So what was worship like during the Methodist Revivals? Did they have hymn sandwiches using the Methodist Worship Book and Hymns & Psalms?
Surprisingly enough they didn’t, which might lead us to ask what are we expecting to achieve when we use those particular resources today. Instead they enjoyed contemporary music, outdoor camp meetings, extemporary prayer and perhaps the most neglected worship resource of all, the Love Feast.
The Revivals brought new life to the worship of the church, but at the same time, renewed ways of worshipping gave impetus to the Revivals.
The Love Feast has been part of Methodism from the earliest days, but has been ignored in this country for more than a century – about the same time that Methodism has been declining.
Wesley picked up the Love Feast from the Moravians, being so impressed with their calm Godliness on the way to America. However the Love Feast goes back to the very start of the New Testament Church.
The first Christians ate full meals together regularly. We read in Acts of the need for Deacons to serve in the daily distribution of food at the tables. We read in Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians how there were those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper by eating and drinking too much – presumably they were serving more than Mother’s Pride and Ribena.
These meals had a Eucharistic element to them, where bread and wine were formally offered. But they also had a Love Feast element to them, where food was shared and the hungry fed. Gradually the two elements separated until there were two events: the symbolic Eucharist and the Love Feast or “Agape”.
By the Fourth Century the Agape was officially banned (although it survived round the edges of the Empire for considerably longer). Part of the problem was that other mystery religions had their own Love Feasts, with a very different approach, which gave them a bad reputation.
Fourteen centuries later, Wesley reintroduced the Love Feast to the wider church, although ironically, the same kind of salacious innuendo was once again aimed at these “behind closed doors” events, where according to the propagandists, who knew what was going on?
Wesley’s Love Feast was nothing of the sort of course. But they were very exciting and helped fuel the Revival. His genius was his pragmatic ability to see what worked, and to go with it. In the Love Feast he saw an opportunity to deepen fellowship, to encourage testimony and to allow the Holy Spirit to work on each believer.
In 1739 he wrote in his journal:
~qMr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles were present at our love-feast at Fetter Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, inasmuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty we broke out with one voice: "We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord."q~
The experiential nature of the Love Feast comes through in Wesley’s words .But can we experience the same things today? I believe we can. I believe that the Love Feast can be part of our worship today, and that it can “raise the spiritual temperature” of a congregation. When the minister says she believes in God, we expect it, after all that’s what she’s paid for isn’t it? When the person in the pew next to me stands up and talks of his experience of God, then that is news, and Good News too.
A Love Feast is very easy to organise. You can find a free sample liturgy at www.voteforjesus.co.uk.
You will need:
Cake and punch (or whatever you decide) for the appropriate number of people.
Waiters to serve these out.
A theme to your Love Feast, whether seasonal, topical or Biblical.
A couple of people prepared to say a word (although you probably won’t need them)
A willingness to pray that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide.
Use lively modern hymns and songs, just as Wesley did and then have a shortened sermon. In it explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. Then send out the waiters and after everyone has started eating and drinking, invite testimony, prayers, Bible readings, songs or any other contributions from the floor. You may well be surprised at the first person to come forward.
If there are gaps, don’t be afraid of the silence. I found I was wrapping up things too early at first. Bite your lip and let the silence do its work. Afterwards, thank the people who participated.
There is always the danger that untrained, uneducated lay people may say something completely inappropriate and unchristian. However, I have yet to have this experience in a Love Feast. This compares well with what I have sometimes heard from trained, educated people in the pulpit….
So why not give it a try? As part of your acts of worship over a year, it can be memorable and meaningful.