The Black Community
On This date in 1862 the first Watch Night Services were celebrated in Back communities in America.
The Watch Night service can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, Black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. At the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863; all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.
“Watch Night Service” in the Black Church in America symbolizes the historical fact, that on the night of Dec. 31, 1862 during the Civil War, free and freed blacks living in the Union States gathered at churches and/or other safe spaces, while thousands of their enslaved black sisters and brothers stood, knelt and prayed on plantations and other slave holding sites in America — waiting for President Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation into law. The Emancipation Proclamation legally recognized that the Civil War was fought for slavery.
There’s another explanation of the Watch Night Service. It is said that the slaves in the Old Suth would gather in desperation on the last night of the year to await news regarding which of them would be sold on New Year’s Day to satisfy their masters’ outstanding debts. Which is unlikely considering they would have no reason to wait for January 1st to sell slaves to pay off creditors.
The practice may have begun with the Moravians, a small Christian denomination in Europe held in 1733 on the estate of a German count.
On this day in 1770, America’s first-known “watch-night” service was held at St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
Watch Night services are a tradition started by John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church. In all honesty, he borrowed the tradition from Moravian Christians that used them as a late-night vigil for the faithful; however, as time marched on, John molded this into a New Year’s Eve service where Christians were invited to review the year, confess to sins and pray for the year ahead. These services remain in Methodist worship manuals as “Covenant Renewal Services.
What are you watching for on this 2016 – 2017 Watchnight?
From Christmas to Twelfth Night in Southern Illinois by John J. Dunphy