Watchnight Service—December 31, 2020 – Year B

Watch Night Service
December 31, 2020/January 1, 2021

Watch Night Service
December 31, 2020/January 1, 2021

Since Congregations are returning to “in-person” services at different paces, Worship Ways for will be edited for online use. “Rubrics” for virtual services will be noted in red; take and adapt as you need!

For cultural resources on Freedom’s Eve see Jonathan Langston Chism’s Guest Cultural Resources Commentary article entitled “Watch Night”, on the African American Lectionary website

Gathering Hymn

Call to Worship
Leader should speak the lines of the people, along with the Leader’s lines

One: Let us worship the Triune God.
People: Out loud, but muted
Let us worship the One
who spoke in the beginning
and created something out of nothing.

One: Let us worship the Triune God.
People: Out loud, but muted
Let us worship the One
who took on the clothing of humanity
to set those who were oppressed free.

One: Let us worship the Triune God.
People: Out loud, but muted
Let us worship the One
whose Spirit rests continually upon us,
calling us from sorrow-filled endings
to bright new beginnings.


The end of the year is upon us and tonight we gather
to offer the strides as well as the struggles of this year to God.
We gather to give to the Creator both our hopes and our fears,
as we gather to worship the Lord our God.
Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and our lives tonight as we worship.
Grant us each the strength
to sing our sing,
to pray our prayer, and
to listen for the Word that will drive our fears away
and move us to offer praise and thanksgiving.
Inspire us tonight we pray, in Jesus name, Amen.


The Setting of the Night

We gather tonight in following a tradition that was begun many years ago by African-American ancestors. We gather tonight to remember with thanksgiving all that God has done for us. We gather tonight to recall the past, and remember how the enslaved gathered in dim light to wait for the dawning of freedom in the lives. We gather as a community of hope, believing God for our future.

Litany Our Times Are in Your Hands

One: God of new beginnings, God of sacred endings,
we gather tonight under the shade of a darkened sky,
in this in-between time and space,
unsure of what the future holds
…awaiting transformation, renewal, the chance to begin again.
People: Out loud, but muted
Our times are in Your hands, O God,
give us Hope for the journey.

We have traveled through dangers seen and unseen,
we have tiptoed through dark nights of the souls
and wrestled against powers that should have kept us down.
People: Out loud, but muted
Our times are in Your hands, O Lord,
give us Courage for the journey.

Encourage us to be ever mindful of Your Still Speaking Voice;
to dance without fear when the morning has come,
and to know that with the coming of Your Light
fear must release its death-grip on our lives.
People: Out loud, but muted
Our times are in Your hands, O God,
give us Light for the journey.

We remember faithful ancestors who moved under the night sky
to have a little talk with Jesus;
especially enslaved black folk who longed for freedom and liberation—praying in wait for the realization of the Emancipation Proclamation on December 31, 1862.
People: Out loud, but muted
Our times are in Your hands, O Lord,
give us Freedom for the journey.

Today we stand in this present moment,
frustrated by miscarriages of justice,
angered by the lack of collective concern for black and brown bodies, exasperated with a broken immigration policy,
racism, sexism, homophobia, mass incarceration
and we deeply grieve the growing numbers of deaths by gun violence
…can we make it through this night without some form of gun violence?
People: Out loud, but muted
Our times our in Your hands, O God,
give us Justice for the journey.

The future stretches out before us full of mystery and full of surprise.
We need You, God of New Beginnings, to set the course,
and guide our feet in the way of righteousness.
People: Out loud, but muted
Our times are in Your hands, Triune God,
give us Life.


Children’s Sermon

Center Children’s sermons on hopes that the have for this coming year. Invite them to share with they might be excited about as they begin this New Year (perhaps a big birthday, a trip with friends, the start of new major grade level). Invite children into the story of those waiting for freedom in 1862—Freedom’s Eve. Develop a “feelingfulness” to the story when describing how the enslaved might have felt, what they might have experienced as they approached the freedom hour, and the kind of hope that the carried as they gathered to pray and worship—not wanting to fall sleep less they miss one moment of freedom. Depending on the age of the children, speaking about mourning and loss might be appropriate, in consideration of those who died before freedom was able to realized. Important also is the role that President Abraham Lincoln held in signing (and enforcing) the Emancipation Proclamation.

Continuing Testament: A New Song by Langston Hughes

I speak in the name of the black millions
Awakening to action.
Let all others keep silent a moment.
I have this word to bring,
This thing to say,
This song to sing:

Bitter was the day
When I bowed my back
Beneath the slaver’s whip.

That day is past….
(The rest of the poem, with its lament and its call to action, is available in the text cited below).
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes,
eds. Arnold Rampersad and David Roessell
(New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 171.

Scripture Readings
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
Psalm 8
Matthew 25:31-46
Revelation 21:1-6 (CEB)


Prayers of the People (11:50PM)

During this time of the worship service congregants are invited to a posture of prayer.

The minister and worship leaders may offer the following as a beginning to this time personal prayer time:

ONE: A prayer from Howard Thurman, Blessings at Year’s End:

I remember with gratitude the fruits of labor of others,
which I have shared as part of the normal experience of daily living.


I remember the beautiful things that I have seen, heard and felt—
some, as a result of definite seeking on my part,
and many that came unheralded into my path,
warming my heart and rejoicing my spirit.


I remember the moments of distress that proved to be groundless
and those that taught me profoundly
about the evilness of evil and the goodness of good.


I remember the new people I have met,
from whom I have caught glimpses of the meaning of my own life
and the true character of human dignity.


I remember the dreams that haunted me during the year,
keeping me ever mindful of goals and hopes which I did not realize
but from which I drew inspiration to sustain my life and keep steady my purpose.


I remember the awareness of the spirit of God
that sought me out in my aloneness and gave to me a sense of assurance
that undercut my despair and confirmed my life with new courage and abiding hope.
Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations
(Richmond: Friends United Press, 1973), 123.
Used with permission.

Promptly at the stroke of midnight, the minister or worship leader, will announce the presence of the New Year and invite the community to time of joyful fellowship and passing of the Peace.

Passing of the Peace
One: A new year has come, and so, having thanked God for another year’s journey
let us greet one another with an expression of Christian love.

Closing Hymn


We gathered in peace to give God praise.
We gathered in joy to give God thanks.
We gathered, by God’s grace,
to experience a love that we can neither outgrow nor outlive.

So go forth in the name of the Lord,
To calm uneasy spirits;
To heal the broken-hearted;
To lift up the down-trodden;
To proclaim God’s message of love and hope in the world.

For in so doing, we are being redeemed, now and forevermore, Amen.

Watch Night Service was written by the Rev. J. Lee Hill, Senior Pastor, Christian Fellowship Congregational UCC of San Diego.


Copyright 2020 Local Church Ministries, Faith INFO Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.

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