Possibly the thing that I miss the most about the old WCG is the Festival of Tabernacles.
As an adult, I’m aware that there were many unsavory things going on behind the scenes that I only ever got a glimpse of – they didn’t call it the “Feast of Booze” for nothing – but as a child, it was and remained the highlight of the year for many of my formative years.
In fact, some of my earliest memories involve the Feasts. I remember dragging the suitcases out of the closet a full two weeks ahead – we couldn’t wait to start packing. Even making the list of things to pack was a special time.
I remember the big white building at Wisconsin Dells. Looking at it now it’s just a utilitarian pile of tin, but back then it was really something. I remember the administration building, the tram that would take people back and forth from the immense parking lots. At one point, between services, my parents packed a picnic, and we had it on a small hill overlooking the site. There were a whole lot of small yellow flowers. I couldn’t have been more than two or three, and I still remember this vividly, and with an intense feeling of nostalgia.
I remember playing “Little Professor” on the floor with another, slightly older, kid from my congregation. Basically, I remember a lot, and I miss most of it.
And there was such an atmosphere of celebration! It’s like the entire city just became.. happy. Whereever we were. Occasionally I’d be at a site when the feast was not in session, and it was not the same. Something was missing. You could feel it in the air.
It’s never coming back, though. For a while, earlier in my life, I actually used to stay in a local hotel – at some expense, actually – for a couple of days in a vain attempt to recapture even a small part of the experiences that I remember. But it’s all gone. Even if the church existed now and the Feasts were still going strong, the world has changed out from under them. There’s no smoking section at Denny’s anymore, so the smell of stale cigarette smoke mixed with coffee is gone. (You might think that a terrible smell, but it’s terribly nostalgic to me). The freeways are different, the drive would be different, the cars would be different… it would all just be so different. The experience would be gone, ruined, just as it’s already ruined by memory.
I don’t miss the sermons, or the ministers, or the theology. But somehow, that never seemed to matter. It was fun. It was one of the few good experiences I had as a child. And it, like everything else, was ripped away. Either by the loss of childhood innocence, the destruction of the WCG culture, or other familial situations that were also very destructive.
What can replace it? The problem is, I fear nothing. Nothing has ever come close. I’m not convinced anything ever can. For all of the WCG’s flaws, the feast was… unique. Unique, and irreplaceable. The experience can never be relived, but there isn’t a whole lot I wouldn’t give if it could. Because, honestly, there is little to nothing in the culture I find myself in now that even remotely comes close.