Watch Night Service: Historical and cultural significance gathering in church on New Year’s Eve

Over 30 churches in the Upstate will participate in a “watch night” service. It’s a tradition with a lot of history behind it.
FOX Carolina found over 30 churches in the Upstate who will participate in a “watch night” service.
Published: Dec. 30, 2022 at 9:23 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2022 at 11:31 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - How do you plan to ring in the New Year’s? Will you be at a party? Your favorite nightclub? Or at home watching the ball drop? Some in our area will be in church. FOX Carolina found over 30 churches in the Upstate who will participate in a “watch night” service. It’s a tradition with a lot of history behind it.

Greenville’s Long Branch Baptist Church is a 1,000 strong body of believers who have held watch night services since its founding.

“It’s a tradition that probably spans decades,” said Sean Dogan, Long Branch Baptist Church pastor. “It’s full of energy.”

A watch night service is a late-night church service that usually features music, performances, and a forward-thinking message.

“To go forward with faith, and with energy, with hope and anticipation, but most of all with service to humanity and service to our God,” Dogan said.

Pastor Dogan knows a lot about service, the church does mission work in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Haiti. And work here in the Upstate.

“It’s the pain, the suffering,” Dogan said.

But nothing compared to the indescribable horror slaves in America endured for over three centuries.

“To have families torn apart and separated and displaced,” Dogan said.

Historians say the church served as a refuge from oppression. Freedom’s Eve on December 31, 1862 was a time of gathering for some slaves in anticipation of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It’s historical and cultural significance spawned the watch night service.

“The fear of what’s next, mixed in with that faith that gives us the hope and anticipation and expectation of what’s next as well,” Dogan said.

Seneca city council member and Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor W.C. Honeycutt says there’s an energy and enthusiasm that’s relevant 160 years later.

“I was in bondage on this day, I’m free on this one,” Honeycutt said. “We’re preparing and looking at miracles and new beginnings. So, the next year brings about a new beginning, a fresh start.”

But change takes friction, and Pastor Honeycutt wants to see more representation in education in 2023.

“I want it to be so important that our people of color know they can go into the field of education and be compensated as well,” Honeycutt said. “That’s one of the challenges.”

Whereas Pastor Dogan wants racial equity in criminal justice reform and the school-to-prison pipeline.

“It’s housing many more people of color than any other group and if we want to look at workforce development, if we want to look at families coming back together – we have to look at the criminal justice system,” Dogan said.

Goals for 2023 impacting more than the weekly flock.

“I want to see freedom come in,” Honeycutt said.

“It is bringing grass tops and grassroots together. It is highlighting those good things, it is highlighting those things in our community that need to change,” Dogan added.

On the evening of Dec. 31, Long Branch Baptist Church, located at 28 Bolt Street, Greenville, SC, will hold a watch night service beginning at 10:30 p.m.

The Seneca River Baptist Association’s Family Life Center, located at 298 S. Poplar Street, Seneca, SC, will host 31 churches for a joint watch night service that begins at 10 p.m.

Relentless Church, located at 635 Haywood Road, will also hold a New Year’s Eve Celebration service at 9:30 p.m.