We haven’t got to the end of the first week of the year but Mary Ann and I both agreed today that it seems like ages since New Year’s Day. I can’t believe that less than a week ago we were seeing in the New Year.
The traditional Methodist way of beginning New Year is with a midnight Watchnight service. In fact Watchnight has pretty much disappeared from Methodist churches in the UK. It has however been preserved by Methodists in other parts of the world, so today it is mainly black majority churches which celebrate Watchnight. We have two Watchnight services in the Circuit; a simple ‘preaching service’ at Archway, which was led this year by my colleague Donghwan Kim, and a rather longer service at Islington Central, which for the past few years has been shared with two Pentecostal churches that share the building. This was the service I led alongside the pastors from the other churches.
I have to admit that I can only tolerate Pentecostal worship in small doses. I’m suspicious of emotionalism in worship and the danger of confusing emotional feelings with the moving of the Spirit. And why does it always have to be so loud? However, there is also much to appreciate in the Pentecostal tradition – the willingness of the whole congregation to pray, for example and the whole hearted participation in worship. I think that over the past few years we have developed a form of worship for watchnight that works and genuinely reflects the traditions of the three churches that unite for this service.
This is the outline of our Watchnight service:
10.30pm Prayer and worship, led by singers/musicians from all three churches.
11.00pm Ministry of the Word – we used the lectionary readings for New Year and I preached a sermon.
11.45pm Praying into the New Year – the whole congregation praying on various topics suggested from the pastor leading this part of the worship.
12.05am Passing of the Peace, followed by a hymn and then a Methodist-style Communion liturgy (one I have written, or rather adapted, myself especially for Watchnight).
12.30am Prayer ministry, testimony, dedication.
1.00am Benediction and sending out.
As New Year’s day was a Sunday we decided to finish promptly at 1.ooam so there would be no excuses the next day for being late for church!
In the event I thought it went really well – all three churches were involved in the planning and leading of worship and there was a real sense of Christian fellowship as we began the New Year together. ‘How good, Lord, to be here!’