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Churches use New Year's as time of reflection

Watch Night services at local churches allow the faithful to ring in the year in a more solemn fashion.

For those who want to welcome 2001 with the Holy Spirit instead of traditional New Year's Eve spirits, local churches are offering alternatives in the form of prayer and Watch Night services.

Unlike last New Year's Eve when many worshipers went to church fearing a Y2K apocalypse glitch, this year is expected to be worry-free.

Brooksville Assembly of God at 20366 Cortez Blvd. will have a short New Year's Eve service from 6 to 7 p.m. This early service is to guarantee that the congregation will not be on the road during late-night reveling.

Fellowship Wesleyan, 11250 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, will follow suit with a candlelight service at 6 p.m. with Holy Communion. For information, call 686-4612.

First Baptist Garden Grove will begin its 7 p.m. New Year's Eve service with singing. Worshipers will eat covered dishes brought by church members at 9 p.m. in the fellowship hall.

Afterward, everyone will move to the sanctuary for more singing and testimony. The 11:30 p.m. candlelight service will bring in the new year. Garden Grove is at 18131 Stromberg Ave., Garden Grove.

For the first time, First Baptist Church Hernando Beach will offer a special testimony night from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. New Year's Eve. Two or three members of the congregation are expected to speak.

Robert Goodman, whose responsibilities include music, worship and Christian education, said the "down home family sort of service will include baptisms, songs from the adult and children's choirs in addition to a couple of solos.

"It is my understanding the pastor (the Rev. Mark Walton) will throw it open to the congregation for mini-praise testimonies," Goodman said.

The church is at 4446 Shoal Line Blvd., Hernando Beach. For information, call 796-2209.

The Watch Night services originated in the Methodist Church and were spontaneous prayer services designed to deepen the spiritual life of the worshiper. Watch Night services appeared to have begun spontaneously at Kingswood, England, when converted miners, trying to stay out of trouble in the ale houses, gathered in prayer and praise.

Watch Night prayers then became a regular service in the Methodist centers of Bristol, London and Newcastle. Usually, services were held between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. "so that participants walked safely home through moonlit streets," as stated in John Wesley's journal on Dec. 31, 1777.

The first Watch Night prayers in the United States were held at St. George's parish in Philadelphia and at Wesley Chapel in New York City in November 1770. Although abandoned in much of the 20th century, the Methodists continued Watch Night service on New Year's Eve in the 19th century in Britain and the United States.

In 1862, African-American slaves reportedly held Watch Night services in hopes that President Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

At First Baptist Church of Brooksville, members will be playing games and eating snacks in the fellowship hall from 7 p.m. until 11:45 p.m., when they will move to the sanctuary for prayer. Those attending are asked to bring their favorite game and a snack to share.

For worshipers who would rather retire early, First Baptist's sanctuary will be open for personal and guided prayers beginning at 7 p.m.

First Baptist is at 420 Howell Ave., Brooksville. For information, call 796-6791.