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Are Watch Night services connected to John Wesley?

Watch night candles by Pexels for Pixabay
Watch night candles by Pexels for Pixabay

What is the history of Watch Night services? Is there a connection to John Wesley?

Methodism's founder John Wesley first celebrated a covenant renewal as a "Watch Night" service in 1755. In its original use, the term "Watch Night" referred to a gathering for prayer that could last well into the night or even overnight. The term was not originally applied only or even primarily to activities on New Year's Eve.

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For a number of years, Methodists would hold such Watch Night services for covenant renewal several times each year. Over time, however, this service became limited to New Year's Eve.

John Wesley drew on several sources to create his Watch Night Service of Covenant Renewal, especially the writings of Richard Alleine, an English Puritan. Wesley reported the service was attended by hundreds who found it "a time of remarkable blessing."

Watch Night services on New Year's Eve have also become an important part of African-American worship, Methodist and otherwise, because the Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect at midnight on January 1, 1863.   

Watch Night services are still widely held on New Year's Eve in many Christian traditions, sometimes concluding at midnight. The Service of Covenant Renewal may be part of these services, or used on New Year's Day, or on the first Sunday in January, or at other times of the year. 

Read more: Watch Night: New Year, Renewed Faith

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.