I am often asked why we have a service on New Year’s Eve. I remember going to the New Year’s Eve Watchnight from the time I was in my early teens, but the tradition of Watchnight goes back much further than my adolescence.

Indeed, the tradition of Watchnight service grew out of the Moravian church which gathered late on New Year’s Eve to enter the new year together in prayer. While the Moravian Church was born in 15th century Bohemia, the Watchnight tradition itself probably stems from a renewal movement in that church during 1722, the same year a number of Moravians arrived on British soil. The Moravian Watchnight service soon came to the attention of John Wesley who introduced the service into the Methodist Church. In the Methodist Watchnight service the people would re-covenant themselves to God and to one another.

Baptists and most other Protestants also began worship traditions based on the Moravian idea of entering the New Year in prayer. On December 31, 1862, Watchnight took on special meaning to African Americans as they gathered not only to pray in the new year, but also to prayerfully await confirmation of the enactment of Abraham Lincoln’s Declaration of Emancipation which took effect January 1, 1863.

So it is at Yorkminster Park that we gather on New Year’s Eve at 11:15 to enter the new year reflecting with gratitude for the blessings of the past year and putting our trust in God for the year ahead. I invite you to pray with me in this same spirit. May God bless you as we enter this new year in faith.

Gracious and merciful God, you are the Eternal One, who ages not with the passing of time and whose patience is not exasperated by the ticking of a clock and so we turn to you in these hours that mark the passing of yet another year.
We pause this day to count our blessings giving thanks for the beauty of the turning of the seasons and the bounty of the harvest, and for the opportunities this year has afforded us to grow and mature as people. As we look back on this old year we thank you for the births of children and grandchildren into our lives and the arrivals of new friends from far away places. We thank you for the freedoms this year brought to refugees who have newly arrived on our shores and the joy we found in being part of the process. We thank you for the gift of work in this past year and for the new skills gained by many. We thank you too for advances in science and technology this year which offer hope for the year ahead. We are grateful too for breakthroughs in diplomacy and peacemaking gained in this year.
As we look back we are particularly mindful of those who have died in this past year. In the midst of grief and sorrow we give you thanks for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who entered time and space to take upon himself our mortality, sin and death that through his death and resurrection we might share in the promise of life eternal now and forever. In this hope we give you thanks for this new year and so as we enter it we let go of the old ways of sin and guilt and pray that your new ways of love and forgiveness and peace might take hold of us afresh.
As we enter the new year, awaken us to the wonders all about us and the joy of human love. May this new year be full of mercy and healing and hope for those who live in the shadows of oppression and poverty and may our concern for the broken and wounded grow that the light of your eternal day might begin to dawn on our world. We pay these things in the name of the One who is the same, yesterday, today and forever, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.