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Watch Night an alternative to New Year's Eve festivities

December 31, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

People throughout Washington County will gather tonight for Watch Night celebrations for a variety of reasons.

A Christian tradition dating back as far as 1000 A.D., Watch Night was historically observed on the last night of the calendar year as a time for prayer, reflection and a vigil for the second coming of Christ.

"We see Watch Night as a religious alternative to the secular festivities of New Year's Eve," said Don Sneckenberger who will be celebrating tonight at Clear Spring High School where the Secrest Memorial Sing is in its 25th year of Watch Night observances.

Sneckenberger, a member of the Morning Star Singers, said that except for a brief meditation at midnight, the family-oriented evening will be devoted to singing, fellowship and good food. The event starts at 7 p.m.

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In addition to Sneckenberger's group, there will be music by Sound Doctrine, The Stevens family, By Faith Ministries and Sue Dodge.

"The capacity of the auditorium at Clear Spring High School is 636 and we usually are close to filling that," Sneckenberger said.

A number of congregations in the Jonathan Street area will hold services tonight.

Watch Night/New Year's Eve services are planned at the Jonathan Street House of Prayer, the Rev. Yvonne Parson, pastor; Zion Baptist Church, 61 W. Bethel St., the Rev. Haru Carter, pastor; and Greater Campher Temple, King's Apostle Holiness Church, 125 W. Bethel St., Bishop Derek Kee, pastor.

"We traditionally gather to see the old year out and welcome the new year in," Kee said. "It's a time of jubilation and a lot of good food in the form of covered dishes brought in for the event."

Kee said the congregations of Ekklesia Ministries and Asbury United Methodist will join in the celebration, which is to begin at 9 p.m. and end just after midnight.

For many, Watch Night is simply a time for reflection and cheerful singing, according to a 1777 letter attributed to John Wesley by the United Methodist Book of Worship.

In that spirit, Mountain View Baptist Church at 12107 Walnut Point Road is hosting The Brady Rochester family for its Watch Night service beginning at 9 tonight.

The tradition has died out in a number of churches but some are looking to revive the practice.

"I remember at my church in Annapolis, the Watch Night service was built into their tradition," said the Rev. Wesley Scouten, now pastor of St. Matthew's United Methodist Church on Franklin Street in Hagerstown.

Scouten said it was a fun night with a short scripture reading and then the playing of games. "We've talked about establishing a church game night. Perhaps Dec. 31 would be a good time for that," he said.

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