Akron: Flashback - December 22, 2012 & the Moravian Christmas Vigil

There were a few things about Christmas celebrations this year that were noteworthy, but I was too wrapped up in things to blog about them. I'm going to catch up on those over the next little while with some flashback posts.

As per the title, this is about the Moravian Christmas vigil. I was told one morning, at the morning coffee break, that we really should try to get to one of the Christmas vigil services at the Moravian church in Lititz. "The music is good," I was told, "and they have a Love Feast." I'd heard a little bit about this phenomenon, and I was intrigued.

The first step was getting tickets. It's not that admission is charged to this, a worship service, but simply a recognition that the building has limited capacity, and this allows you to reserve a spot. Seating is unassigned - they just issue X tickets per service (of which there are six, if I remember correctly). When I called the church office, I was told that they were out of tickets for each of services that we would have been able to attend. "But we can put you on the waiting list." I agreed, thinking that this was a very long shot.

The next day, I got back from lunch to find that the church had called whilst I was away to say that two tickets were now available for one of the services. I called back to lay claim to them and we picked them up the next day.

Now, the church - it's old, as you might guess, and built in something resembling Colonial style. It has definite architectural interest. The sanctuary seems wider than it is long, with a balcony wrapping around three sides. All of the pews had a dividing wall bisecting their width. And in front, hanging from the very high ceiling, was a 110-point Moravian star, lit from within.

We sat relatively close to the back, just out from under the rear balcony. Said rear balcony was occupied by a choir and a small orchestra, in addition to the organ. (Audience/congregation sat in the side balconies). A six-voice children's group sat up front in the alcove at the back of the platform, and the pastors sat on the platform proper.

The service began with a prelude of orchestral and organ pieces. The service itself was mostly music - a lot of congregational singing, and some choir/children's choir/orchestral pieces. Most of the carols were ones I hadn't heard before, but they were familiar enough in style that I could sing along. We sang a number of them as a lead-in to the Love Feast.

The Love Feast... what it is is this: it's like a celebration of Communion, except that instead of wine, there is a cup of coffee (fairly traded, decaf, with half-and-half) or chocolate milk; instead of bread, a Moravian sugar cake - a rich sweet bun with an indent that holds extra sugar and cinammon. One passes on one's preference for coffee or chocolate milk to the person at the end of the row, and a male diener (server) passes down the appropriate number of appropriately-filled mugs. A female diener passes napkins and a basket of sugar cakes; the basket is passed to the divider at the middle of the aisle, and then, as it is passed back to the outside, each person takes a sugar cake. All the while, the congregation is singing. Once everything has been distributed, the pastor says a few dedicatory words, and the choir sings while the congregation eats. Then there's more congregational singing while the mugs and napkins are collected.

There was yet more singing, one of the pastors had a short message, and still more singing. They made good use of lowering the sanctuary lighting and increasing and decreasing the illumination of the Moravian star at significant points. Finally, the dieners came out again, carrying trays of lit beeswax candles. The trays were drilled to hold the candles upright, and each candle wore a little frill of tissue paper. These lit candles were passed down the pews until everyone had a candle, and in the last verse of the last song, we held them up high. (It says something about me that my first thought on seeing the dieners enter with the candles was "ooh, pretty!" and my second, immediately following, was "ooh, fire hazard!" I am informed that there were people at the end of each aisle with blankets for the purpose of smothering any outbreak of flames, but still, it makes me antsy.)

It was a lovely service, and I rather like the idea of having a Moravian star now. I don't know how I would get it home safely, though, as it's rather bulky and fragile at the same time. My sweetie thinks it would be interesting to celebrate a Love Feast in our home congregation when we get back.