Watch Night service doubles as Freedom’s Eve
By Lisa Rushing
ROCKINGHAM — A Watch Night service has two reasons for taking place.
The first is for Christians, according to Jonathan Langston Chism in a report filed with the Rice University Department of Religious Studies in Texas. The second, Chism wrote, is for African Americans to reflect upon Dec. 31, 1862, as Freedom’s Eve.
That night, Chism wrote, blacks gathered in churches and homes anxiously awaiting for midnight when the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln would go into effect and blacks would be free from slavery. Blacks reportedly spent this time reflecting on their hardships, remembered lost friends and family, and praised God for what was about to take place.
Regardless, both versions took place on Dec. 31 possibly inside of a church shortly before midnight and involved praise, prayer, worship and thanking God for survival of hardships.
Mt. Sinai Baptist Church and Pastor Donnie Bennett hosted their sixth Watch Night service on Tuesday night in Rockingham. Pastor Julius Riley of Cheraw, S.C., Elder William Cromer, of Ellerbe,, Bishop T.R. Harrington, of Rockingham, and Pastor Aris Smith, of Vass, spoke during the event.
Before the service, Bennett said that he hoped for a “high praise” and that he was “looking for God to do something that will blow the mind.” The night was about remembering what God had done for them in 2013 and going into 2014.
For Riley it was good to be at Bennett’s church. Bennett was his former pastor. In 1993, Bennett asked Riley, who was only a member at the time, to speak at their Watch Night service.
“There is something that goes on when that time comes, I love God so much I can’t resist and God takes over.” the shy, introverted Riley said.
As to why Riley resisted the call to preach for so long, Riley doesn’t have a middle name but he believes at some point it was Jonah, because “I ran, Lord I ran.” going on to say he “reached a point where he couldn’t deny it anymore.”
Riley was ready, but left room for interpretation by the Holy Spirit.
Cromer said he had a few jitters going into the service, but was prepared. Cromer had been able to finalize his message early last week after fasting and diligently praying for three days.
Smith said he felt a little shaky going into his first watch night service, but knew everything would be alright.
“When God steps in all fear is gone,” Smith said.
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