If you go back and ask my graduating class (1992) about what were some of their favorite moments on campus, I bet you a pretty high percentage of them would say the Love Feast. It forms some of the strongest memories of love, happiness, and goodwill – even though it happens right before finals. Please, please, please – urge your students to go.
The Love Feast is a carry over from the Moravians, who settled in Winston-Salem in the mid 1700s. At Christmas, they would hold a simple service of songs of the season, during which they would partake of a communal meal and the lighting of candles one by one.
Wake Forest began doing a Love Feast 47 years ago. Students, faculty, staff, and the larger community come to Wait Chapel. Upon arrival, they are given a program and an unlit beeswax candle with a festive red holder on it. People fill all of Wait Chapel, which is decorated beautifully for the season, including a giant Moravian Star.
The service begins with a welcome and there is music – lots of music, ranging from a brass band, handbell choir, concert choir, and sometimes other musical ensembles (such as a flute group). There are readings and a brief message, but most of the service is dedicated to listening to and singing beautiful music.
At the appointed time, dieners (rhymes with ‘wieners’) bring around trays of the communal feast: a Moravian bun (akin to a hamburger roll, only sweeter and with a hint of ginger) and a cup of coffee (sweetened and with milk). You can tell the long time Love Feast attendees, as they know to place their bun over the cup of coffee to keep it warm. Once everyone is served, the people are directed to begin eating their communal meal together.
There is a unity candle at the front of the room, and after the meal, the Chapel goes dark. That one candle is used to light candles of the dieners, who then go row by row, lighting the first candle. Once there is a lit candle in the row, that person turns to their neighbor and lights their candle, who then in turn lights the next person’s.
If you sit in the balcony, it is really amazing to see the tiny licks of flame move from person to person, gradually filling the whole Chapel with beautiful candlelight. It is magic and mystery and love all wrapped in one. At least it is to me. Once all the candles are lit, everyone sings Joy to the World, holding the candles high.
After the Love Feast, some students try to keep their lit candles alive as they walk back to their dorms. Everyone leaves happy and in the spirit of the holiday season. The Love Feast helps take some of the stress out of the end of the semester and pending finals – and reminds you that no matter what you are studying for or what you are worried about, you are surrounded by a community full of kind and caring people.
Please do urge your students to attend if you think they would like this sort of experience. It is my very favorite night on campus. For a look back at media coverage of last year’s Love Feast, it is online here.