Imagining the lovefeast as a universal feast

Tonight and tomorrow night, millions of Jews will observe the Passover: a celebration of God’s deliverance from slavery. I’ve never been to one, tempting as family associations and food are. (I have, in my college days, had leftovers shared with me.) I’m OK having never attended a seder, and I would be just as happy to be invited into a Jewish home for it. I’m happy to be welcomed as a guest it and not be offended if it should never happen (my interest in haggadot and horseradish notwithstanding) because it isn’t my feast. I’m a Christian and not a Jew.

As a Christian, I recognize the liturgical and spiritual dependence of the Lord’s Supper on the Passover, and — at the risk of sounding anything but matter-of-fact — that’s good enough and close enough for me. And this is especially close to my heart as we approach Maundy Thursday, the one time in otherwise no-longer Christian Unitarian and Universalist churches that you might find it.

But it makes me think, too, the responsibilities Christians have when we do have, or share, or receive — the verbs are difficult — the sacrament at the table. A phrase I’ve seen Universalists use historically to invite others to the table is that it is open to all who see it “a privilege or a duty” so to do. Communion, at a basic level, is a matter (among other things) of Christian discipleship, and this is obscured when an invitation is made very broadly in the spirit of inclusivity. I’m not suggesting the table be fenced, but rather that the facts are disclosed to participants don’t practice something they didn’t intend. There’s a lot of subtext in worship, and that’s not a fair burden to put on the innocent. Especially if there are members of the congregation who have been attentively evangelized (see above.)

Better, I think, to revive or institute a service that, while coming from a theological point of view, is intended to be of equal access to all-comers. I think Unitarian Universalists like and create these services, but frankly they are often strangely named — anything with communion comes to mind, as my husband will tease me — or are liturgically awkward. Let me pitch for the Lovefeast, which has a quasi-eucharistic character, but has stronger focus on blessing and a real meal. (The Universalist drew from some of the Lovefeast-holding German sect, and in 1790 made its observance optional on all Universalists.) And which is not so owned widely known (except perhaps in areas with many members of Church of the Brethren) as to confuse newcomers. Or, use an agape meal form, but cast it as a Meal of Universal Blessing, where the form is one of blessing we ask to be given to ourselves and all others, and objectively state it is in addition to, and apart from the Lord’s table. Knowing I wasn’t overstepping, over-reaching or over-promising might be the real welcome some people need.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. A member of my church asked to co-lead this week’s midweek service with me; they are on Thursdays and he wants to do something on Maundy Thursday, as do I. We haven’t met to plan it yet, and your entry has given me an “aha”–the service is always preceded by a meal together, so why not combine them and make it a lovefeast?

    Any thoughts on what is true to a UU context, and a gathering that will include both Christians and non-, are welcome . . .

  2. I work for a non-UU church, and will not be able to go this year to my local UU church which has a Maundy Thursday service. The UU service has a basic design around a very simple meal of rice, bread, beans, and vegetables (some years there is also fish). A blessing is spoken over the food, and then we eat. Wine and bread is held in reserve for the conclusion of the meal. At the conclusion we read one of the Last Supper stories from the Bible, or the Feeding with the Loaves and Fishes. We break bread, share a cup of wine (juice available for children and others), and then quietly strip the table. The event is presented as being open to people of all faiths, who wish to celebrate the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

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