I loved most everything about church but the Watch-night Service

On this day, Dec. 30, 1770America’s first-known “watch-night” service is held at St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia. And thus began the story of my misery growing up in Watch-night services.

I loved most everything about church. I even gave up watching Sunday night Disney and missing each year’s showing of The Wizard of Oz, which was always on a Sunday night. Of course, I actually did not give them up. My parents gave them up for me. We went to church on Sunday and Wednesday nights, no questions asked, no illnesses faked. I often went on Thursday nights, too, while my parents went out for the church’s visitation program. This is the way life was. It worked for me.

But no matter how much I went along the Watch-night service was a chore above all chores. It started around 8 or 9 PM. We had a service, then food, and then a movie followed by the Lord’s Supper as the New Year came in. I started out the whole thing not being able to stay awake and the rest of the evening was a struggle with “I would do anything to be in a bed.” I did my best to sleep on the church’s metal chair. Ouch. It was a long night of endurance.

The one thing I remember about the movies is that they were crummy. My love for the church never upped my tolerance for schmaltz. And those old time movie projectors were as loud as the volume of the movie.

But the one lesson of the watch-night service, the takeaway, was that maybe this would be the year that Jesus returned again. It was a reminder, a signal, a benchmark that what we were was people waiting for our redemption from heaven, a pilgrim people. Our citizenship was in heaven and we did not belong to this world. That lesson came across loud and clear to me. I bought it! I still buy it!

My Pastor had on his desk, facing the parishioner sitting across from him, a reminder that could not be avoided. It simply read, “It May Be Today.” Changes the conversation a bit, don’t you think?!!! It answers quite a few questions just on its own. Perspective works miracles.

From time to time a parishioner has suggested a watch-night service to me. I grow pale, the blood runs cold, and fear strikes my brow. I quickly try to figure out a way to say “No Way.” I simply cannot stay awake that late, for anything, anybody. If Jesus comes back at night, I will be asleep. I tried to stay awake, Jesus. Honest, I tried.

On this day, 21 December 1870, African-American Methodists Elect Bishops

African-American Methodists Elect Bishops

Daniel Payne

METHODISTS in the United States split over slavery in 1844 when a southern bishop acquired slaves. Anti-slavery Methodists proposed to ban the man from exercising his office as a bishop until he rid himself of his human property. While northern Methodists voted for the resolution, southern Methodists voted against it. Consequently, north and south parted ways.

A quarter of a million slaves worshipped with Southern Methodists at this point. However, they were not content to remain in this arrangement after the Civil War, and began going elsewhere. Rather than lose all their African-American brothers and sisters, leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church South encouraged the emancipated slaves to form their own general conference.

In December 1870, African-American Methodists from eight states met in Jackson, Tennessee. Samuel Watson, one of the delegates and an eyewitness to the entire convention said, “I have never seen a more harmonious conference of any kind. There was a good degree of intelligence among its members.” Under the leadership of Bishop Daniel Payne, they founded the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church,* forming a new branch of Methodists.

On this day, 21 December 1870, the fledgling organization chose its first two bishops. After praying for divine guidance, they elected William Henry Miles and Richard H. Vanderhorst. This was no easy or “in-name-only” job. The two would have to travel a good deal and subsist on meager pay. When the Committee on Church Organization presented its report, it said in part: “We request the bishops to organize our General Conference on the basis of the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in its entire doctrine, discipline, and economy, making only such verbal alterations and changes as may be necessary to conform it to our name and the peculiarities of our condition.”

Miles proved to be a great organizer and guided the Colored Methodists for twenty-two years. Vanderhorst was a powerful preacher, who brought people under deep conviction with his sermons. Everyone mourned when he died just eighteen months after his election.


*In 1954 the name was changed to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Other Notable Events

The BBC airs the first play in Dorothy Sayers’ cycleThe Man Born to Be King. Before it goes on air, some Christian groups call it blasphemous because an actor is to speak Christ’s lines. However, its reception among Christians will prove generally good.

Death of Frederick Barnabas Van Eyk, a notable Pentecostal preacher in Australia. He had recently divorced his wife and married a younger woman. Bitten by a tse-tse fly, he refused medical treatment, trusting to faith healing, and died.
Death of Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, a man of great energy who had acquired considerable influence over the Frankish kingdom.

Winsome Words 12/20/13

The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels…never concealed His tears.  He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city.  Yet He concealed something…He never restrained His anger.  He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell.  Yet He restrained something.  I say it with reverence: there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.  There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray…There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.    GK Chesterton

The American branch of Methodism divided from its worldwide communion over same sex marriage

Here is the latest report of the violation of clerical vows among Methodist clergy in the US.

Everyone knows that the Methodist church is decidedly liberal in its theology, and one wonders why it has not approved same sex marriage already, as has happened in other mainline denominations. The answer is rather simple. The Methodist church is one of the few denominations that are part of a worldwide membership, and it is exactly that worldwide membership that is reining in the American Methodist instinct to liberalize its views on marriage. If the Methodist church were solely American, it would have approved same sex marriage.

This brings a tension that is far afield from ssm itself. The tension is this – will American Methodists be submissive to Christians from Africa, Asia, etc.? Not to do so appears, some would say, condescending, harking back to the old imperialism of missions, or indeed even racist, as if the wisdom of people of other cultures is inferior to that of the West. So the Methodist have a larger issue on their hands than just sexual morality. Will it find itself able to submit to its global fellowship? Will Christians from other cultures be accused of being homophobic, fundamentalists, judgmental and irrational as those in our own culture who oppose ssm are being accused of? So far these accusations have not been leveled by American Methodists who support ssm against Methodists from other lands who oppose it. And the only reason is that they might seem racist at the same time that they eschew homophobia.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  But no matter what, the official Methodist ban on ssm is not supported by American Methodism, and no one should take comfort that the Methodist church has put a brake on its rush toward liberalism. It has not. And its liberal clergy are well practiced in vowing to orthodox doctrines that they do not really believe and do not support.

Philosophy Bites, a recommended website on philosophy

If you enjoy philosophy, visit the site www.philosophybites.com/ These are radio interviews with philosophers in short segments of 15 minutes or so. There is a nifty index on the home page that gives you an index of topics covered in case there is some subject in particular you are interested in. I teach college philosophy classes and find these interviews substantial and helpfully focused. I recommend the site to students.