Eighth Street Baptist Church will host a Watch Night service Saturday at 10 p.m. The church is located at 215 S. 8th Street in Temple. Participating churches will also include Victory Baptist Church and Macedonia Baptist Church.
The Rev. Roscoe Harrison, pastor of Eighth Street Baptist Church, said Watch Night services have been a tradition of his church and churches across the country for many years.
In many Christian denominations, Watch Night services are held late on New Year’s Eve and end after midnight. The service provides the congregation with an opportunity to come together and pray for the approaching year.
These services have additional significance and history in the black community.
On Dec. 31, 1862, services were held in black communities in both the Union and Confederate states. Black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and private homes to await the news that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been enacted. When the clock struck midnight, all slaves in the Confederate States were legally declared free.
“What happened was that the slaves on Dec. 31, 1862, stayed up all night long, singing songs, praising the Lord, because they knew freedom was at hand,” Harrison said. “And, of course, freedom came Jan. 1, 1863, because that’s when the Emancipation Proclamation became law.”
Though it took several years for every slave to be released, black people have gathered annually on New Year’s Eve for more than 150 years to remember the first Watch Night, also called “Freedom’s Eve.”
Harrison said this year’s Watch Night service will be a service of praise.
“We’re not only praising the Lord for our freedom, but we’re also paying respect to our ancestors,” he said. “Our ancestors came out of slavery, and we are trying to keep the memory of our ancestors alive. Always remember, too, that our ancestors had a very, very strong faith in the Lord, because they went through many hardships in slavery. And so this is our way of saying that we remember what they went through, that we appreciate what they went through, and we actually stand on their shoulders, because they are the ones that encouraged us to become who we are and what we are today.”
Harrison said the service will be cleansing, but lively. He said there will be singing, prayers and personal testimonies about what the year has been like. He said these testimonies usually involve health, family or finances. The sermon will be delivered by the Rev. Willie Robertson, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church.
“…When the clock strikes twelve, that’s when it ends,” Harrison said, “and that has been a tradition down through many, many years, because at twelve o’clock on Dec. 31, 1862 it became Jan. 1, 1863, and the slaves were free.”
Harrison said the Watch Night service provides an opportunity to start anew with a new year.
“We are anticipating a good 2017,” he said.