Like many, coffee is central to my morning. Sharing a cup with my wife is how we start every day. It fuels my writing, helps me on long drives and provides a conversation starter at my local donut shop.
But I never realized that coffee would be part of my religious life until I began attending Moravian services. During one weekend in early November, I found coffee to be the connection between two very different worship services; this is the tale of two coffees.
On Nov. 10, I was in Winston-Salem on a Sunday morning. Most of my many trips to North Carolina are during the week or the beginning part of a weekend, so I haven’t had many opportunities to worship in area churches. To make the most of this particular Sunday, I decided I would try to make not one but two services.
My first stop was Home Moravian Church for a special day in the life of the Home congregation—a lovefeast celebrating its 242nd anniversary.
When I arrived, I couldn’t help thinking I was in the center of Moravian culture and worship in the Southern Province. The Home Church Band was playing traditional chorales. I was heartily welcomed by ushers, several of whom wore lapel pins shaped like miniature Moravian coffee pots. I ran into friends and was introduced to new people, too. I took a seat up front with IBOC Board Member Jane Carmichael where I’d have a good view. Instead of taking photographs as I typically do, I decided to sit back and experience the service.
And what a service it was. I heard beautiful music by the children’s and adult choirs, brass ensembles and that amazing pipe organ. I was inspired by pastor Rick Sides’ sermon, a meaningful liturgy led by associate pastor Ginny Tobiassen and a near-full house of Moravian faithful. All in all, it was a very moving experience.
And then there was the lovefeast itself. While the choir and congregation sang, dieners in their white dresses and haubes and servers carrying baskets of buns and trays of coffee, served all in the congregation.
The coffee served at this lovefeast wasn’t your typical coffee shop java. No, this was a sweet, milky concoction that reminded me of how I took my coffee when I first started drinking it in college (I’ve since weaned myself from both milk and sugar in my coffee). I’ve heard about the tradition and art that goes into brewing the lovefeast coffee at Home, and the coffee didn’t disappoint.
Now, I know lovefeasts are more than just the coffee and the buns. They hark back to the spiritual awakening at the heart of the renewed Moravian Church, and this service celebrated nearly two and a half centuries of worship at Home. The combination of the coffee and bun, along with the majestic music and inspiring service, lifted my spirit and made me feel closer to God and the people around me.
But that’s only the first part of the story. Once that formal, magnificent lovefeast service at Home Church came to a close, I was on my way to a completely different Moravian worship—this time at a coffee shop in Winston-Salem’s art district.
On most days, Chelsee’s is a funky little place with great coffee on Trade St. On Sunday mornings, however, it is transformed into a place of worship and song as the home of Come & Worship, a fellowship started by the Rev. Brad Bennett and Bishop Sam Gray. These days, they hold two services, one at 9:30 and a second at 11:00.
I arrived at Chelsee’s while the 11:00 service was in full swing. Brad was in the middle of his sermon, to which the 30 or so people in attendance listened with interest. Not wanting to interrupt, I went to the counter at the back of the shop, ordered a large dark roast coffee (black) and sat in one of the folding chairs set up for the service.
Once his sermon ended, Brad and guitarist John Switzer led both traditional Moravian hymns and more contemporary material. That morning, Brad served communion, too. He donned his surplice, led the communion liturgy, then served the bread, then the cup, to those seated at the coffee shop tables. Like in communion throughout the Moravian world, we offered the right hand of fellowship prior to partaking.
While the prayers, the songs and the communion all felt very Moravian, the location did not. Customers are welcome to walk in at any time. The sounds of the bean grinder and espresso machine punctuated sermon points. But the fact that we were worshiping in a coffee shop did not diminish the spirituality nor the meaning of the service in any way. Instead, we were hearing the Word of God in a new way and a new place. Come & Worship represents a ministry that brings the Good News to people who might otherwise not be connected to a church, in a relaxed atmosphere that some find refreshing and comfortable.
As the service came to a close and Brad led the benediction, I reached down for my half-empty coffee cup and enjoyed the last of it. And that’s when it hit me…I had experienced two very different types of Moravian worship, both meaningful and spiritually uplifting, and both with the help of good coffee!
All of us at The Moravian Magazine wish you and yours a joyous Advent season and a blessed Christmas. We hope you enjoy this issue of The Moravian—I’d suggest enjoying a hot cup of coffee to accompany your read!
From the December 2013 Moravian Magazine