Watch Night Service Returns
After a year’s absence, thanks to COVID-19, the traditional Watch Night service will once again be held 10 p.m.-midnight, Friday, Dec. 31, at Macedonia Baptist Church, 608 N. Seventh St. Rev. Deori Newman, pastor of Ash Street Baptist Church, will preach the sermon. The service is sponsored by the Greater Abilene Ministers Alliance. The service, originally called “Freedom’s Eve,” commemorates the anticipation of the freeing of slaves on Jan. 1, 1863.
(Editor’s Note: Following is a reflection on the significance of Watch Night by Rev. Matthew M. Lubin, Sr., pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church)
By MATTHEW M. LUBIN, SR.
I haven’t been a Christian all my life, but I was brought up in the church, and for that I am grateful. The church I was brought up in was a Baptist church whose membership was predominantly African American. Every new year was brought in at church. My grandparents brought me to the Watch Night Service.
As a boy, it was different being in church that late at night. At the time I didn’t really think much of it, that was just something we did. What I did think about was the gumbo, fireworks and shooting guns (the trifecta) that was going to take place after Watch Night Service. Those three things were something that my grandfather, father and uncle did with me and my cousins every year. Watch Night Service and the trifecta went hand in hand.
With time, maturity, a relationship with God, as well as some knowledge, I came to understand the historical roots of Watch Night Service, which was precipitated by the Emancipation Proclamation. On December 31, 1862, African American slaves across the country watched and waited for the news of freedom. As a man, I have participated in Watch Night Service almost every year. As a father, I brought my children to Watch Night Service. As a pastor, I have preached at Watch Night Service. It is my intention to continue to be a part of this African American tradition.
The Rev. Matthew M. Lubin, Sr. is pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church
Following is an explanation of the history and significance of Watch Night from African American Registry:
“On this date in 1862 the first Watch Night services were celebrated in black 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. Lincoln had used the occasion of the Union victory at Antietam to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the rebellious states after January 1, 1863.
He justified his decision as a wartime measure, and did not go so far as to free the slaves in the border states loyal to the Union. At the stroke of midnight, 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. Still, the Emancipation Proclamation deprived the Confederacy of the bulk of its labor forces and put international public opinion strongly on the Union side. Some 186,000 black soldiers would join the Union Army by the time the war ended in 1865, and 38,000 lost their lives.”
I did not know this history. Thank you for sharing. The church I grew up in did observe Watch Night, but my family were early-to-bedders, so I never attended one.