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Watch Night is a time of looking back and forward

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End the old year and start the new year at church, because “what better place is there?”

The Rev. Carey Ingram of Lovejoy Baptist Church posed that question, as he talked about the tradition behind Watch Night services.

Several local churches are holding the New Year’s Eve service, which usually includes a message from the preacher, the choir singing and churchgoers giving testimony.

Lovejoy’s service will run from 10 p.m. to midnight tonight, Ingram said.

“Watch Night is multipurpose,” he explained. “First and foremost, people come so they can end the old year and start the new in church.”

Also, Ingram said he’s heard the story that when slaves were freed after the Civil War, on the first New Year’s Eve they gathered together to celebrate their freedom.

“I have also read that during the time of slavery, slaves would try to escape to freedom on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “The other slaves would watch for them, to keep them safe and pray to God to protect them, so the name Watch Night was born.”

Ingram said he’s happy to see so many churches becoming more diverse and that church members are learning about each other’s history and traditions.

“I’ve seen a lot of churches joining together and celebrating together,” he said.

The night also is about remembering those that passed away, Ingram said.

“We talk about the ones we lost and many of our members write a letter to God and place it in a basket we keep at the church all year,” he said. “Sometimes people write about how thankful they are for their blessings or they talk about what they’ve been through, but are grateful they are still here.”

Watch Night also draws folks who don’t attend church regularly, he said.

“They may not come every Sunday, but that’s fine, because they are starting it off right,” he said. “Everyone is welcome.”

Ingram said he sees churches as the organizations that can truly make change.

“Think what would happen if all churches would put aside everything and stop seeing the denominational differences,” he said. “We could accomplish so much. I don’t worry about politics, because the true change will come from the churches in this country. Watch Night is one of those times when we can all come together and grow closer and give God praise.”

Other churches holding services are:

Greater Mount Calvary Baptist, 445 E. 14th St., will have services tonight at 10:30 p.m.

Mount Calvary Free Will Baptist Church, 54 Baker St., Shannon, will hold services from 7 p.m. to midnight. Singing will be performed by Carla and Redemption from Lumberton, North Carolina.

Springfield Baptist Church, 113 Smith St., will hold services tonight at 10:30 p.m. Breakfast will follow the service.

Summer Hill A.M.E. Church, 1981 Kingston Road, will have a service at 10 p.m. Other churches will be guests at the church.