Wednesday, December 31, 2014 @ 10pm. We will bring in the New Year with jubilation and praise, praying, shouting, and thanking God for allowing us to live and survive another year as we anticipate the fulfillment of our and our family's hopes and God’s promises in the New Year.
Watch Night—An Historical Perspective
Though some African American Methodists can proudly pinpoint the 1733 origin of the Watch Night tradition, Freedom’s Eve likely has the strongest link to the widespread celebration of Watch Night in several African American Christian churches. The first Watch Night service began with the Moravians, “a small Christian denomination whose roots lie in what is the present day Czech Republic” in 1733 on the estates of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf in Hernhut, Germany. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, picked up the tradition from the Moravians and incorporated it into Methodism as a time for Methodists to renew their covenant with God and to contemplate their state of grace in light of the second coming of Christ. Wesley believed that all Christians should reaffirm their covenant with God annually. He held Watch Night services between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. on the Friday nearest the full moon and on New Year’s Eve.
The first Methodist Watch Night service in the United States probably took place in 1770 at Old St. George’s Church in Philadelphia, a church of which Richard Allen, the founder of the African American Episcopal church, was a member. African American Methodists celebrated Watch Night prior to Freedom’s Eve be-cause Allen and other African Americans celebrated Watch Night Meeting services at St. George’s Church and also at Mother Beth-el African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.
While acknowledging the Methodist starting point, many African American Christians link their celebration of the tradition to December 31, 1862, “Freedom’s Eve.” After the Union Army was victorious at the Battle of Antietam on September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation that declared that all slaves in “any state or designated part of a state . . . in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Many blacks in the North and South as well as both free and enslaved blacks anxiously waited for Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to become effective on January 1, 1863. The Sunday before that “Day of Days,” Frederick Douglass expressed to his audience at Rochester’s Spring Street AME Zion Church his elation at “the glorious morning of liberty about to dawn upon us.”7 On December 31, 1862, Watch Night services occurred throughout the United States. Wide alert with anticipation, many blacks dared not and perhaps could not sleep throughout the late night hours because they wanted to watch “the night turn into a new dawn.”
As they watched, many slaves reflected on their hardships and toils, mourned the memory of their ancestors and loved ones who died in slavery, and exuberantly thanked and praised God for allowing them and their descendants to watch the night of captivity pass. Nearly one hundred and fifty years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, many African American Christians bring in the New Year with jubilation and praise, praying, shouting, and thanking God for allowing them to live and survive another year as they anticipate the fulfillment of their hopes and God’s promises in the New Year. Source: African American Lectionary