The lovefeast is a special kind of Moravian church service. The Moravians are Protestant Christians whose denomination was established in 1457 in what is now the Czech Republic. Heavily persecuted in the early years of their existence, they moved from Bohemia to GERMANY, and from there sent members to establish Moravian communities in the American colonies. The denomination’s official name is the Unity of the Brethren, or Unitas Fratrum in Latin. Moravians hold lovefeasts on holidays and other special days, such as Christmas Eve, Good Friday, church anniversaries, or mission occasions.
Moravian lovefeasts revolve around a small communal meal. The meal, usually composed of a sweet roll and coffee, should not be confused with the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion. Rather, the sharing of food and drink is intended to foster the growth of love and connectedness among members of the congregation. Moravian church officials trace the origins of the lovefeast back to the year 1727, when a group of Moravians attending a communion service in Germany felt an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Grudges melted away and arguments over religious doctrine gently resolved themselves, leaving participants with renewed feelings of love and appreciation for one another. Afterwards people celebrated with communal meals in one another’s homes. These historical events inspired the Moravian lovefeast. Some writers also note that these incidents recalled the fellowship displayed by the first Christians who shared their meals in common after experiencing the marvelous power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:46).
The Central Moravian Church in BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA, celebrates two lovefeasts at Christmas time. The first occurs on the first Sunday in Advent. The service begins with a hymn sung by the entire congregation and a prayer. Then several women pass through the church, distributing buns to the congregation. Dressed in old-fashioned lace caps called haubes, they are referred to as deiners, the German word for “servers.” The women are followed by male servers, who distribute mugs of coffee to the worshipers. When all have been served, the choir sings anthems and the congregation eats. More hymn singing follows the meal of bread and coffee.
The second lovefeast takes place on the afternoon of December 24. The Church gears this service towards children and their families. Sugar cookies and chocolate milk replace the buns and coffee at this service. The congregation and the choir alternate in singing Christmas Carols and hymns. The singing of an old Moravian hymn titled “Morning Star” constitutes the highlight of the musical program. Each year a child is chosen to sing portions of this hymn as a solo. To be entrusted with this role is considered a great honor. The congregation also chimes in on portions of this hymn. Then the servers distribute a lighted beeswax candle to every member of the congregation and everyone sings the closing hymn, “How Bright Appears the Morning Star” (see also CHRISTINGLE).