Keeping that Watch Night tradition
“Look where God has brought us,
look how far we’ve come,
we’re not what we ought to be,
we’re not what we used to be
Thank You, Lord, thank You, Lord,
for what You’ve done!”
The choir would sing back in the days as the congregation reflected on the year past and awaited the New Year at the historical and traditional Watch Night Service.
Back then, the gathering in the American Black Church held on December 31 was done to symbolise the historical fact that on that night in 1862, during the Civil War, freed blacks had congregated at specific places including churches to pray as they awaited the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation law by President Abraham Lincoln.
The Emancipation Proclamation legally recognised that the Civil War was fought for slavery.
Today, churches recognise Watch Night Service as a crossing-over ritual, some even preaching of the service as a Christian obligation.
Reverend Teddy Jones of the Jamaica Theological Seminary and pastor of the Grace Missionary Church, said while he doesn’t believe that attending the service is a must for Christians, it is a nice tradition.
According to him, “You can’t mandate a service of corporate worship. [It’s for] Those who sincerely desire to spend the first moments of the New Year in worship, having closed the old year in thanksgiving and reflection on what has been and seeking guidance for what lies ahead.”
However he noted that, as with all good things, Watch Night Services can be exploited or misused.
“There are those who attend out of mere superstition that is to say they want the New Year to catch them in church, but once that ends they return to their ways of carousing drunkenness, etc. [There is] No true desire to worship or serve God,” he said, adding that for them attending the services becomes a vain repetition, a mere ritual.
Reverend Jones noted that the annual end of year service at his church will begin at 9 p.m. on Monday and that all are invited, despite reason.
He told Family & Religion that there lies the possibility that these people who attend out of mere superstition may come with the intention of maintain their old life but leave a new being.
“They can get convicted and respond to God's call during the service, so I don't mind them coming even with an unhealthy motive: I'm glad they are there. The Word that they hear can germinate sometime down the road,” he said.