How Did YWAM Love Feasts Begin?

In 1971 at YWAM Lausanne, there were a couple of serious accidents on Sunday afternoons. When Loren and Darlene Cunningham sought the Lord as to the reason, they understood Him to be saying He would restore His protection when there was a new commitment to His holiness, especially concerning Sabbath observance.

There were a few other key influences during the same period.

One was a visit from two sisters of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Darmstadt, who were surprised at the unruliness of mealtimes. They suggested that meals should be times of peace, quietness, and relationship.

Another teaching from the sisters that deeply marked us was their emphasis on never letting the sun go down on one’s anger. Before going to bed, each one of them would check with the Holy Spirit to see if forgiveness should be asked of anyone else in their community. And they would write notes making things right, and slip them under the person’s bedroom door.

This teaching fit perfectly with a teaching of Joy Dawson’s message on “The Sin of Achan” (Joshua 7), that the sin of one person can prevent the Lord’s blessing on the community. We were so hungry to meet with the Lord at each Love Feast, that everyone would take time to seek Him on Friday afternoon to ask if there was any unconfessed sin in their lives, especially anything hindering relationships. And on a nice day, you would see people sitting two-by-two on the front lawn, asking forgiveness of one another and praying together.

And the Lord honoured these small steps of obedience, and met with us powerfully as we made time and space for the Holy Spirit at the Love Feast.

Reona Peterson-Joly had been teaching Orthodox Jewish children. She shared how these families observed the Sabbath: the house was cleaned from top to bottom to purge it of leaven; there was no work on the Sabbath day; the Sabbath began the night before with the best meal of the week, and most of all, there was a total focus on the Lord.

Another key influence at that time was Joe and Judi Portale’s return to the base from Czechoslovakia. There they participated in a 250 – year old Moravian tradition: the ‘love feast’, which consisted of passing around bread and telling each person what they meant to them, and how they loved them.

The Cunninghams proceeded to restore the Sabbath by adapting the Jewish traditions to YWAM Lausanne:

No work on Sunday — so the noon meal was usually cold, to reduce the kitchen work.
No sports or hard play — this wasn’t a legalistic rule, but an outworking of the commitment to ‘turn your foot from your own pleasure on the Sabbath’.
The Sabbath was a day of quiet, rest, walks in the forest, and concentration on the Lord.
To prepare for the Sabbath, we had a love feast on Saturday evenings.
The tables were beautifully decorated with candles, centerpieces, and flowers. The best meal of the week was prepared, everybody dressed up, and we set place cards so people wouldn’t always sit next to their same friends all the time.

There was a sense of expectancy and holiness that whole day. Students and staff both prayed for hours during the afternoon for the love feast. People would go and knock on each other’s doors, to confess things to one another and ask forgiveness. Nobody wanted to be an obstacle to the Lord’s meeting with us that evening.

The children also had their own special meal with decorations, but it was earlier so they could be put to bed and the parents could be free to fully participate in the love feast.

Each week a different group would take responsibility for serving everyone else. Sometimes there were special songs and music but it was oriented toward worship, not entertainment. At the end of the meal, the love feast leader gave a meditation on one aspect of the character of God. Then we went straight into a time of worship, still seated around the tables.

The worship was not directed from up front, anybody could lead out in prayer, read a passage of Scripture, start a song, etc. The worship would last at least an hour, or even two. Nobody wanted to leave. We waited upon God together, in His Presence. In other words, it was a vertically, and horizontally, oriented meal.

YWAM Lausanne learned to worship God during the love feasts (because as late as 1974, we didn’t know how to worship yet, we had ‘singing’).

From Lausanne the love feast spread to other YWAM bases, then in 1974 the Cunninghams took it to Hawaii, and it went around the YWAM world. Later, as Jannie Rogers has said, “The god of the weekend stole it away.” He’s pretty powerful …. and it’s true, it was a tremendous amount of work. The hospitality crew would spend most of Friday to prepare the tables, and they prayed about the seating, even which singles to seat together (really!). Just folding the napkins took ten people a full hour. As base leader, I took the whole of Friday afternoon to prepare the meditation for the love feast.

In more recent times in YWAM, ‘love feast’ has come to mean any meal that’s a bit different from the normal ones. Such as the ‘love feast’ we attended at one base which consisted of a buffet, then everyone sharing their most embarrassing experience. No worship, no mention of the Lord; and the Holy Spirit didn’t even visit that one.

Fun nights are great. Most bases could use more of these kinds of evenings, they’re tremendously important in community-building. But let’s not call them ‘love feasts’, OK? Throughout the history of the Church, that term has meant a community meal which is lived in true fellowship and in the presence of the holiness of God.

Loren and Darlene did a great job of adapting the Biblical and Jewish Traditions to the YWAM culture of the early 1970’s. Now we need someone to re-adapt them for postmodern youth. What could a love feast look like for Millennials? It should be different from what we had going for those years in Lausanne, but it would of course include the emphasis on beauty, fellowship, solemn joy, and the holy Presence of God.

When you receive the vision from Higher Up, please invite me once. I’d like to see what it looks like.

Love Feast Beginnings: Thomas A. Bloomer, 1998;
Printed February 23, 2005
2019 UofN Reference Guide. Copyright © 2005 by YWAM/UofN;
Revised 2015, 2017 - Page 128

The History of Lausanne


The Lord led Loren and Darlene to begin YWAM’s schools in Lausanne in order that we might pick up some pf the mantles that had fallen to the ground here: hospitality, Christian university, nonformal education for sacrificial ministry exemplified in the school of Antoine Court, and teaching the nations. This 1989 video is an introduction to these domains.

One mistake; the original bishop’s residence was the smaller building seen toward the end of the video; the fortress seen at the beginning was built centuries later.

An omission: around the feet of the statue of Justice there are four human heads, representing the Pope, the king, the emperor, and the sultan. The statue was done by a French Huguenot refugee, to emphasize the truth that all people are under the Law and subject to judgement, and that the powerful are not exempt.

Tom Bloomer, Burtigny, July 2019


Father’s Table

Hey Friends, below you can hear my message given at the community meeting in Harpenden, UK in May 2019. I shared how the Lord wove together hospitality, generosity, love feasts, and Sabbath observance to give us incredibly strong foundations in the early days. And how those foundations are now crumbling . . . and also the hope that we can get them back.

A Crisis of Leadership

I did this summary to highlight some of the problems of our  mission in 1998-99.

The good news is, we took the right fork in the road in 2002-2003, and
we’re headed in the right direction.

Link to full dissertation available here (PDF).

This article is a summary of a Ph.D. dissertation: “Formative Educational Experiences of Experientially-Qualified Leaders”, copyright 1999 by Thomas A. Bloomer.

A crisis of leadership exists in the world. Many agree on the need for better leaders, and even on what their qualities should be. A recent development seen in government, the Church, and especially in business, is that leadership no longer rests on formal qualifications, such as diplomas or academic degrees. The practitioners have come to agree with
the theorists, that leadership development is not helped by formal academic study. What counts are results, the bottom line, and people everywhere wanleaders who can produce.

But the question then becomes, how are these leaders developed? If formal education doesn’t really help, what does? Research has not shown any direct links in leadership with heredity, social class, or specific personality traits.

Since YWAM was one of the first missions which has no education requirement for its leaders, YWAM’s leaders are a good group to study to answer the question, How do people who are not educated for leadership come to be leaders? YWAM has been incredibly innovative over its past 40 years, and another question was, do YWAM’s leadership development practices favor innovation?

All 35 members of YWAM’s Global Leadership Team (GLT) were interviewed in August-September 1998 using an ethnographic research strategy, and the answers were systematically analyzed and summarized.

When asked how they themselves because leaders, almost all said that they became leaders by being put into leadership. They also said that they were trusted, believed in, encouraged, and released. Other important factors mentioned were the calling and enabling of God, and role models.

Then other factors were asked about. When prompted, many agreed that suffering experiences, family, and YWAM community were important to their leadership preparation. Surprisingly unimportant to most were spouses, local church experiences, and mentors. Leadership theory was confirmed here: formal education had almost nothing to do with YWAM leaders becoming leaders.

When asked how they work now with younger leaders, a variety of different strategies were noted, varying with the gifting and personality of each one. Most of these strategies were nonformal, and they could have much potential if followed up, written down, and multiplied throughout the mission. But systematizing and intentionally multiplying these experientially-based lessons does not seem to be one of the strengths of this kind of leader.

The answers given lined up well with the factors that favor innovation in organizations: relationships, trust, freedom of action, strong leadership that is not authoritarian, and a high tolerance of risk. And another question revealed that most of the GLT were visionary leaders focussed on releasing young leaders.

However, less than half said that they consciously looked for ways to give leadership to young leaders, even though that was how they were prepared. Most did say that they consciously encouraged young leaders whenever they could. But overall, YWAM leaders do not seem to have fully grasped the value of the way they themselves were released.


Although the mission’s values seem to have been impacted by the experiences of the leadership, and some of its policies as well (such as the DTS requirement and structure), its practices have not always been shaped as much by these formational experiences. When asked specifically, most GLT members said that the kind of leadership preparation experiences they had had were not always available to others in the mission, and also that it was harder to become a leader in YWAM now than it was when they first came in.

This statement by one senior GLT member was chilling: “If you go to some YWAM bases, you will never become a leader.”

Although a minority of the GLT was positive about trends in YWAM that still release young leaders, most recognized that every symptom of an aging organization that stifles creativity can be found in YWAM: departmentalization, hierarchical structures, unclear or slow decision processes, turf-conscious leaders, increasing relationship problems marked by backbiting and suspicion of others, refusal to accept responsibility, greater divisions between leaders and staff and staff
and students, increasing distance between policies and values and actual practice, conflict suppression, risk-taking either avoided or exaggerated, excess personnel in some places and a cruel lack in others, tolerance of incompetence, unclear goals, overcontrol, overcentralization, resistance to accountability, low motivation, personal stagnation, and obsolescence of products and processes.

Paul McKaughan, head of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association in the USA, had this compliment, and question, for YWAM: “It is probably the most significant seed bed for leadership in the Christian movement today… So many people of vision now in pastorates and other leadership positions have been impacted by and have come out of that ministry. It
is this that makes YWAM one of the most influential movements in our Christian world today. The question is, can they sustain it in the 21st century?”

And the answer to that sobering question, from the mouths of YWAM’s Global Leadership Team, is “No.” Unless changes are made, the processes already at work in our mission will lead us irresistibly toward increasing fragmentation, stagnation, and ineffectiveness.

If radical changes are made, we could still fulfill our potential of becoming a truly transformational global mission.