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.

4 responses to “Wake Forest University’s 47th Annual Lovefeast

  1. Thank you for this exceptional insight into tradition. One note; Herrnhut is not in Moravia. It is in Saxony, established on the Berthelsdorf estate of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.

  2. My name is Tara and I am the children’s pastor at Bumc in Burlington,nc. I will be participating in my first Moravian love feast this a Sunday and came across your article. After reading I was shocked to see the words HerndonHigh School. I graduated from HHS in 97. When did you graduate?

    • Hi Tara, I hope you find the lovefeast to be a meaningful worship service. I graduated from Herndon High School in 1999, and in high school I was active with choir and Young Life.

      • I am very excited about it! Seems like it will be very powerful. You graduated the same year as my sister in law, molly Rowe. I was in women’s choral at HHS and my maiden name was Tara Amos. Thanks for your blog, it gave me great insight on this special event!

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