LINK: UMC.org Home
Interpreter Magazine
Lighter Fare
Letters
Archives
Search Interpreter Magazine

Open Enrollment
Digital Interpreter


Resources
Hold a Prayer Service Celebrating God's Covenants
21st Century Africana Worship Resources
GBOD Worship: Watch Night/New Year's Eve resources
GBOD: Watch Night
Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2006 Archives > November-December 2006 > Watch Night services provide spiritual way to bring in New Year

Worshippers join in prayer during a Watch Night service at Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.
Watch Night services
provide spiritual way
to bring in New Year

by Joey Butler

The typical image of New Year’s Eve is a group of revelers with party hats and noisemakers, ringing in the new year with champagne and “Auld Lang Syne.”

But on that same night, churches, including a growing number of United Methodist churches, welcome the coming year in a different way — with a Watch Night service.

Methodism founder John Wesley originated Watch Night services in the mid-18th century, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal services. The original services were spontaneous prayer services designed to deepen the spiritual life of Methodists.

The service is loosely constructed with singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, and readings, including the Covenant Renewal service from The United Methodist Book of Worship (pp. 288-294).

There may be preaching or not, and the ritual may conclude with a candlelight procession from the church. Volunteers may take turns continuing quiet prayer in the sanctuary until dawn.

“In Methodist tradition, Watch Night was considered a time for recommitment,” said the Rev. Cynthia Wilson, an Atlanta-based worship leader. “The unity of the congregation was renewed, the covenant with Christendom was renewed, folks testified and sang.”

Wilson noted Watch Night services have special significance in the African-American community, where they date back to the days of slavery.

At the end of the year, owners tallied their property and often sold slaves to pay debts, Wilson said. “They didn’t know after tallying if they’d be separated.” New Year’s Eve was often the last night a family of slaves would be together.

Watch Night took on even more significance during the Civil War. When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was to take effect Jan. 1, 1863. Slaves sat up the night before, waiting for their freedom to arrive at midnight.

Today, it’s a time the church comes together to celebrate life itself. “As we say in the black church, it’s celebrating surviving dangers seen and unseen,” Wilson added.

“The service is always upbeat, folks rejoice in making it to the end of another year. There’s a time of testimony and sharing how we’ve progressed and been blessed.”

It’s also a safe alternative to a New Year’s Eve party. Attendees typically stay at the church that night, and the church hosts a breakfast in the morning.

—Joey Butler, managing editor, Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine

Resources

* The General Board of Discipleship’s Web site offers a number of Watch Night service resources, including an “Owlah” service, vespers and a vigil. Go to www.gbod.org/worship  and type “Watch Night” in the Search function.

* Covenant Renewal service from The United Methodist Book of Worship (pp. 288-294)

 




Click for a printer friendly version of this pageClick to email someone a link to this page


Site Tools:  Site Map |  Glossary |  Directory | Calendar  Content Tools: Email Updates | Syndication | RSS Feed

About UMC.org  |  Press Center  |  Jobs  |    Image Link Title Korean UMC