Methodist History: The What and Why of Love Feasts

At some of the oldest Methodist churches in the U.S., you might see a three-handled cup on display. These large vessels are not early communion cups, they're part of a different church celebration called the Love Feast. Dale Patterson with the General Commission on Archives and History tells us that Love Feasts were common in the early days of Methodism in America.

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United Methodist churches worldwide celebrate communion regularly, but there was a time when pastors had to travel long distances to reach churches so instead of communion members had a gathering known as a Love Feast. There were even special vessels to use in those early days, explains church historian Dale Patterson.

Dale Patterson, General Commission on Archives and History: "If you ever see a cup displayed with three handles, it was probably a Love Feast cup. Methodists practiced a rite that we call the Love Feast. It has its roots way back. Wesley bumped into it through his contact with the Moravians."

Today some communion services like this one at Peace Tree United Methodist in Memphis give us an idea of what those early Love Feasts might have been like.

Dale Patterson, General Commission on Archives and History: "What was it? It is the class or the local church community getting together and sharing water and bread. I would take a drink of the water. I would give it to you, the next person sitting next to me, and I would say a thank you of some kind. I might say a prayer. I might say a blessing. And I would pass that to you and then you could take a drink, turn to the next person, pass it to them, share good news with them. It was a way of helping build community. The Love Feast is relational. It is me sharing with others, with you, how God's grace has been working in my life today. So it's very different in meaning, in tone, in purpose. The Love Feast helps us share that life which Wesley felt was so important. Christian life needs to be a shared life. It's a life that, I live the spirit and I share with my friends and family in the community. It's community building. We as Methodists are still famous for our potluck suppers, are we not? Which is also still a way of sharing God's grace and goodness to us."

The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting notes from the history of the denomination. Watch more videos.

Communion at some churches today looks like a love feast. This video contains footage of communion at Peace Tree United Methodist, a house church community near Memphis, Tennessee.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458.

This video was first posted on September 14, 2017.