What is a “love feast”?
After Pentecost, the earliest followers of Jesus met together daily to attend to the Apostles’ teaching, experience fellowship, break bread and pray. Each participant would contribute what they had for shared meals they referred to as “The Feast of Agape” or “the love feast.” Over time, the practice disappeared.
An outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the believers at Herrnhut, Germany in 1727 led the people to a long discussion of the miracle they had just witnessed, extending into the evening. Not wishing to break the deep sharing and reconciliation among the group, food was sent for so that the gathering of worshipers could continue to talk without having to break for meals. The love feast of the early church was reborn.
Today, the Moravians, who came to the United States from Germany bringing the love feast tradition, continue to celebrate it. Love feasts are a part of any particularly praiseworthy event. Worshipers sing hymns while serving one another. Dieners (German for “servers”) bring whatever the simple bread and drink might be for the occasion. In North Carolina, sweetened buns and sweetened coffee are typically served.
NCS Winston-Salem and the candlelight love feast
Because of the spiritual heritage of Moravian missionaries who founded Winston-Salem and the rich legacy of prayer of the NCS men, we sought a simple tradition to stand on the shoulders of our spiritual ancestors to celebrate the coming of Jesus. NCS held its first candlelight love feast six years ago at the River Birch Lodge, providing an experiential worship service around both receiving and sharing Jesus.
Each year Jay Helvey designates a team to organize and serve the candlelight love feast. A variety of local worship leaders provide our worship music. Dick Joyce and Bill Disher have been in charge of preparing and organizing the serving of both the love feast meal and the candles, as they have a personal connection to the Moravian Church. For the past two years, John Eller has read the scripture account of the birth of Jesus as a profound message while we “feast on God’s love.” Tejado Hanchel has done a masterful presentation of the candles, to be received as Jesus’ light – and shared as Jesus’ mission and shine to Jesus’ glory. Bill McClain and his sound crew have handled the audio. Finally, Eddie Schapira and Scott Gerding have graciously hosted us in the River Birch Lodge.
A unique candlelight love feast story
In 1999, we sent a mission team to a remote jungle village in Honduras, to help rebuild after Hurricane Mitch totally devastated the village. Moravian missionaries had brought the gospel to this village only a generation before. During the three week visit of home reconstruction, prayer and encouragement we became slightly concerned with the dwindling supply of coffee, sugar and flour.
On the last night’s worship, just before we were to return home, we experienced a surprise from the villagers. They presented us with a five-gallon hurricane bucket, filled with steaming, sweetened coffee and a tray of 40 large sugar cookies for us to celebrate a love feast. With only eight unbroken glasses in the entire village to use for serving coffee to more than 300 people in attendance, we thought there was no way for each person to participate. But God provided – and everyone shared what they could so that all could participate and be filled! We wept and embraced as we witnessed what God had in mind for a true experience of His Feast of Love.
The “spirit” of the love feast…and its ongoing role in the NCS organization
The love feast gives the men of NCS a reawakened experience with Jesus’ love that touches all the senses. This keeps it from becoming just another empty ritual as the traditional church itself has for many people.
NCS allows men who have been disillusioned with traditional Christianity to rediscover the biblical Body of Jesus, wherein “they held all things in common.” The energy to break bread together in homes and extend sacrificial “love” to one another - not only here, but around the globe - has been a great encouragement to those who have perhaps given up on church.
Being a part of the candlelight love feast each year allows that spirit to be rediscovered by long-term NCS members and discovered fresh by newer members. And it reminds us to make Christian fellowship a part of our lives – not just annually, but any time men gather in God’s name.