Profound Encounters: The Love Feast and the Old German Baptist Brethren


  • Tony Walsh Centre for the Study of Irish Protestantism, Maynooth University



Old German Baptist Brethren, love feast, autoethnography, narrative inquiry, Pietism, Anabaptism, ritual, preparation, footwashing, Lord's Supper, holy kiss, Communion, relationship


The author uses an autoethnographic and narrative approach, based in a postpositivist research framework, to describe and explore the love feast as it is observed among the Old German Baptist Brethren. The "love feast occasion" constitutes a site of prime spiritual and communal significance for members of the group, who represent the largest Plain or Old Order expression of the Schwarzenau Brethren. The occasion, taking place over a full weekend of services, communal meals, informal time for fellowship and "Youngfolks" activities is hosted annually by each district or congregation (as well as being held at the group's Annual Meeting at Pentecost). Its essential feature is a lengthy service held on the Saturday evening that reenacts the central events of Jesus's last meal with his disciples in Jerusalem, prior to His betrayal and death. Discrete but interlinked elements of this highly ritualized service involve preparation, footwashing, a communal fellowship meal, an exchange of the holy kiss and sharing in the bread and wine of Communion. The deeply symbolic and highly ritualized event constitutes an occurrence in which members see themselves as renewing their connection with God, their mystical relationship with fellow members and with the central emphases of Brethren teaching.