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What is a Moravian Lovefeast?

2011 December 10
by Linda

The Moravian lovefeast is a service of song at which a simple meal is served to the congregation.  This meal, usually a bun and coffee, is an act of fellowship.  It is not a sacrament, or a substitute for Communion.

The Lovefeast, begun by the Moravians in 1727, is a revival of the Agape Meal of the early Christian church.  Almost any special occasion is appropriate for a lovefeast.  They are
held to celebrate important festival days, to honor guests, to recognize a congregation’s milestones, to bid a farewell to neighbors moving away, or to bind the church community into a spiritual unity when this need was felt.

There is usually singing during a lovefeast, either an extended anthem by the choir, a series of hymns sung by the congregation, or the verses of a single hymn separated by readings carrying forward a particular theme.

Lovefeasts in Moravian churches are usually held in the sanctuaries, with dieners (servers) bringing in trays of mugs and baskets of buns.  All of the serving takes place while the hymns are being sung.  The spirit of the service is one of devotion and dignity.  When the whole congregation has been served, a grace is prayed in unison.  Then, while the choir sings, the congregation partakes of the spiritual fellowship of the lovefeast.   At Christmas lovefeasts, lighted beeswax candles are passed to each person.  These have red crepe ruffs shielding the hand
from melting wax.

Today, churches of many denominations have adapted the Moravian lovefeast to their own use to address similar communal spiritual needs.

In essentials, unity;  in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love.    Moravian Bishop John Comenius, 17th Century


 Martin Luther had not been born when John Hus, Roman Catholic priest and rector of the University of Prague, thundered against the corruption of the church and cried out for  reform.
Tried for heresy, condemned and burned at the stake in 1415, Hus is reported to have cried, “I shall die with joy in the faith of the Gospel I have preached.”

After years of persecution, in 1457 the peasant followers of Hus formed a church, calling it Unitas Fratrum—Unity of the Brethren.  By the end of the 16th century, the Brethren were the dominant Protestant church in Bohemia.  But after the Thirty Years’ War broke out, many of their leaders were executed and the group went underground for the next 100 years.

During this period they found a patron, a Saxon count, Nicholas von Zinzendorf, on whose estate a group of Moravian refugees settled in 1722.  They established there a community called
Herrnhut—the place God will guard—and here developed some of the customs which today are hallmarks of the Moravian Church, including the lovefeast and the practice of standing (rather than kneeling) to receive the elements of communion, continuing their Reformation Protestant witness.

Long before the great wave of Protestant missionary activity in the late 18th century, the Moravians had established missions all over the world; today there are reported to be three times as many Moravians in the world mission churches as there are in the home churches.

Moravians founded the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania(1740) andWinston-Salem (Old Salem),North Carolina(1766).

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