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Watch Night services to be held in local churches

Watch Night services are late-night Christian church services traditionally held on New Year’s Eve and ending after midnight. The services are opportunities for people to come together and review the passing year and prepare for the New Year through prayer and resolve.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, originated Watch Night services in 1740. The services included singing, prayers, testimonials and scripture readings.

Watch Night services have added significance and history in the African-American community, said Elijah Shafah, pastor of Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Troy.

Shafah said many slaves were said to have gathered in churches on New Year’s Eve or Freedom’s Eve 1862 awaiting the news that the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln had become law.

“Slaves and free blacks were watching for midnight to come around,” Shafah said. “The Emancipation Proclamation would represent their physical freedom. They were waiting to celebrate and to thank God.

“Today many African-American churches celebrate Watch Night as the beginning of the New Year with the Lord.”

Shafah said Watch Night services include testimonials, praise and worship songs and a sermon.

“A Watch Night service usually has a prophetic message that embodies the breaking away, the changing over or the crossing of the guard to better ways of living,” he said. “The service acknowledges that God has blessed us but also that He is not through blessing us. The service is reflective but also prophetic.

“At midnight, all persons gather around in prayer as we enter the New Year.”

Several Troy churches will come together for the Watch Night service tonight at St. Paul. Pastor George Gilchrist of First Missionary Baptist Church will bring the message.

A Community Watch Night service also will be held at New Hope Holiness Church in Brundidge.

The service will begin around 10 p.m. with testimonials and prayers for the community, said Lytelia (Missy) Berry, a member of Union Missionary Baptist Church.

“The Watch Night service is an opportunity for us to come together to pray for our community,” Berry said. “We will have special prayer for the kids in our community who are caught up in negative influences. We will prayerfully ask for the re-enforcement of positive behavior for your kids.

“We will hear testimonies and gather and talk about what we can do to make things better in our community in Christ and through Christ.”

Berry said following the giving of the Word, those in attendance will welcome the New Year with prayer and praise.

The Watch Night services are open to all who will come.