Feast of Tabernacles 2017 . . .
Wednesday Evening, October 4 - Thursday, October 12
"Shy" is not the word to use when describing Mitchell Smith! Mitchell was a talker. Whatever it took, he would find a way to start "Bible'n" with someone - no matter if that person was a long time friend, a casual acquaintance, or someone he just met.
Angie and I met Mitchell and Anita Smith in early 1997. We had just recently left our former church associations, his - the Church of God International, and ours - the Worldwide Church of God. I'm not quite sure why Mitchell left CGI, but Angie and I left WWCoG because the leadership had just recently abandoned the fundamental teachings of the church and had become just another evangelical group.
We met in one of the break off groups of WWCoG, but Angie and I were not happy with it and neither were the Smiths. Thus our families found ourselves attending a small home fellowship in Big Sandy dubbed "the East Texas Fellowship". It was there that I first began to understand the "Hebrew Roots" of our faith.
Mitchell had for some years been a supporter of Joseph Good, founder of Hatikva Ministries, and it was because of his desire to promote Joe's ministry that he suggested to the home fellowship that we sponsor and organize a Bible study seminar over the upcoming Christmas break. Never having done this before, I immediately considered all the obstacles that would have to be overcome, but Mitchell exuded confidence and assured me it would all come together. So in December 1997, under the banner of the "East Texas Fellowship", we put on the first "Footsteps of the Messiah" conference with Joseph Good, Dean Wheelock (Hebrew Roots Ministry), Jim Rector (Cornerstone Ministry), Norman Edwards (Servant's News), and Ron Dart (Christian Education Ministries) as the featured speakers. I took care of the organization and Mitchell headed up the PR. We had approximately 170 people in attendance.
The next winter (1998), we did a follow-up conference, but because of the way Christmas fell in 1999, we decided it would not work that year. Then in the spring of that year, during the oneg portion of our Sabbath Bible study, Mitchell's wife casually made the comment "why don't we do the feast?". "Do the feast! We can't do that" I exclaimed. But Mitchell - the "Instigator" already had wheels turning in his head. On Monday, Mitchell called me saying that he had contacted and gotten commitments from a number of speakers and had secured a location - the Lake Murray Lodge in Ardmore, Oklahoma - my old high school stomping grounds. He said we would bill it as a "Hebrew Roots" festival, and he even had a name for it - "Season of Our Joy".
That first festival was quite a success. Joe Good, who had been doing telecasts on Prime Time Christian Broadcasting (GLC) arranged to have Mitchell and me appear as guests on Prime Time's "Light of the Southwest" show where we were able to talk about the festival before a televised audience. That, along with the exposure we received from our speakers and a very crude web site, prompted over 300 people to come to that first SOOJ festival. Highlights of that festival included the display of Hatikva Ministries' Temple model, a re-enactment of the first century Water Pouring Ceremony, and the feeding of over three hundred people in a family-style meal that we called the "Israeli Night Dinner" (a name we borrowed from an earlier "Jars of Clay" conference by First Fruits of Zion).
The next year (2000) Mitchell and Anita decided to visit a number of other festival sites throughout the northeast instead of going back to Season of Our Joy, so Angie and I had to decide if we wanted to organize the festival again, this time by ourselves. Mitchell offered his services in lining up speakers, so we decided to go ahead. As the festival drew near, Ronel and Donna McKown, a couple we had met through Mitchell, offered to help fill in the gap left by Mitchell and Anita. Their services were invaluable and we quickly became a team. Another couple that stepped forward to help that year was Dan and Sylvia Calderon. We had met them at FFOZ's Jars of Clay conference in 1997, and again at our Footsteps conference as well as Joe Good's Temple conference. They took on the chore of leading and teaching the Dance, and quickly became a hit - especially during the evening dance classes. One of the attendees that year was a man who had offered his services to the worship leaders that year, but was not used. His name is Lee Miller.
Mitchell died in an industrial accident in the spring of 2001. His death was a great blow to our spirit. Organizing the festival was the easy part, I could do that, but I had never tried to secure speakers. Then in early spring, the conference director at the Lake Murray Lodge called to see if we could "move the festival" down one week. "MOVE THE FESTIVAL"? I can't do that! But, never-the-less, the lodge had accidently booked another group two days into our spot, and they were not going to ask that group to move. We frantically began a search for another place, but to no avail, so we had to canceled SOOJ that year.
Lee Miller took on the role of Worship Leader and Audio/Visual director in 2002. That was also the year we did "The Drama", a two part play where the Torah was "tried in court". Lee wrote the script and directed the whole thing. The teens also took part in a Debate, with one side trying to prove Torah invalid while the other side tried to prove otherwise.
Sarah (Morgan) Wallace, one of the campers, hosted an event on one afternoon during the 2003 Sukkot. It was called "Going Up" and was a rehearsal of the Israelites going "up to Jerusalem" to attend the festivals. Anyone who wanted could take part. Mark and Linda Roth joined us for Sukkot that year. Before deciding to attend Season of Our Joy, Mark reportedly told Linda that "if this gets weird, I'm out of here!" Needless to say, they stayed for the entire festival. It was that year that we realized we were growing too big for the Lake Murray meeting hall, at least in it's current configuration, so before leaving the festival that year, we took measurements of everything to see if we could come up with a better seating arrangement. We knew that if we turned around and faced the lake, we could get about 40 more chairs in the room, but unfortunately, the lake end of the hall was all glass, and even though there were drapes, it would be difficult to block enough of the sun to make it comfortable for the audience.
I spent the winter thinking about what we could do, and finally decided to build a wall to block the sun. After looking through dozens of pictures and after borrowing ideas from Dan and Sylvia, we designed a "stone wall" that could be erected in pieces, thus effectively blocking the sun. Along with the wall, we made curtains for the side wall and made some improvements to the audio/visual table. We also built a "menorah" fashioned after one we saw at that year's (2004) Messianic Israel Alliance conference.
The festivals continued on for the next few years with numbers increasing each year. Dan and Sylvia attended another festival site in 2006, so Angie took over as dance leader with the help of a number of the other women who regularly attend SOOJ. That year, and again in 2007 we had to use one of our meeting rooms for an overflow room. Then at the close of the festival in 2007 we were told that the Lake Murray Lodge had been sold and that it was not clear what facilities would be available in 2008. That began the search for a new facility. Robert Bowles, who had begun attending SOOJ in 2005, volunteered to do a demographic study to determine where would be the best place to look. He determined that the southern part of the mid-west would be the most convenient for most of the people. After hours of searching the internet, and after a number of trips to various facilities, we discovered the Paris Landing State Park. Robert and Christine Bowles, along with their family, met Angie and I there for Thanksgiving so we could check it out. It looked like it would fit our needs, so we booked it for 2008.
Though the facility at Paris Landing worked out fine for us, we were unable to come to an agreement with the management about room rates for 2009, thus the search for a new facility began again. Because we had spent months negotiating with the management, it was not until March that we decided to abandon Paris Landing. Everyone was diligently looking for another place, but everything was booked up. Then Jackie Miller found a link to the Windermere Bible Conference Center. I looked over their web site and called to see if it was available. After determining that it was, Angie and I arranged to meet Mark and Linda Roth at the facility to see if it would work - and it did.
Season of Our Joy 2009 was the best ever! At Windermere, we have the facilities to spread out and provide many more opportunities to enjoy the festival. Our relationship with the management is superb, and we are much more able to enjoy the festival as a community that we were at either of the previous facilities. We have tentatively booked Windermere through 2015.
After the 2013 SOOJ festival, Mark and Linda decided that the next year they would take a more active role in the Sukkot festival they had founded in Costa Rica a couple of years earlier. The void left by their departure was filled by Kelly and Jill Rousseau, a couple who had for a couple of years been very active in organizing the use of the various facilities used by SOOJ. In addition, Jonathan Stahl took on the responsibility for the children's program.
After the 2014 SOOJ festival, Lee and Jackie announced their intentions of starting a new festival site near their home in Richmond, Virginia. Though we were saddened by the loss of their help, guidance, and abundant talent, we were excited that a new festival site would be available along the east coast. A young couple who for the past three years have been instrumental in perfecting the sound system in the "main hall" have stepped up to the plate to lead the Praise and Worship music in their stead.
After realizing that for years we had been leaving our local fellowship behind as we went off to Missouri to hold the festival, at the 2015 SOOJ, I announced that the next year Angie and I would be taking a "sabbatical" in regards to organizing a festival site. Not wanting to abandon the hundreds of people who were faithful in observing the festival with us in central Missouri, we made arrangements with a congregational leader in the area to start a new festival site at the Windermere Church Camp. We helped it get a good start by loaning it our equipment and pointing to it from this web site. Angie and I attended another festival site in 2016.
Now, with just under 11 months before the 2017 festival, we are once again in organization mode. We, along with the Ami Yisrael Fellowship, plan to re-start Season of Our Joy in east Texas. This site will be much smaller that what we've hosted in the past. Our hope is to be able to build a strong Hebraic community in the East Texas area.
The Hebraic movement is continuing to grow as more and more families are grabbing hold of their Hebrew Roots. They are abandoning the traditional Christian holidays and beginning to restore the biblical festivals as they strive to cling to the tzit-tzits of Messiah Yeshua. . For many years, we at Season of Our Joy have been privileged to be part of the restoration. I believe Mitchell Smith would be proud.
May you be blessed!
Tim and Ang