By Leslie E. Royal
Annually, African American churches look forward to Watch Night Service with much anticipation. Watch Night originated with the Moravian Brethren in 1733. Soon after, in 1740, John Wesley implemented this celebration in the mainstream Methodist church. Over the centuries, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches would celebrate as well.
According to tradition, this joyous occasion gained significance with black people beginning December 31, 1862. On the eve of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves gathered in local churches and private homes in Confederate states. It is said that the enslaved people stayed up all night waiting for word that they had been freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s decree.
“Watch Night is one of the few intergenerational cultural experiences of our past that we have been able to hold on to. Going into the new year, sometimes even on your knees in prayer is a sacred experience that places us all at the crossroads of our humility and humanity,” says Denisha DeLane, founder of Faith in the Bay. The digital outlet, featuring inspiration and entertainment news, is a site for all things faith and family.
“Many people apply their New Year’s focus to their congregation and ministry-role commitments. A clear vision from the pastor is healthy for the church and can unite the entire congregation on shared goals and outcomes.”
-Denisha DeLane, founder of faithinthebay.com
Today, Watch Night Service, held on December 31, allows contemporary African American churches the opportunity to thank God for the blessings of the current year as well as hear the vision cast by their pastors for the congregation in the new year. The Ashro Blog asked three African American churches, founded in the 1800s and are surely familiar with the rich history of this tradition, to share their plans for celebrating Watch Night Service. As you prepare for the New Year, consider visiting a church in your community. You are sure to be blessed by their ministry through song, dance, sermons, dramatizations, and other special sacraments.
“What began as a tradition among free and enslaved blacks to wait for freedom, has turned into a celebration of our faith and hope in Christ as we go from one year to the next.”
– Bartholomew Orr, Senior Pastor
Let’s Celebrate! Founded in 1882, this esteemed church has many enriched ministries, a church in Ghana, Africa, and various all-inclusive and empowering events for its congregation. They are committed to closing out the #YearOfFaith strong. The Watch Night Service will encompass two worship experiences featuring musical guests Kurt Carr and the Kurt Carr Singers. As they revel in the celebratory, culmination countdown to midnight, Pastor Orr will speak on the theme “Strong Faith/Strong Finish”. A special treat will include a pre-celebration reception at 7:00 pm and a post-celebration breakfast at 12:00 midnight.
Atlanta, GA 30303
“Our Watch Night Service is designed to celebrate what God has done over the past year and to proclaim that our God is able for the new year.”
– Rev. John Foster, Ph.D., Senior Pastor
Let’s Celebrate! Founded in 1847, this very distinguished church is home of the oldest predominantly African American church in the metro Atlanta area. In addition to is vibrant ministries for members, it partners with the local community through the Free Ride to Vote, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, Veterans Honors, and Big Bethel AME Saturday School Academy programs. The Watch Night worship service will encompass praise and worship, prayer, and reading of scripture. A unique aspect of the Watch Night experience will be a time of testimony in which members are encouraged to share, in their own words, what God has done for them. Following testimonials, Rev. Foster will preach the sermon for the evening. As the 12:00 midnight hour nears, the entire congregation will be invited to the alter for praying out the old year and praying in the new year. Breakfast will be served after the service.
“There’s no better place in a new year than in the house of the Lord!”
– Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III, Senior Pastor
Let’s Celebrate! Organized in 1866, this much revered church provides holistic care for members at every stage of life with its dedicated ministries, ChurchFIT program, Trumpet magazine, and small groups resources. Mt. Zion Baptist Church will conduct worship services at 5:00 pm, 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm CST. During these heartening and inspirational services, Bishop Walker will unveil the 2019 Vision of the House with his “All In” theme.
There will be countless Watch Night Service Celebrations taking place throughout the United States on December 31st. Some begin as early as noon for daytime service. Others begin at the traditional time of 10:00 pm and go on until midnight. Feel free to contact local churches in your area for times.
For another Watch Night Service experience take a look at this article:
Hillside International Truth Center Inc. Presents a Profound Watch Night Service
Want to learn more about the origins and importance of Watch Night? Explore the links below.
Seven More Watch Night Service Celebrations Around the Nation
- West Angeles COGIC, Los Angeles, CA, Bishop Charles E. Blake, http://westa.org/
- The House of Hope Atlanta (Greater Traveler’s Rest Baptist Church), Decatur, GA, Dr. E. Dewey Smith, Jr., www.houseofhopeatl.org
- The Church Without Walls, Houston, TX, Pastor Ralph Douglas West, https://churchwithoutwalls.org/
- Berean Christian Church DEKALB, Dr. Kerwin B. Lee, https://bereanchristianchurch.org/ and Berean Christian Church GWINNETT, Dr. Kevin B. Lee, https://bereangwinnett.org/
- Antioch MBC Oviedo, Oviedo, FL, Pastor Charles Jones, http://antioch-mbc.org/
- New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Lithonia, GA, Dr. Jamal H. Bryant, https://www.newbirth.org/, See website for transportation schedule.
- Word City Church, Warrensville Heights, Ohio, Dr. R.A. Vernon, http://wordcity.org/
Leslie E. Royal is a Travel & Fashion Contributor for Ashro. An international freelance writer, her articles have appeared in Upscale, ESSENCE, Black Enterprise, FORTUNE.com, and The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of How to Write and Self-Publish Your Book for FREE with Amazon’s CreateSpace (Amazon $9.95) and Leslie’s Lane The Book! (Amazon $14.95). Follow her on Instagram here.