Love feast is perhaps the most sacred and treasured of the Brethren ordinances. The very name suggests its purpose, a gathering to celebrate the love we have for one another. Such a ritual is always needed “where two or three are gathered” (Matt. 18:20), for just as surely as God is present among us when we gather together, so too is the possibility of conflict.
The 2016 election season was painful, raw, and emotional. It was in that season of division that staff at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center (Keezletown, Va.) sensed a call to bring people together. After all, if the people of God cannot find any unity under which to gather, then what hope is there for the world? If those who follow the Prince of Peace cannot wash one another’s feet, then who will?
Participants were invited to gather after the polls closed on Election Day. Whether they voted Democrat, Republican, independent, third party, write-in, or not at all, everyone was invited. Glenn Bollinger led the service, which included the traditional feetwashing, fellowship meal, and communion. People from all across Shenandoah District took the time to gather to make one choice together, the important choice of unity in Christ.
Where do we go from here? Love feast cannot just be a onetime event, and it cannot be limited to just one district. An “Election Day love feast” is a choice we must make every day.
At times in our history, Brethren elders would go door to door visiting members of their congregation to see if there was any dissension among them. I’m not advocating for a return to the annual visit, but there is something to be said for the seriousness with which our Brethren ancestors maintained their relationships with one another. Sometimes, love feast would even be postponed until disagreements could be worked out!
We always will have disagreements with one another in the church, but if we can continue to wash one another’s feet—literally and metaphorically—then the church will continue to be the light of the world.
I can’t help but be overcome by the vision of what is possible if Christians have the reputation of being the folk who made different choices in the voting booth on Election Day, but still washed one another’s feet all year long. As we sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” may this be said far and wide about the Church of the Brethren.
Tim Heishman and his wife, Katie, are program directors at Brethren Woods in Keezletown, Va.