In the darkness of night, nearly two dozen people gathered to camp out on the lawn and parking lot of Terrace Hills Baptist Church.
The families sacrificed the comforts of home to celebrate the Jewish holiday, the Feast of the Tabernacles, or Sukkot .
Sukkot is a Jewish tradition following Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, which commemorates the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert and lived in temporary shelters.
On Monday, the group also celebrated what they believe to the true birthday of Jesus.
Terrace Hills pastor, the Rev. Brian Serrano, observed the holiday previously with another church before bringing the celebration to his church this year for the first time.
“It’s something scripture talks about, and we want to be a church that goes by the book. We’ve just had a phenomenal response,” Serrano said.
Seeking to emulate the wandering Israelites, the group of six families set up camp starting at sundown Sunday.
Due to work and school schedules, the campers leave around 6:30 a.m. and return 6:30 p.m. to stay the night.
Evenings are a time of fellowship for the small assembly and include meals, Bible study and just enjoying each others’ company.
“As families you can grow close spending a couple of hours on Sunday and Wednesday together, but you’ll never grow as close as when you stop and do life together,” Serrano said. “This is for us to be more intimate and less rushed. It’s been a really good relationship builder.”
The time together is also looking toward the future, Serrano said.
“We take eight days of the year to live together, because all believers will one day live together in the kingdom of heaven,” Serrano said.
The unusual sight of urban campers caught the eye of one passerby, Jack Hubbard, so much that Hubbard brought fellow congregation members of Odessa’s Emmaus Community to have their monthly meeting near the celebration.
“It’s unique and unusual and kind of different,” Hubbard said. “I’m going to try to spend one evening (there) myself just for the fellowship. I just like to be around them and be a part of it.”
The group will take down the camp on Sunday evening, but Serrano said they are already planning next year’s Feast of the Tabernacles.
Though Terrace Hills is a Southern Baptist Church, Serrano said it was important for the congregation to observe biblical traditions.
“We don’t want to be limited by denominational traditions. It’s important that we’re a biblical church,” Serrano said. “We have families so excited they’re planning on taking one week of vacation (next year). We finally caught on to something, and we’re going to hold on to it from here on out.”