A New Year’s Eve Memory: Watchnight Service

A New Year’s Eve Memory: Watchnight Service December 29, 2023

A New Year’s Eve Memory: Watchnight Services

It’s been many years since I even heard of a church that held what was called a Watchnight Service. When I was a kid (1950s-1960s) most American evangelical churches, especially those in the Pentecostal-Holiness traditions, routinely held New Year’s Even Watchnight Services. What was that like?

We gathered at the church around 6:00 PM no New Year’s Eve and ate a potluck dinner together—all ages included. Everyone brought something from home. At about 7:30 PM we went to the sanctuary to watch a Billy Graham (or similar Christian) film. For example: “The Restless Ones.” Following that we took a brief break and then enjoyed a worship service with lots of singing and special music. Then, close to midnight, the Lord’s Supper. Finally, singing and praying at the stroke of midnight. After the service, many people went to others’ homes for a post-Watchnight Service fellowship time with desserts and conversation.

I never knew the origins of Watchnight Service or Easter Sunrise Service until much later. During my study of Pietism I discovered that these traditions were begun by Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravian Brethren. Some historian called him “the noble Jesus freak.” He was a leader of what some have called the “second reformation”—the Pietist Movement of the 18th century.

So many common traditions of American (and other) evangelical Christianity have fallen away that sometimes I feel like today’s evangelical Christianity (and here I’m NOT talking about politics) is pretty shallow, even inspid, compared with that in which I grew up.

Now don’t tell me these traditions were unique to my Pentecostal-Holiness heritage. They weren’t. Many of my close relatives were Christian Reformed and they also celebrated these traditions with their churches.

I have heard of Easter Sunrise Services held by some churches today, but it’s been a long time since I heard of a church that practiced a New Year’s Eve Watchnight Service.

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