set me back $65. At dinner I had salmon, rice, pinto beans, asparagus, garbanzo beans, four glasses of milk, a piece of cake and two beers which cost $35. Later I paid a visit to the grocery store and spent another $40 on two six packs of beer, a gallon of wine, two bags of potato chips, a package of doughnuts and some breath mints. Total expenditure for day 3 was $224.

Day 4
Dear Diary:

Woke up this morning with a ghastly headache and decided to skip breakfast and stay in bed. There came a loud knocking at the door and it was Mark and Victor, who convinced me to go out and see the town with them. So we hired a taxi and took in the sights of Fresno for about an hour when we realized there simply wasn't anything to see. None of us even took pictures and we split the bill three ways, about $28 each. At services the sermon was about what a "Peculiar People" we are. We are called out and chosen, led by the grace of God to repentance (and Fresno). After services the three of us found a little Taqueria which served excellent Mexican food. I ate two monster burritos, three tacos, a tamale and had four beers for $22. Stopped at the drug store for Pepto Bismol and a quart of Kaopectate, costing $7.50.

Back at the motel some brethren had gathered in the room next to mine and invited me in. Must have been ten people there and we got to discussing Fresno. We all realized that we'd gotten the shaft in our assignment to the armpit of California for this Feast. I saved ten-percent of my gross income to go to a place nobody would voluntarily visit--ever. A place you're afraid to walk the streets at night.

Went to dinner with a married couple and had a nice meal. I had steak, mashed potatoes, string beans, creamed corn, asparagus, artichoke hearts and a chocolate milkshake. Then we finished two bottles of champagne, at a cost of $41 for me. Afterwards, I went to the grocery store for supplies for the evening. I bought a gallon of suffed olives, a bag of fortune cookies, two boxes of animal crackers, four bags of beef jerky, two big bags of pretzels, a pound of beets, a quart of yogury, Fritos, a case of beer, a gallon of gin and a liter of 151 rum, a twelve pack of cokes and four bottles of Pepto Bismol for a total of $80. Expenditure for Day 4: $229 So far, in four days of Feasting I have spent $749 with $963 left over.

About 7:30 PM, Mark, Paul and Dennis knocked on my door carrying several twelve packs of beer and four bottles of wine. Combined with my stash we could have invited the 101st Airborne Division and still had plenty of booze left over. We were really getting into the spirit of things when a very sober Deacon Dave knocked on my door. Uh-oh. He could tell we'd had a few but didn't say anything, and we invited him in for a brew. After the Deacon had downed three beers we began to feel somewhat emboldened and started asking him questions about the Feast. How come we couldn't go to the Feast in Hawaii? Fresno sucks! I thought the Feast was supposed to picture the Millenium. I need a new pair of shoes, tires for the car, a new suit and a new pair of glasses. Why can't I use all the extra money I've got for my basic necessities fo life? At my current rate of spending, I'll have $1691 left over after the Feast.

Deacon Dave's eyes became glowing red orbs as he surveyed the riff raff sitting before him, and then began, "What are you guys thinking? In the first place it is GOD'S MONEY, not yours! If you spent it on your mundane needs you would be STEALING FROM GOD, and I don't think that really bothers you, does it? Whatever second tithe is remaining after the Feast is to be turned in to the church, NO EXCEPTIONS! It is by God's grace you are even in the True Church and judging by your attitudes I'd say that you will be the ones on the outside weeping and gnashing your teeth! Many are called, but few are chosen. Someday Christ will look you square in the eyes and say, 'I NEVER KNEW YOU'. You don't need to be in Hawaii--that's pure SELFISHNESS. Out lot in this life is irrelevant. Always remember, there are only two ways of life, the GIVE and the GET".

Dave paused, got up and got himself another beer, and we followed his lead. Sitting down again, Mark interjected, "But Dave, I'm talking about the necesities I cannot afford, like new tires for the car. I'm really afraid to drive on those bald tires I have now. Dave countered, "Mark, that's ALL YOUR FAULT! You could have been PRAYING for your needs, but apparently LACK THE FAITH NECESSARY TO RECEIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS. How long have you been in the Church now? Twelve years? That's pathetic! YOU'RE HEADED STRAIGHT FOR THE LAKE OF FIRE unless you REPENT! Yet here you losers sit getting drunk, when you should be out visiting our elderly brethren. You could be volunteering for duties making yourselves useful, like traffic control at the Convention Center, volunteering toset up chairs or being ushers. What good are you?

Again, Dave paused and got another beer, and we followed suit. Continuing, Dave looked at each of us and said, "HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG CANNOT CARRY YOU INTO THE KINGDOM ON HIS SHOULDERS. You cannot ride the coattails of the very Apostle into the Kingdom. You have to lose your life in order to find it. YOU MUST PUT THE WORK FIRST in your lives and YIELD YOURSELVES to God in order to become useful servants. Christ can't use you in your contemptible state. YOU are the reasons God had to delay the Second Coming, and YOU are the reasons HWA has to put the Church back on track. I am ASHAMED of all of you, and I want you guys to REPENT!"

You could have heard a pin drop. Finally, someone said, "Yeah Dave, you're right. Thanks for the correction, we needed that". Dave began to feel better, having vented. He had a great capacity for the suds, which surprised us. The booze seemed to take the edge off his rant and he mellowed out--sort of morphed into a human being right before our eyes. "Hey guys, sorry if I came down a little hard on you. This is the Feast and a place we can let off a little steam. Life in the Church can be stressful and that's why God gave us this time to fellowship and to get to know one another. The object of the Feast is not to see how many steaks you can eat. A million years from now we'll laugh at Fresno, but we'll also remember this quality time we're having right now. This is the beginning of a friendship that will last all eternity!" "I'll drink to that" I said (hell, I'd drink to anything). Dennis jumped up and announced, "A toast to Deacon Dave," to a chorus of cheers. Dave grinned ear to ear, as the beer flowed and flowed.

Turned out Dave was a pretty good arm wrestler and beat us all, a fact we attributed to his being left handed and refusing to accept any right handed challenges. We were totally shit-faced when Mark decided to leap from the dresser to the bed and missed, knocking over a lamp. Deacon Dave yelled, "Hey Mark! What was your mama thinking when she had you?" Mark yelled back, "Hey Dave! Yo mama's so hairy when you were born you almost died of rug burn!" Dave shot back, "Yo mama was arrested for having forty pounds of crack!!" "Ha! Yo mama's like a brick--flat on both sides and was laid by Mexicans!" "Oh yeah? Yo mama's like a hockey player--she don't change her pad 'til the third period!!" 

Sometime after 2AM we all passed out. When I woke up late in the morning I didn't know which head to move first. "A thousand years of this shit?" I said to nobody in particular. Mark was curled up in the fetal position as Deacon Dave crawled toward the bathroom on all fours, muttering incoherently.


The entries into my diary stopped here. I do remember services on the Last Great Day, where a televised sermon by HWA via satellite was shown on a large screen in the Convention Center. Looking back, it seems preposterous to require people to save ten percent of their gross incomes to be used for a one week "vacation", constrict their activities with mandatory daily church services, send them to a place where they cannot possibly spend it all and then demand they turn in the difference. This is the plan of a crook. Although I thought I didn't learn anything from this Feast, I now recognize that I did. I learned what it was like to be Herbert W. Armstrong for a week.






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