Many of us have heard of or attended what Baha'is call the "nineteen day feast". While to some of us it isn't only food for our spirit but also for our hearts when sharing with our fellow friends, it would be helpful to see what this meeting is all about as well as to read some paragraphs from the Holy Writings.
The Nineteen Day Feast consists of various parts: devotional, administrative, consultation/suggestions and social. Let's explore each one:
1. The devotional part is where readings and prayers from the baha'i Writings written by Bahá'u'lláh, The Báb and 'Abdu'l-Bahá are shared. Some music and other forms of adoration may be incorporated into the program as well.
2. Administrative. It is here where the Local Spiritual Assembly gives the community a run down of events from the past Baha'i month, they also provide responses to previous suggestions given at Feast, announce upcoming events and bring the treasurer's report to share and consult.
3. Consultation is as its name suggests, a time where the whole community can discuss pending subjects and suggestions. Everyone is entitled to share their opinion and it is a space where people share their thoughts. After this, some suggestions are given for the Local Assembly to consult at their own meetings.
4. The social part is where we all gather together and mingle and when possible, share refreshments (nothing fancy, something simple is sufficient). A spirit of unity and love should fill the atmosphere not only amongst long time friends but also welcoming the new faces into our communities.
So, what do the Writings say about Feast. What is it and why is it so important? 'Abdu'l-Bahá says:
"It is my hope that this feast will be given on one day out of every nineteen, for it bringeth you closer together; it is the very well-spring of unity and loving-kindness." "As to the Nineteen Day Feast, it rejoiceth mind and heart. If this feast be held in the proper fashion, the friends will, once in nineteen days, find themselves spiritually restored, and endued with a power that is not of this world." Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 89, 91.
In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book), it says:
In the Arabic Bayan the Báb called upon His followers to gather together once every nineteen days to show hospitality and fellowship. Bahá'u'lláh here confirms this and notes the unifying role of such occasions.
'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi after Him have gradually unfolded the institutional significance of this injunction. 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasized the importance of the spiritual and devotional character of these gatherings. Shoghi Effendi, besides further elaborating the devotional and social aspects of the Feast, has developed the administrative element of such gatherings and, in systematically instituting the Feast, has provided for a period of consultation on the affairs of the Bahá'í community, including the sharing of news and messages.
...Shoghi Effendi in a letter written on his behalf further comments: Attendance at Nineteen Day Feasts is not obligatory but very important, and every believer should consider it a duty and privilege to be present on such occasions.
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 202)
There is a letter written by the House of Justice to the Hands of the Cause of God (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 244) where it says "that the Feast is opened with devotional readings, that is to say prayers and meditations, from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb and the Master..." This does make us think the devotional should be the first part.
We have found this Statement of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, in Bahá'í Meetings/The Nineteen Day Feast, p. 23: "In a general letter issued to Local Spiritual Assemblies several years ago, it was pointed out that the Guardian instructs that the Nineteen Day Feast be held according to the following program: the first part, entirely spiritual in character, is devoted to readings from Bahá'í Sacred Writings; the second part consists of general consultation on the affairs of the Cause, at which time the Local Spiritual Assembly reports its activities to the community, asks for suggestions and consultation, and also delivers messages received from the Guardian and the National Assembly. The third part is the material feast and social meeting of all the friends." (Compilations, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Baha'i Communities).
Also, there is this Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated January 23, 1985, to an individual believer, in an unpublished compilation, "The Nineteen Day Feast": "Regarding changing the order of the Feast, it is clear from Shoghi Effendi's instructions that the Nineteen Day Feast program should start with the spiritual part, and not with the social part, which includes refreshments, or breaking bread together. . . . However, if it is found that some sort of association among the friends or the serving of food and refreshments will be helpful, if this takes place at the outset, there is no objection to this practice, provided it is clear that it is not part of the Feast." (Compilations, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Baha'i Communities).
So, our understanding is that this can be done but NOT replacing the social part of the feast at the end.