Friday, December 13, 2019

The Moravian Lovefeast

by Denise Weimer
The Christmas season is one of times members of the Moravian Church celebrate with a lovefeast, a practice unique to their ecclesiastical tradition. It’s a beautiful time of song and fellowship, often candlelit during Advent. But who are the Moravians? Let’s answer that before we focus on the lovefeast.

The Moravians trace their roots to the protests of University of Prague Professor of Philosophy and Rector John (or Jan) Hus against the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. By 1517, the Unity of Brethren numbered at least 200,000. Following a period of persecution, Moravian families found refuge on the Herrnhut estate of Saxon Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. The people followed a simplified style of communal living until the late 1700s, when families began living together.

A revival in 1727 led to the Moravian Church becoming the foremost mission-sending organization of its time. With the view of reaching Native Americans, the church established settlements in Bethlehem and Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in the 1740s, and grew in America from there.

According to Customs & Practices of the Moravian Church by Adelaide L. Fries and Preserving the Past: Salem Moravians’ Receipts & Rituals, lovefeasts began under Zinzendorf as a service of solemn song. This was done in memory of the first disciples breaking bread together in Acts 2.

Children and non-members can attend a lovefeast. The service opens with prayer, and if there is an address, it is brief, detailing the importance of the day being celebrated. Apart from Advent, these might include the anniversary of a new congregation, a missionary occasion, or other high church dates.

The Moravian blessing is prayed in unison: “Come, Lord Jesus, our Guest to be, and bless these gifts, bestowed by Thee. Amen.”

In a quiet manner meant to not interrupt the singing, servers bring refreshments. Usually, men bring mugs of coffee or tea, while women bring baskets of slightly sweetened buns. The women may wear a version of the haube, the traditional head covering once worn by Moravian ladies. 

Moravian Lovefeast: Will and Deni McIntyre, Wiki credit

A recipe for traditional lovefeast buns includes a half gallon on sponge, two cakes of yeast, a half gallon of sweet milk, a half gallon of warm water, two pounds of sugar, three ounces of salt, and a little mace and cinnamon. The ingredients are mixed at night to be baked the next day. If you are ever in Old Salem, North Carolina, you can try these delights at Winkler’s Bakery.

Cream tallow candles tied with a red ribbon are often lit during the Christmas Eve lovefeast. Traditionally, congregants would carry the lighted candles home and place them in their windows.

Intrigued by the Moravians and their traditions? Journey with John and Clarissa Kliest, married for convenience by lot (another intriguing tradition!) to a Christmas celebration in Cherokee Territory in 1805 in my new novel, The Witness Tree (The Witness Tree on Amazon).

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for Smitten Historical Romance imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. Her contemporary romance, Fall Flip, and her historical romance, The Witness Tree, both released with LPC this September. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here:
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  1. The lovefeast sounds interesting. Thanks for highlighting it.

  2. Thanks, Connie! I'd love to attend one this season if I could! :)

  3. I've heard of this, but didn't know what it was. Thanks for the post. Now I know.