New Year’s Eve Watchnight services are quite popular in many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. Church members are encouraged to come to the service so they can pray in the new year. What better way is there to start the new year than fellowshipping and praying with fellow Christians? the pastor asks. This is a rhetorical question because church members are expected to be in attendance no matter what.
Typically, in the churches I pastored, the New Year’s Eve service started around 9:00 pm and lasted until just after midnight. Families with young children were expected to bring their youngsters to the service. If the children were too tired to stay awake, parents were encouraged to let them sleep on the pew. Imagine being a parent of children who normally went to bed at 8:00 pm. On this one night, you were expected to keep your children up so they could “experience” praying in the new year. Needless to say, there were plenty of cranky children (and parents) at the service.
While each New Year’s Eve service was unique, there was a program of sorts. Following the food, fun, and fellowship methodology, each service would have a time when church members shared a communal meal. Usually, this meal was a potluck. After eating we would gather in the church auditorium to watch a movie. One year we watched the Bob Jones classic, Sheffey. Another year we watched the rapture thriller A Thief in the Night.
After the movie was over, it was time for the fellowship part of the service. Church members would give testimonies about what God had done for them over the past year. Often, these testimonies were quite emotional, as church members focused on the wonders of salvation and how merciful and kind God had been throughout the year. While no one was “required” to give a testimony, not giving one meant that you didn’t have anything for which to thank God. Most church members, even those who rarely spoke in public, gave a testimony.
Around 11:00 pm, I would preach a short sermon, exhorting church members to do great exploits for God in the coming year. One year, I had every church member write down spiritual goals for the upcoming year. These goals were then put in a sealed envelope, only to be opened at the following year’s New Year’s Eve service. Once I completed my sermon, we would sing songs to prepare our hearts for praying in the new year. A few moments before the clock struck Midnight, every able-bodied church member would kneel at the altar and silently start praying. After fifteen minutes or so, I would begin to pray out loud, signifying that the prayer session was over. We would then arise from our knees, embrace one another, and wearily return to our homes.
Once the Gerencser family became larger, it became increasingly difficult to deal with our children during the New Year’s Eve services. Other families were facing similar troubles, so I decided to do away with the service. Not one church member complained about us NOT having a Watchnight service. In later years, we would invite church members to our home on New Year’s Eve to play games.
Do you have any stories you would like to share about attending a New Year’s Eve Watchnight service? Please share them in the comment section.
One reason for having a New Year’s Eve service was to keep church members from ringing in the New Year in the manner of the “world.”
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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