Tomorrow, my church, Circle of Hope, will host its regular love feast service. I’ve never been to a Circle love feast before, but from what I gather, it will be a time of community service, meal-sharing, testimony, and fellowship. In fact, my wife Katie and I will be making a covenant with the church (what other congregations might call “becoming members”). We’re pretty excited about this.
In honor of tomorrow’s gathering, today’s Photo Friday celebrates the traditional Brethren in Christ love feast service. Our image depicts a mid-twentieth century love feast held by the Robinson Ridge, Kentucky, congregation. Notice how the “tables” bearing the love feast food are in fact pews pushed together. Ingenious.
Here’s what church historian Carlton Wittlinger has to say about the historical Brethren in Christ love feast:
The most important service was the love feast held at least twice a year in the spring and fall. On this occasion Brethren fellowship and brotherhood culminated symbolically and practically. Members from other districts often traveled long distances, sometimes hundreds of miles, to enjoy and contribute to love feast occasions.
A typical “feast” began on Friday evening or Saturday morning and continued until Sunday noon. Both members and non-members shared fellowship meals at the place of meeting. On Saturday evening large crowds of community non-members often assembled with the Brethren for the pre-communion supper. . . .
The day services were preparatory for the evening feet washing and communion. In these preparatory services members shared experiences and heard expositions of the fourth chapter of Ephesians and the eleventh chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. These traditional love-feast passages spoke directly to concerns about church order, unity, and obedience. Ministering brethren placed much emphasis upon preparation for coming to the Table of the Lord. Members were exhorted to examine themselves and to make any confessions required to bring their lives into conformity with God’s will.
The high point of the love feast was the Saturday communion. When the evening fellowship meal ended, the non-members took back seats while the feet-washing service proceeded around the tables. Here, too, the communicants received the bread and wine . . .
While tomorrow’s celebration at Circle of Hope will look considerably different, I imagine it will proceed with the same spirit of solemnity and joy, while emphasizing the importance of community. I’m looking forward to it.
You can learn more about love feasts in Wittlinger, Quest for Piety and Obedience (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1978), 84-87.