A Guide to the Moravian Lovefeast
(Condensed from the article of the same title by James Boeringer in the Winter 1981 issue of the Moravian Music Journal)
We receive many inquiries from members of many different denominations about how to carry out a lovefeast. Dr. James Boeringer, director of the MMF from 1980-84, put together this information as a guide to those who are interested in holding a lovefeast.
The requisites for all lovefeasts are traditional simplicity and coherence. It is not a time for musical showing off, but for musical devotion, excellently and sensitively performed, with all of the texts strung together so as to deliver a message about God. Thoughtfully planned and carried out without self-consciousness, the Lovefeast can be one of the warmest communal experiences available to people. So here follow some plain and easy instructions about how to make one. Plan carefully, prepare and practice assiduously, and then relax and let the Spirit take over.
Words and Music
The Moravian lovefeast is a service of song at which a simple meal is severed to the congregation. This meal, usually a bun and coffee, is an act of fellowship. It is not a sacrament, nor a substitute for Communion.
The Lovefeast, begun by the Moravians in 1727, is a revival of the Agape of the early Christian Church. The service spread with the church throughout the world, and remains an important part of Moravian religious ritual.
Almost any special occasion is appropriate for a lovefeast. In the 18th and 19th centuries, they were held as many as fifty or more times a year to celebrate important festival days, to honor distinguished guests, to recognize milestones, to bid a last farewell to neighbors moving away, or to bind the church community into a spiritual unity when this need was felt. Today the Moravian Church holds fewer lovefeasts, but they were presented on similar occasions.
The ode, or text, of the lovefeast consists of individual stanzas or whole hymns chosen to carry forward a particular idea. For example, if the purpose of the lovefeast is to recognize the work of missionaries, hymns relating to mission work are coherently arranged. The hymn stanzas to be sung by the congregation are compiled and printed in a special leaflet which is given to each person. If the tunes are not well-known, the tunes are also printed.
The organist assures a continuous succession of hymns, moving smoothly from one to the other.
The choir sings at least one anthem of sufficient length to last during the time it takes for the congregation to eat a bun and drink a mug of coffee, i.e., five to ten minutes. Anthems may be used at other places during the service. The words to the anthems in the ode may also be printed so that the congregation can read them as the choir sings them. (Make sure you have the proper copyright permissions before printing words to any hymns or anthems!)
Ideally, to be a Moravian lovefeast, the hymns, chorales, and anthems should be Moravian, but other churches adapt their characteristic music to the framework. The key to fostering the appropriate spirit is simplicity.
In the Moravian Church there is a special corps of servers called "Dieners" (German for serve), whose responsibility it is to distribute the buns and mugs of coffee, prepared well in advance so that there is no interruption to the flow of service.
Buns are passed along the pews in baskets, each person taking a bun and passing the basket on. The mugs of coffee are carried on a tray and passed hand to hand by the occupants of the pews. Usually men carry the trays while women take care of passing the mugs to the pew occupants.
All of the serving activity, and the collecting of the mugs after the partaking, take place while the hymns are being sung. In a well-run lovefeast, the buns and coffee are distributed almost without being noticed by most of the congregation.
When the whole congregation has been served, a grace is prayed in unison. Traditionally the American Moravian Church prays "the Moravian grace":
"Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be
And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee. Amen"
While the choir sings an anthem, the congregation partakes of the lovefeast. This is done reverently, without hurry, and with an understanding on the part of the congregation of the significance of the activity: that in breaking bread together, we share a spiritual fellowship.
When the meal has been finished, the members of the congregation pass the mugs from hand to hand to the aisle, where the servers collect them, and carry them without interrupting the service to an anteroom. Then the servers may again join the congregation. The song service may continue after the meal for any length of time determined beforehand. If there is to be a collection, an address, or other activity, it usually occurs after the meal. At Christmas in most Moravian churches, lighted candles are distributed to the congregation after the meal. If this is done, this distribution is similar to the passing of the mugs of coffee.
Supplies and Accessories
The lovefeast meal is simple, and elaborate trappings are not needed. The usual food is a sweetened bun, sometimes placed on a paper napkin. Although any kind of pastry can be used if it does not produce dust, crumbs, or stickiness.
Coffee is now used as the drink at lovefeasts, but tea used to be served (an is still used in some places in Europe), and many other drinks can be used, from water to sangaree (a mixture of red wine or vinegar and water with sugar and spices).
Trays and baskets are used to serve the coffee and buns, and the Dienerssometimes wear special uniforms, the women in white with a white doily on the head, and the men with a long white apron wrapped about them.
The lovefeast is a simple, devout service which has had a great significance for Moravian for over two and a half centuries. In recent years other denominations have presented lovefeasts with success, many members of these churches discovering that the service can be deeply rewarding and meaningful. Much of the success of the lovefeast depends upon establishing and maintaining the air of devotion and dignity, which makes the unusual activity of "eating in church" not only acceptable but also significant. This is done through the choir of music; by the example set by the minister, choir members, servers, and leaders of the congregation; by the quiet efficient serving of the meal; and by impressing upon the congregation that the lovefeast is as much an act of worship as the regular Sunday service. If the lovefeast is entered into in such a spirit, it cannot fail to move the participant with its solemn dignity and spirit of fellowship.
We welcome inquiries concerning the lovefeast and Moravian music, and appreciates receiving copies of new lovefeast odes. Moravian anthems are available for loan from the Southern Province Lending Library, which is searchable through the "Library" page on our website.
The Lovefeast at Wake Forest
Moravian student Jane Sherrill Stroupe (’67) organized the first Wake Forest Lovefeast in December 1965. Two hundred students gathered to celebrate the traditional meal. Since then, the Wake Forest Lovefeast has grown to be the largest Moravian-style lovefeast in North America, and one of the favorite features of Wake Forest tradition.
The Wake Forest Lovefeast meal consists of a sweetened bun and creamed coffee, which dieners (German for “servers”) serve to participants. During the meal, music from the Wake Forest Concert Choir, Handbell Choir, Flute Choir, and the Messiah Moravian Church Band fills the air. During the service of song and scripture reading, everyone receives a handmade beeswax candle decorated with a red paper frill. A warm glow fills the chapel as the candles are lit while worshipers sing the final hymns.
The Origins of the Lovefeast
The first lovefeast was served in Germany on August 13, 1727, following the renewal of the Moravian Church. The lovefeast is not to be confused with the sacrament of Holy Communion, but is styled after the common meal partaken in love and fellowship by the early church as described in the book of Acts. This simple service provides an ideal setting for breaking human and religious divides.
Lovefeasts nourish the soul, give us pause and inspire. They transport us to sacred realms and add beauty to our often complicated lives. Wake Forest’s Annual Lovefeast can be captured in a single word – love.