Warren County churches prepare for Watch Night service
Published 4:00 am Friday, December 31, 2021
COVID-19 and weather have forced some churches in Warren County and other areas to cancel or delay following an ages-old tradition of awaiting the new year with prayer and asking God’s blessing during special services.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the service, known as Watch Night, can be traced to the early 18th century in Moravian churches, when churchgoers began marking the occasion with a vigil to reflect on the past year and consider what was coming in the new year.
The service gained significance among African-Americans on Dec. 31, 1862, when slaves in the Confederate states gathered in churches and private homes the night before President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was to be signed. The slaves stayed awake all night, waiting for news that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued and they were legally free.
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While the historic significance of the Emancipation Proclamation remains when Watch Night is discussed, there are other reasons why the tradition remains.
For some, Watch Night now carries a more religious meaning as they prepare to greet the new year. But concerns over the COVID-19 and its most recent variant, the Omicron variant, plus the possibility of severe weather on New Year’s Eve have forced some area churches to cancel services out of concern for their members.
At least one local church will hold its regular service in a modified version.
Pastor Linda Sweezer of House of Peace Worship International said her church will again have a virtual service from 10 p.m. to midnight streamed on the church’s Facebook page, Instagram and YouTube.
“We have what’s called a Prophetic New Year’s Eve Service,” she said. “We get a word from the Lord for the new year and we share that with people.”
Sweezer said she prepares a calendar each year, “and I share the word that God has spoken to me about the new year,” she said. “It’s a particular scripture for the year and we have a thought for the year about what God is going to do.”
The service, she said, provides an alternative for Christians to celebrate the arrival of New Year’s Day.
“It’s an option to be able to see the new year in not with parties and drinking, but spiritually being able to pray and thanking God for the old year and asking his blessings for the new year,” Sweezer said.