This Sunday evening at 8 pm, Wake Forest students, faculty, and staff (and some community members as well) will gather in Wait Chapel for the Lovefeast, one of the most cherished holiday traditions on campus. The official description of the event is at the end of this post, but indulge me in a little reminiscing and editorializing. And bookmark this site if you want to watch the livestream (it isn’t as good as being in person, but better than nothing!)
I remember well being a student and being really stressed out about finals, but it was such a release and a joy to take an hour and a half off and go to a beautifully decorated chapel that was full of all the reds and greens of the Christmas season and hear (and sing!) so many of the carols of my childhood and experience peace and tranquility and the magic of 2,400 people gathered in one place with joyful hearts. I always left the chapel feeling serene and happy – which is exactly what you need when you have finals starting the next day. Once I went to my first Lovefeast, I knew I wouldn’t want to miss another one. As a matter of fact, the semester I was abroad, my best friend and I were really chagrined that we had to miss it. It’s that special.
Some basics: here’s how the evening works. The entire Quad is covered in lumniaries, which makes for a tremendously beautiful sight. A very, very large Moravian star hangs at the entrance of the Wait Chapel. If your students are not from Winston-Salem and drive around at night or go downtown, they will see a lot of these Moravian stars on houses and street lights. They are the de rigueur decoration of our town.
When you arrive at Wait Chapel, you are given a beeswax candle and a program, and you find a seat. Consider arriving early if you want your choice of seat. Opinion is split as to whether it is a better view at the front of the chapel or the balcony; if you are at the front you can turn around and look upward for the candlelight portion, but if you are in the balcony you get to watch the darkened chapel become ablaze with light. A Moravian brass band plays carols during the time the crowd is arriving.
The program typically includes prayers (Christian in tradition for sure, but as ecumenical as possible), remarks (this year by our awesome provost and alumnus Rogan Kersh (’86)), and wonderful music by our concert choir, handbell choir, and flute ensemble and our organist. The music is astonishingly good, a credit to our music students and faculty.
Then there is a time when everyone sings Christmas carols together. Dieners (rhymes with wieners) come out with baskets of Moravian buns, which are essentially like hamburger buns with a hint of sweetness and nutmeg, and coffee (sugared and with milk). When you get yours you don’t eat it, rather you rest your bun on top of the napkin on top of your coffee cup (to attempt to keep the coffee warm). Once everyone has been served, you say the Moravian blessing (“Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be and bless these gifts bestowed by Thee. And bless our loved ones everywhere, and keep them in Your loving care.”) and eat and drink together.
Following the meal, the Chapel is darkened, and from the altar the dieners each light their beeswax candle, and they proceed to light the first person in each row’s candle. You turn to your neighbor so your candle can be lit, then you turn to the opposite side to light your other neighbor’s candle. It is amazing to watch the light grow as each successive row is lit. And the beeswax candles – also a Moravian tradition – smell divine when they are all lit.
Everyone stands to sing Joy to the World, and raise your candles high for the last stanza. Following a benediction, everyone goes peacefully into the night to the Quad and the luminaries. Hopefully with a fuller heart and a calmer spirit and with a great deal of love and affection for all.
This is a beautiful tradition – one your students will miss desperately 2 or 3 or 5 or 25 years after they graduate. Particularly if your student is a freshman and he/she is doing the first round of college finals ever, your Deac might not feel like he/she can spare the time, urge him or her to go anyway if this sort of service would appeal.
The Lovefeast is described as follows on the Events Calendar:
“The Lovefeast is sponsored by the University and celebrates one of the unique traditions of the Moravian community in Winston‑Salem. The Quad is lined with luminaries, the Chapel is adorned with Christmas decorations, the concert choir and Moravian band are featured, traditional Moravian coffee and buns are served, and beeswax candles are provided to all who attend.
At this year’s 49th lovefeast the speaker will be Wake Forest University Provost Rogan Kersh and the service will feature music from the University Concert, Flute, and Handbell Choirs as well as Don Armitage, University Organist.
Can’t make it in person? Watch a livestream of the event here: http://new.livestream.com/wfu
A lovefeast is a service dedicated to agape, or Christian love, considered the greatest of virtues. A lovefeast seeks to remove social barriers and encourage reverence and respect for the legitimate rights of all people.
The Lovefeast at Wake Forest
Moravian student Jane Sherrill Stroupe ’67 organized the first Wake Forest Lovefeast in December 1965. 200 students gathered to celebrate the traditional meal. Since then, the Wake Forest Lovefeast has grown to be the largest Moravian-style lovefeast in North America, and one of the favorite features of Wake Forest tradition.
The Wake Forest Lovefeast consists of a sweetened bun and creamed coffee. It is served to the participants by dieners (German for servers). During the meal, music is offered by the Wake Forest Concert Choir, Handbell Choir, Flute Choir, and the Messiah Moravian Church Band. During the service of song and scripture reading, handmade beeswax candles decorated with a red paper frill are distributed to each worshiper. The candles are lit while the worship space is darkened except for a large illuminated Moravian Advent Star for the singing of the final hymns.
The Origins of the Lovefeast
The first lovefeast was served in Germany on August 13, 1727, following the renewal of the Moravian Church. The Lovefeast is not the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is styled after the common meal partaken in love and fellowship by the early church (described in the book of Acts) prior to their celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”