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Area churches to hold special services tonight

POSTED: December 31, 2008 1:00 a.m.

While most will spend New Year’s Eve partying, some will be praying.

Several local churches will be holding what are known as Watch Night services, or services the night of New Year’s Eve.

Mount Zion Baptist Church in Flowery Branch has a Watch Night service every year and is expecting a big crowd.

"It’s a praise and worship service. We bring the new year in praising God and bringing honor to God," said Lillian Ross, a member of the church. "A lot of people are usually here, 200 or more."

Mount Zion has held similar services since the church began more than 100 years ago.

"The church originated in 1889, so they’ve been having Watch service since the 1800s," Ross said.

Ross said many Baptist churches hold Watch Night services, especially predominately black churches.

Other churches are just starting to embrace the tradition.

Gainesville First United Methodist Church will be holding its first Watch Night service tonight.

Senior Pastor Terry Walton said he thought the beginning of 2009 was an appropriate time for prayer.

"We haven’t done (a Watch Night service) in many years in my adult years," Walton said. "It sort of dawned on me that with the economic times and the uncertainty and the change of president ... with everything going on that it just felt like the right thing to do. Instead of ringing in the new year, let’s pray in the new year."

Walton said he remembered going to Watch Night services as a child. After doing research, Walton learned Watch Night had historical significance.

Watch Night goes back as far as the 1700s, when John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, held services on New Year’s Eve.

The day became more meaningful during the Civil War.

"When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was to take effect Jan. 1, 1863. Slaves sat up the night before waiting for their freedom to arrive at midnight," Laura Haynes, communications manager for First United Methodist, said in an e-mail.

Walton said he doesn’t know what to expect, but will consider holding the service in the future if it is a success.

"I think it’s going to be cool to have the experience of having a sense that the way I started 2009 was looking toward heaven and asking for God’s blessing," Walton said.



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