Black churches rethinking their Watch Night New Year's Eve tradition amid COVID surge

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In a video posted to YouTube, Pastor Chris Harris told members of Bright Star Church in Bronzeville and St. James Church in West Pullman that Watch Night is going to be virtual for the second year in a row due to COVID-19.

"We got to make sure that there's a consistent message that it is our moral and ethical, for the church our spiritual responsibility, to keep people safe," he said.

Harris is one of a number of Chicago pastors deciding to host their annual New Year's Eve gathering online-only this year.

Watch Night is a Black church tradition.

"People gather as people of faith celebrating the fact that we've made it through the year and we're going into the new year," Harris said.

Watch Night, also known as Freedom's Eve, dates back to 1862 when enslaved and free Black people came together to ring in the new year and await the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect at midnight.

"So the watch was to make sure nobody changed their mind about the Emancipation Proclamation, to watch for the daybreak of freedom," said Pastor Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in West Garfield Park.

Hatch is planning to have a Watch Night prayer over the phone with his congregation at New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church.

"We've been doing a call in prayer for quite a while and so we're going to use that line to pray in the new year," he said.

Harris and Hatch said their New Year's Eve messages this year will be focused on keeping the faith.

"I do want to try to prepare people that we have some difficult days ahead, but always with our hope and faith in God we will make it through," Hatch said.
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