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Watch Night services remain tradition in Indy Black-led churches

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There’s a New Year’s Eve tradition that goes back even further than the typical ball drop. Church Watch Night services have roots that stretch back to slavery, and it’s a tradition countless Black churches are keeping alive.

Watch Night service is a long-held tradition in Black churches around the country. From birth, it’s how Bishop Lambert Gates of Kingdom Apostolic Ministries brought in the New Year.

“As worshipers of God, especially in the African-American community, you spend that time in the house of God to show gratitude to him for sustaining, and to ask him to continue his sustenance in the year to come,” said Gates.

Waiting for the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect, slaves gathered in secret at midnight. Gates is continuing that tradition with his own congregations at the Kingdom Apostolic Ministries.

“I hardly know what it is to experience the transition from one year to a New Year without spending those actual transition moments in the house of God,” he said.

For this year’s event, some will come to the sanctuary and others will participate virtually.

It’s a similar scenario with Pastor Henzy Green and First Lady Nicole Green at Emmaus Christian Church.

“We believe that your mentality is critical to all of this. We said a mantra at the beginning of this: ‘Don’t back down, don’t back off and don’t lower your expectations,’” said Henzy Green.

The church has pages of COVID protocols, ranging from services registration, seat spacing, masks and disinfecting areas. The Greens said that despite the pandemic, the Watch Night tradition will continue to run deep.

“That’s what it always was about — to say thank you for last year and looking at how the New Year is going to be. Looking forward to the expectation on what’s on the horizon,” said Nicole Green.