If you’ve never been to a Watch Night service at Vineyard Columbus you are missing out. Watch Night is one of the best things we do, and this year’s event is no exception.
On the night of Dec. 31, 1862, both free and enslaved African Americans gathered, many in secret, to ring in the new year and await news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. This time of reflection, anticipation, and celebration came to be known as Watch Night and it’s an important tradition in the Black community.
Centuries later, we gather on Watch Night to remember, reset, and look ahead to the coming year. It’s a special night for many and one we look forward to all year.
Small Groups Pastor Adrienne Ash, who has been involved with the Watch Night service for about five years, said Watch Night is something Vineyard Columbus does well because of the high value our church places on diversity and cultural expression.
“Watch Night has a unique, Black-church feel,” she said. “It’s something that the Black church has always embraced and it’s a big part of Vineyard Columbus. It’s something we do every year. There’s a lot of energy; a lot of clapping; a lot of praising God in an expressive way.
“Although Pastor Charles (Montgomery) preaches the way he usually preaches, the traditional Baptist preacher comes out on Watch Night. It gives other people and cultures a taste of what Black church is like. It also gives our Black congregants a chance to experience that type of service again. It’s just an expressive way of worship that everyone gets drawn into in a really good way. It’s a chance to get hopeful and excited about the new year.”
The holidays can be a difficult time and many people look forward to the “fresh start” of a new year. Watch Night gives people an opportunity to surrender hurts and hardships from the past year and embrace God’s unfailing hope and promise for the future.
According to Ash, Watch Night can be a great reminder that He is with us in all circumstances.
“2019 was the last time we did Watch Night in person,” she said. “That October I was going through a divorce, and I was really in the thick of it. It was a really sad, really heavy time. I didn’t realize how hopeless I felt. I was like, ‘God, why would you let this happen.’
“I felt like I was growing in my call and my role as a pastor, so all this momentum was happening and then boom! I felt very alone, and it was hard for me to praise and be happy. I took myself off the schedule for Watch Night and wasn’t going to go. But my friend went, and she called me and said, “You’ve got to come!”
“It was around 10:30 and at the last minute I got dressed and drove to church. The worship was amazing, and everything was great, and I was just standing there like, “I want to go home.”
“Charles (Montgomery) gave this amazing message, and it was the epitome of what Watch Night is about. I was in a heavy place, and I knew it was going to come into the new year with me. I knew I was going to have to wake up the next day and still face everything.
“But through Charles’ message I was reminded that God is coming into the new year with me and that’s what Watch Night is all about. Next year might suck, but God is here with me now in this moment and he’s going to be with me in the new year.
“What it’s really saying is, whether it’s on a high note or a low note, you’re bringing in the new year with God.”
Ash said Watch Night is a service for all people and all races.
“It’s a chance to do things in a different way,” she said. “To pray and worship in a different way; to experience God in a different way, and people just respond to that well. It feels like a party. It feels like a celebration. You can’t be here and not feel that energy.
“I would just encourage people to try it. Whatever excuse you might have… if it’s too late, just try it; if you prefer more contemporary worship… just try it; if you come from a Black church and you think we won’t do it justice… just try it. It will be worth it.”