Preparing for Brethren World Assembly

To help me prepare for an upcoming presentation at the Brethren World Assembly this weekend, I created a brief survey on the Love Feast and publicized it on Facebook and through email to all 23 District Executives. I was surprised to see so many responses, after 4 days the total is 177!

Here’s a quick summary:

LF Actions Fellowship Meal 7-9


What are your responses?


Wake Forest University’s 47th Annual Lovefeast

Last night I attended Wake Forest University’s 47th annual Lovefeast, a Moravian-style Lovefeast that has become the largest Lovefeast celebration in North America. In a packed Wait Chapel, more than 2,000 people gathered for a service of song and a simple meal consisting of a sweetened bun and coffee (with plenty of milk and sugar). Following the Moravian Lovefeast tradition, this meal is not Holy Communion; the simple meal emphasizes hospitality and is shared by all, regardless of religious conviction. At the conclusion of the service, electrical lights are turned off and the dark chapel is gradually lit by candlelight passed from the central Advent candles to those held by each person present. (Click here for a video of the 2011 Lovefeast)

The first Moravian Lovefeast was celebrated in Herrnhut (Moravia Saxony) on August 13, 1727. The Moravians emigrated to the New World in 1735, and in 1737 John Wesley observed a Moravian Lovefeast in Savannah, Georgia, and was inspired to begin a similar celebration in the Methodist movement the following year. The first Moravian Lovefeast in North Carolina was celebrated on November 17, 1753, when a group of 15 Moravians established a temporary settlement at Bethabra, located 2 miles from WFU. In 1965, the first Lovefeast at WFU was held; it was organized by a Moravian student and there were ~100 people in attendance. As you can tell, the Lovefeast has grown tremendously in the last 47 years, and it faces one challenge similar to that of early church Love Feasts in the 300s and 400s; namely, it is logistically difficult to provide food and drink to a large crowd! However, the Lovefeast contains a variety of service music that engages the congregation while the buns and coffee are distributed, and thankfully, the University covers the several thousand dollar expense to celebrate this unique and moving Lovefeast.

As one who has only participated in Brethren Love Feasts, the experience at WFU was new to me. Personally, it was a powerful way for me to emotionally enter into the Advent season, even though I have been intellectually engaged with Advent (having just preached two Advent sermons). The music was simply beautiful. Two choral pieces (Of the Father’s Love Begotten and Mary Had a Baby) brought me back to my days of singing in the Concert Choir at Bridgewater College. The choral benediction, In the Bleak Midwinter, brought tears to my eyes as I quietly sang along with the choir: “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what I can, I give him, give my heart.” This, for me, was when Advent really came alive this year, as I once again offered my heart to Jesus. And it reminded me to be thankful for my experiences in the Herndon High School Madrigals ensemble, for I had to memorize that song for our many community Christmas performances (thank you Mrs. Dana Van Slyke).

For those who are interested, here is a copy of the Lovefeast bulletin.

Musical Prelude for Carillon, Brass & Harp

Welcome: University Chaplain Rev. Tim Auman

Lighting of Advent Candle: Organ Prelude by University Organist Dr. Donald Armitage, Lo, How a Ros’ ere Blooming by Johannes Brahms, Magnificat by Johann Sebastian Bach

Opening Hymn: O Come All Ye Faithful

Scripture: Luke 2:1-15, Dir. of Multicultural Affairs Alta Mauro

Prayer: Associate Chaplain Rev. Rebecca Hartzog

Reflection: University President Dr. Nathan Hatch

Serving of the Lovefeast: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel; Hark! the Herald Angels Sing; It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, Greensleeves (performed by a flute choir); The First Nowell, Ukrainian Bell Carol Fantasy (performed by a handbell choir); What Child is This?; and Silent Night.

Blessing in Unison: Episcopal Campus Minister Fr. Bob McGee
Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be
And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee
Bless thy dear ones everywhere
And keep them in thy loving care. Amen.

Partaking of the Lovefeast: University Concert Choir, conducted by Dr. Brian Gorelick, Of the Father’s Love Begotten (arr. by Paul Wohlgemuth); Ave Maria (Javier Busto); and Mary Had a Baby (William Dawson).

Lighting of the Candles: Morning Star (lyrics below); Joy to the World!

Benediction: Associate Chaplain Rev. Chris Towles

Concert Choir: In the Bleak Midwinter (Gustav Holst)

Organ Postlude: Noel-Grand jeu et duo (Louis Claude Daquin)

Lyrics to Morning Star (A Moravian Hymn)

Morning Star, O cheering sight!
Ere Thou cam’st how dark earth’s night! (choir, then repeated by congregation)
Jesus mine, in me shine, (choir, congregation)
In me shine, Jesus mine; (choir, congregation)
Fill my heart with light divine. (unison)

Morning Star, Thy glory bright
Far excels the sun’s clear light;
Jesus be, constantly,
Constantly, Jesus be
More than thousand suns to me.

Thy glad beams, Thou Morning Star
Cheer the nations near and far;
Thee we own, Lord alone,
Lord alone, Thee we own,
Our great Savior, God’s dear Son.

Morning Star, my soul’s true Light,
Tarry not, dispel my night;
Jesus mine, In me shine,
In me shine, Jesus mine;
Fill my heart with light divine.

Love Feast – UM churches savor simple Advent service

Many of you may be aware that the United Methodist church has traditionally celebrated Love Feasts. Here is a recent article by Mary Jacobs of the United Methodist Reporter on the Love Feast. ( PDF at this site.

Love Feast – UM churches savor simple Advent service

by Mary Jacobs, Staff Writer

Every year during Advent, since the mid-1970s, church members at First United Methodist Church in Brevard, N.C., have repeated the drill. They unpack the special mugs, the aprons and caps from storage; they order the yeast buns from a bakery in Winston-Salem, and they buy the beeswax candles and wrap them in red paper skirts.

It’s all in preparation for a special Christmas Eve service called the Moravian Love Feast, and it packs the church every year—with members of the church as well as folks from the community.

“Every so often we get a minister who thinks this might be something we should change,” says church member Donald Myracle. “He gets the message right away—this is the one thing you don’t change.”

Brevard’s Love Feast includes traditional Christmas carols, prayers, a few Moravian hymns and an offering benefiting a local charity. As worshippers quietly enjoy Christmas music, the young women of the church—many on break from college—don the lace caps and aprons and pass out the buns. Young men distribute mugs of hot cider. Then the candles—made of beeswax, symbolizing Christ’s purity—are handed out. The lights are lowered, the candles are lit and the service concludes in candlelight.

“It’s a very pretty service, very reverential and contemplative,” said church member Sarah Lee Myracle. “I always look forward to it as a time of reflection.

First UMC in Brevard is one of many United Methodist churches in North Carolina each Advent that celebrate the Love Feast, a popular tradition adopted from the Moravian church, which has a large number of congregations in North Carolina. The state is also home to what is likely the largest Moravian-style Love Feast in the U.S.—an ecumenical gathering at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Attendees imbibe 90 gallons of coffee and 175 dozen yeast buns, and the college’s Wait Chapel is aglow with 2,200 beeswax candles.

A simple meal

But Love Feasts aren’t just for Christmas. The broader tradition of the “Love Feast”—worship or fellowship centered on a simple meal—has a solid Wesleyan heritage, as well as roots that hearken back to the early church.

And it’s a concept that many Christians would benefit from rediscovering, says Paul Stutzman, author of Recovering the Love Feast (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

“The church was founded on a meal, the meal that Jesus shared with us,” he said. “The act of eating together is important to us as Christians.”

Early church roots

While its modern forms vary widely, the Love Feast “is basically a way of gathering that goes back to the book of Jude,” according to C. Michael Hawn, director of the Sacred Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, part of Southern Methodist University.

Early Christians celebrated Love Feasts in homes, enjoying a simple meal together followed by communion. By the third or fourth century, some Love Feasts were celebrated as communal, charitable meals which served meat—a rare treat for the poor. By the time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the practice of the Love Feast began to fade in the Western church, according to Mr. Stutzman.

The modern history of the Love Feast dates to the 18th century, when the Moravians in Germany introduced a service of sharing food, prayer, religious conversation and hymns. In 1737, John Wesley experienced a Love Feast while worshipping with Moravians in Savannah, Ga.

“After evening prayers, we joined with the Germans in one of their love-feasts,” he wrote in his diary. “It was begun and ended with thanksgiving and prayer, and celebrated in so decent and solemn a manner as a Christian of the apostolic age would have allowed to be worthy of Christ.”

Dr. Hawn notes that the Moravians were an oppressed people, with the earliest Love Feasts taking place on the estate of Count Zinzendorf, where Moravians had fled for protection. Thus, the Love Feast “was not just for nourishment, but a symbol of their being bound together in Christ’s love,” said Dr. Hawn. “It’s the idea of unitas fratrum—the unity of the brethren. This meal was meant to bring unity.”

With Wesley’s blessing, the Love Feast became part of Methodist society meetings in England, and those who immigrated to North America quickly made Love Feasts an important part of early American Methodism. But while Wesley’s inspiration came from the Moravian Love Feast, the practice among early Methodists was quite different from the Christmas service that’s now popular in North Carolina.

“For one thing, Wesley’s practice was closed,” said the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources for the General Board of Discipleship. “You had to bring with you a ticket from your class leader certifying that you were in good standing in your class meeting.” These Love Feast services focused on testimonies—which was why the service was closed.

“Some of those testimonies were of overcoming sin or struggling with sin or other issues—not the sort of thing most folks would want to talk about in a more public arena,” he said.

Modern variations

Today, three denominations observe the Love Feast tradition—the Church of the Brethren, the Moravian Church, and the United Methodist Church, Mr. Stutzman said.

While the Love Feast wasn’t mentioned in the 1944 edition of the Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home, an order of service for Love Feasts did appear in the 1964 edition. The current Book of Worship, published in 1992, outlines a Love Feast in the section on “Occasional Services,” appropriate for annual conferences and charge conferences, as part of Covenant Discipleship groups or congregational suppers, or as special worship during Christmas, Holy Week or Pentecost.

“The Love Feast, or Agape Meal, is a Christian fellowship meal recalling the meals Jesus shared with disciples during his ministry and expressing the koinonia (community, sharing, fellowship) enjoyed by the family of Christ,” according to the Book of Worship. Testimonies and praise are usually the focal point.

Communal meal

For the Rev. Russ Whaley, the Love Feast means opening the doors of his church, Zion UMC in Grand Forks, N.D., to everyone in the community for a communal meal. The church has been holding monthly meals, called Love Feasts, free of charge, to anyone who shows up, for the past 10 years. Other churches in town pitch in by providing food; each monthly meal typically draws around 200 people.

“Feeding the body is almost secondary to what we’re doing,” said Mr. Whaley. “There are a lot of folks who come, who need the people contact and the fellowship.”

There’s no preaching or formal worshipping as part of the meal, and while this Love Feast doesn’t follow the Book of Worship’s format, it does echo a traditional Love Feast theme: of sharing with those in need. Zion never accepts money for the meal, even from those who offer.

“It’s a completely free meal with no strings whatsoever,” said Mr. Whaley. “The whole idea is to express the grace and the love of Christ—which is freely given. You can’t attach a price to it.”

For the Rev. Donna Ware, pastor of First UMC in Hillsboro, Texas, the Love Feast was an experiment—a simple meal of donut holes, grapes and water shared as part of a recent worship service. Ms. Ware preached on the parable of the wedding banquet—about how the invited guests didn’t show, so the king gathered folks from the streets to enjoy the sumptuous meal.

“The Love Feast is a good way to talk about how God wants everyone to be at his table,” she said. “We’ve been fed, we’ve been invited; now we need to go out and invite others.”

Christmas tradition

Both of these variations fit the concept of the Love Feast, because it’s a very flexible form, according to Dr. Hawn, and because both echo the theme of sharing God’s abundance beyond the church’s walls.

But for most United Methodists in North Carolina, a Love Feast will always mean Christmas and the beloved traditions of the Moravian celebration.

Edenton Street UMC in Raleigh, N.C., has been celebrating a Love Feast during Advent since 1988. The earliest organizers turned for help to neighbors in the Moravian church, who gifted the church with a Moravian star to hang in the sanctuary. Edenton Street’s celebration has most of the features of the Love Feast at Brevard UMC—the special yeast buns, the beeswax candles with the red paper skirts, and the caps and aprons worn by the dieners (servers in German).

Edenton Street’s Love Feast takes place on the first Sunday of Advent, and year after year, always draws a big crowd.

“For us, it’s a way to start the Christmas season,” said church member Lewanna Stout. “It’s a family event—children 3 and up are invited—and it’s quite beautiful. And when it’s over, I always think, ‘Now I can start my Christmas.’”

An Informal Love Feast Survey

Please take a moment to fill out this Love Feast survey. What do you do when you celebrate the Love Feast?

Below are the responses as of 2:00 p.m. on 11/11/11 .




Why the Love Feast Matters

Perhaps you have worshiped for most or all of your life in a church that has never celebrated a Love Feast. Somehow you have ended up at this blog and you are wanting to learn more. Or maybe you are a part of a congregation that does celebrate the Love Feast (or lovefeast if you are Moravian, or love-feast if you are Methodist), and you have experienced dwindling numbers during the celebration, causing you to wonder “what are we doing wrong?” Or perhaps you have experienced powerful Love Feasts for years and do not feel any need to change things up. But if you have found such a treasure, have you shared it with others? Regardless of which category you fit into (if you fit into one at all), a powerful question emerges: Why does the Love Feast matter to Christians today?

I believe that we are witnessing a revival of the Love Feast in the church today. These Love Feasts are taking various forms. Some Love Feasts are meals for the poor in the community. For 22 years, members of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Rome, GA have organized a Love Feast on Thanksgiving Day to feed the hungry in the community, a meal complete with turkey, dressing, In 2009, more than 2,900 people were fed, and in 2010, pizza was added to the menu, donated by a local Pizza Hut. Rev. Terrell Shields shares the story of how the Love Feast got started: “Twenty-two years ago, my youngest daughter was in day care and the teacher was trying to get her class to eat all their food by reminding them of the homeless. My daughter came home and asked me if there was anything I could do for the homeless. My oldest daughter said, ‘Sure, Dad is a preacher, he can do anything,’ so that is when I decided to start the Love Feast” ( This is one example of how the Love Feast is emerging in churches today.

There are other examples on the mission field abroad of how ministries are sharing the love of Jesus through celebrating the Love Feast. For example, in their missionary work, Georgian and Winnie Banov of Global Celebration have made it a practice to celebrate Love Feasts with the poor and the lepers in the city dumps of Managua, Nicaragua and Hyderabad, India. Their practice is to share chicken meals with hundreds of people and to sing songs of celebration. Leaving the question of whether this is the best form of evangelism for another occasion, what is clear from the YouTube videos is a pure joy and love that may be missing in celebrations of the Love Feast in the U.S. And there are examples of other celebrations in missionary work in Brazil, where a recent Love Feast provided the opportunity for 50 people to be fed, participate in worship, and receive prayer and healing.

In some places, celebrating the Love Feast is not a meal to benefit the poor, but rather a meal in the context of Holy Communion. For example, this year Cove Presbyterian Church in Weirton, WV, celebrated a Love Feast on Maundy Thursday. Their Love Feast included a “simple meal of soup and sandwiches as well as the sacrament of Holy Communion” (link). And in Peterborough, Ontario, and emerging church called The Third Space celebrates the Love Feast once a month during their worship service, providing a meal and Holy Communion to those who are present. These two examples stand out to me because they evidence the fact that celebrating the Love Feast with Communion is no longer simply a peculiar Brethren practice.

Some denominations, like the United Methodist Church and Free Methodist Church, have a history of celebrating the Love Feast, although they are clear that the celebration does not include the Eucharist. While the practice of celebrating the love-feast (as they spell it) has dwindled in many Methodist churches, their worship books still contain worship service outlines for a love feast (Free Methodist and United Methodist). And consider Zion United Methodist Church in Grand Forks, North Dakota. For some time, this congregation has hosted a monthly Love Feast and has invited other churches in the area to participate with them in sharing a free meal and stories of testimony (more info later… see church site).

We should not forget the Moravians and the Brethren. The Moravian Brethren celebrated their first lovefeast after Holy Communion on August 13, 1727, when the spirit of fellowship and worship remained so strong that their leader, Count Zinzendorf, arranged for food to be provided to the worshipers in the church building. Soon the lovefeast became a Moravian tradition, and it was the Moravians who shared their lovefeast with John Wesley in 1735, leading to its emergence in the Methodist movement. A Moravian lovefeast is primarily a service of song and prayer, often without a sermon. The service does not include the Eucharist; rather, coffee and sweetened buns are most often served to participants, and the meal is open to all people. Moravians today often celebrate a lovefeast on August 13, as well as on other important days in the Christian calendar. Since 1965, Wake Forest University has a tradition of celebrating a Moravian lovefeast every Christmas. If you want to catch a glimpse of a large Moravian lovefeast, check out this slide show from WFU.

Finally, those in the Brethren tradition can make a legitimate claim for having the most contemporary experience celebrating the Love Feast, dating back to their first celebration in Schwarzenau, Germany in the late summer of 1708. For over 300 years, the Brethren have celebrated a Love Feast that includes feetwashing, an agape (love) meal, and Communion. Two other actions, the holy kiss and the deacon’s visit, have also historically been related to the Love Feast, although many contemporary Brethren congregations have adapted or eliminated these actions. As a member of a Church of the Brethren congregation, this is the Love Feast tradition with which I am most familiar. More than a few Brethren in recent years have expressed concern that participation in the Love Feast is dwindling. It seems that this expression of worship and obedience is struggling to be “owned” by younger Brethren.

I hope that this brief overview of celebrations of the Love Feast has shown that the Love Feast, while perhaps experiencing challenges in those groups with the most experience celebrating it, is in reality experiencing renewed interest across the broader church. How might those of us with a rich heritage celebrating the Love Feast share our experiences with those who are passionate to embrace this celebration of the early church? What might those who are new to the celebration have to offer to us who may have become settled in our understanding of the Love Feast?

What seems clear in our current context is that it is futile to argue that there is only one legitimate way to celebrate the Love Feast. Just as in the early church, where celebrations of the Love Feast/Eucharist differed throughout the Mediterranean, so too will congregations and denominations today experience a diversity of Love Feast celebrations. While recognizing this diversity, are there any themes which might be central to most celebrations of the Love Feast?

I believe that we can find five central themes/disciplines at the heart of the Love Feast: submission, love, confession, reconciliation, and thanksgiving. I will only briefly explain these here; I have done so at greater length in my book Recovering the Love Feast. First, submission. When we celebrate the Love Feast we ought to be formed to submit to God and to one another. One powerful way to practice submission is through feetwashing. When Christians wash feet, they obey the command of Christ to wash feet in John 13:14 and they submit to one another in humble service. Second, love. Most everyone knows that Christians are supposed to love God, one another, to love strangers, and to even love our enemies. And obviously the Love Feast should be an opportunity to show this love to others. One of the ways that this love is expressed powerfully is through table fellowship, through sharing food together. Christian Love Feasts should be opportunities to eat a substantial meal together in a context of worship. Third, confession. By confession, I mean the broad biblical understanding of confession, which includes confessing our faith (confessing that Jesus is Lord), confessing praises to God, and confessing sin. Too often we focus on only confessing sin, and thus neglect the broader importance of confession for the people of God. Fourth, reconciliation. When we come together to celebrate the Love Feast, we bring our baggage with us. Celebrating the Love Feast ought to give us the opportunity to find reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. This was the underlying purpose of the holy kiss, or the passing of the peace. Shifting cultural mores that have eliminated the holy kiss should not also cause us to lose sight of the importance of reconciliation in the Love Feast. Fifth, thanksgiving. A Love Feast ought to be an occasion for giving thanks to God. In other words, a Love Feast should be a joyful celebration. I have been to several Love Feasts that seemed to be more of a somber historical reenactment of the Last Supper. One of the best ways to give thanks is to celebrate the Eucharist, which literally means thanksgiving. Celebrating the Eucharist/Communion in the context of a full meal helps to remind us that this is how Jesus instituted the practice. I seriously doubt that he intended the practice to later be substituted with a wafer and a sip of wine/juice. In addition, when Communion is a part of a service that includes a full meal, the meal can be opened to all people, regardless of religious conviction, while the Eucharist can be reserved for only those who have committed their lives to Christ and the church. I believe that this provides a nice solution to the challenge of being inclusive with Communion.

The Love Feast matters because people today are longing to know and experience the love of God. The Love Feast matters because people are looking for authentic ways to worship and love one another. Submission, Love, Confession, Reconciliation, and Thanksgiving. These should be at the heart of the Love Feast. Comments?

Brethren Love Feasts

This post is an invitation to those from the Brethren tradition to share stories of how the Brethren celebrate the Love Feast. Please feel free to share stories, resources, ideas, challenges, or blessings. I pray that we may grow in our knowledge and experience of the Love Feast, which forms us in Christian discipleship and draws us into the presence of God. I’ll post some stories later…

A Canadian Love Feast… thethirdspace

During a recent internet search I discovered another community that celebrates the Love Feast monthly… The church is based in Peterborough, Ontario, and their webpage states: “Here at The Third Space we may not have it all figured out. We may not have it all together. We may not even know what ‘it’ is. But this is a safe place to explore Christianity. It’s a safe place to get to know Jesus.” Check out their recent post on the Love Feast…

Recovering the Love Feast – Flyer

For any who are interested in learning more about my recent book, Recovering the Love Feast, please check out the publisher’s flyer here.

Also, you can browse through the book on the website.

A Love Feast in Brazil

Check out this story of a Love Feast held recently in Brazil.

“This week we had a Love Feast for the people in the small slum area beside our house. It was beautiful!! About 50 people showed up, and we fed them, celebrated them, loved them, and prayed for them. The Lord healed several headaches and a demonic manifestation of anxiety. There were flocks of little children we invited, and they’ve been coming back for more love (and games!) every day since the feast.”
Quotation from

The Top Eleven Love Feast Resources

Having spent several years researching the Love Feast, let me offer a list of 11 important resources for those who wish to learn more.
11. Beahm, William M. The Brethren Love Feast. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1959.
10. Taussig, Hal. In the Beginning was the Meal: Social Experimentation and Early Christian Identity. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.
9. Witherington III, Ben. Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007.
8. Jewett, Robert. “Tenement Churches and Pauline Love Feasts.” Quarterly Review 14, no. 1 (1994) 43-58.
7. Baker, Frank. Methodism and the Love-Feast. London: Epworth, 1957.
6. Smith, Dennis E. From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.
5. McGowan, Andrew. “Rethinking Agape and Eucharist in Early North-African Christianity.” Studia Liturgica 34 (2004) 165-76.
4. Ramirez, Frank. The Love Feast. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 2000.
3. Stutzman, Paul Fike. Recovering the Love Feast: Broadening our Eucharistic Celebrations. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011.
2. Keating, J. F. The Agape and the Eucharist in the Early Church: Studies in the History of the Christian Love-Feasts. London: Methuen, 1901.
1. Cole, R. Lee. Love-Feasts: A History of the Christian Agape. London: Charles H. Kelly, 1916.