By LINDA M. LINONIS
Some Valley churches continue the tradition of the Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve, adding their own interpretation and updating for these times.
The origin of this service revolves around Dec. 31, 1862, when black community members gathered at churches and homes to wait for the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law Jan. 1, 1863.
The document freed slaves in the Confederate States of America. And it led to the enactment of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which proclaim that African- Americans and other minorities cannot be discriminated upon due to race.
The Rev. Dr. Lewis Macklin, pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, said a Watch Night service has taken place at the church for 60 years. “The idea was to ‘watch in’ the Emancipation Proclamation,” he said.
This year’s service, which will start at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the church at 505 Parkcliffe Ave., will be celebratory in nature and include singing and testimonies.
“It’s an opportunity to reflect and celebrate what God has done in the lives of His people in the past year,” the Rev. Mr. Macklin said.
The pastor said he usually includes a stanza from the Negro national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which says, “... felt in the days when hope unborn had died.”
The service, he said, is one of “renewal” and “hopefulness.” It recalls the resilience and strength of those who came before and the hope for a better life.
Pastor Keith A. Neal of Christian Bible Baptist Church, 2369 Oak St. Ext., said its Watch Night service continues the congregation’s custom of fellowship. He said worship brings the members together and socializing at the church reinforces that bond.
“It will be a celebration of what God handed down in 2013,” he said of the service scheduled at 10 p.m.
“We’ll be together in worship, praise and fellowship,” Pastor Neal said. The service also will include testimony of how God has worked in individuals’ lives. “We believe it’s important to share that,” he said.
Pastor Neal said he will refer to the Mark 8:34 passage: “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, ‘Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’”
Pastor Neal, who has served Christian Bible Baptist for four years, is a sergeant at Trumbull Correctional Institution. He said a “love of people” and inspiration from the Rev. Gary Frost, former pastor at Rising Star Baptist Church, moved him to answer the ministry call.
“I’m in the people business,” he said of his ministry. “There are so many lost souls.”
At New Bethel Baptist Church, 1507 Hillman Ave., the Watch Night service will be at 10 p.m. The Rev. Robin Woodberry, assistant pastor, said the service has two purposes. “It sets the tone for the new year,” she said, “and ends the old year.”
Prayer focuses will be confession and penitence, thanksgiving and praise, and supplication and petition. The choir will sing between each prayer, and the Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor, will offer a meditation followed by an altar call.
The Rev. Dr. Mrs. Woodberry said the service is well-attended, attracting as many as 500 people. “It’s my hope that people will feel the need to have a relationship with the Lord — and more than once a year,” she said.