Monday, December 10
It was the second Sunday in Advent and I was irritated to say the least. That afternoon, my parents had announced we were heading back to church in the evening for a special service. In the days before VCRs, not to mention DVRs, this was serious stuff. It meant I would miss the only showing of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and would have to wait an entire year before I’d get the chance to see it again, not easy for a ten-year-old to swallow.
Then it turned out I was being forced to sacrifice a cherished animated Christmas special to attend a Moravian lovefeast. That made it even worse. Even at ten I’d been to my share of lovefeasts. Growing up in Winston-Salem, which has a Moravian church on every other corner (there were twenty-seven the last time I counted), they are hard to miss. This is a service of thankfulness dating back to 1727 where the celebrants share a symbolic agape meal made up of a potato flour bun and coffee. At forty-four I still don’t drink coffee. At ten I didn’t even like coffee ice cream. I sank into a sullen petulance.
When we got to church that evening, it was packed. Now this is no mean feat. The Wake Forest Baptist Church meets on the university campus in Wait Chapel, a combination chapel/municipal auditorium. The place is a barn, seating around 2500 people. On a Sunday morning there might be a couple of hundred people; that night, every seat was taken. It turned out the church and university chaplain’s office were doing the service jointly to allow the students to experience something I took for granted. As the music started and the university concert choir began to sing, I perked up. This clearly was going to be one of those moments in life that is quite special. I was so taken up with what was going on that I even managed to make myself choke down a little coffee when the cups came around.
While Moravians hold lovefeasts throughout the year, the Christmas lovefeast features a candle lighting ceremony not unlike First Baptist’s Christmas Eve service. Beeswax candles wrapped with red crepe paper ruffles are passed to the participants, and at the end of the service, the lights of the sanctuary go out completely, and a person with a single candle passes the light. As the light spread that night brilliantly illuminating the sanctuary and the scent of the beeswax wafted through the air, it was like no lovefeast I had ever attended before. And by the time 2500 people lifted their candles into the air and sang Joy to The World even I didn’t need Little Cindy Lou Who to explain things to me. This congregation rising to lift the light of Christ’s promise to the world was the whole point of the season. And for every year afterwards until I moved away from home, I looked forward to that service with a childlike anticipation, pestering my parents if there was any suggestion we might miss it, even if it conflicted with The Grinch.
– Christopher Hendricks