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Love-feast

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The love-feast was a communal meal, usually traced to the Agape of the Early Church which, in turn, may have had its roots in Jewish feasts and had close similarities with the daily common meal of the Essenes. NT passages linked with the Agape include Acts 2:42, 46, 1 Cor. 11:18-34 and Jude 12. The Moravian Brethren in Germany, in the 1720s, revived this practice in the form of a common meal of worship and celebration. Almost certainly John Wesley was introduced to it through his contact with the Moravians. He recounts a moving Love-feast held at Fetter Lane on 1 January 1739.

Wesley explained the origin and purpose of the Love-feast in Methodism in a letter to Vincent Perronet in December 1748 (published in 1749 as A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists). Early Methodists celebrated the Love-feast with 'a little plain cake and water', together with singing and testimony. Admission was by class ticket or by a note from an itinerant. Monthly Love-feats gradually gave way to quarterly, six-monthly and eventually annual ones. Sometimes they were held in conjunction with a Quarterly Meeting. They were led by an itinerant, or occasionally by a local preacher, but only if specifically authorized by the Superintendent minister.

The Love-feast continued in all the various branches of nineteenth-century Methodism, notably among the Primitive Methodists, who held quarterly love-feasts well into the second half of the century. (Bourne and Clowes had both been converted at a love-feast.) But it began to wane toward the close of that century. This was because Eucharistic practices became more fixed in Methodist worship, revivalist services were on the decline and there seemed to be less need for it as more set worship patterns were established. A number of two-handled 'loving cups' have survived from the early years of Methodism.

Quotations

'In order to increase in them [members of the Kingswood society?] a grateful sense of all His mercies, I desired that, one evening in a quarter, all the men in band, on a second all the women, would meet, and on a third both men and women together; that we might together "eat bread", as the ancient Christians did, "with gladness and singleness of heart". At these lovefeasts (so we termed them, retaining the name as well as the thing which was in use from the beginning) our food is only a little plain cake and water. But we seldom return from them without being fed, not only with the "meat which perisheth", but with "that which endureth to everlasting life".'

John Wesley, Letter to Vincent Perronet, 1748, section VI.5

Sources

  • Frank Baker, Methodism and the Love Feast (1957)
  • Adrian Burden, 'The Lovefeast in Methodism', in Epworth Review, 15:2 (May 1988) pp.36-43
  • William Parkes, 'Watchnight, covenant service and the love-feast in early British Methodism', in Wesleyan Theological Journal, 32:2 (Fall, 1997), pp.35-58
  • David M. Chapman, Born in Song: Methodist Worship in Britain (Buxton, 2006), pp.142-50

Entry written by: HMG
Category: Subject

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