Monday, December 27, 2010

#45 - Still Watching...

This is a repost by popular demand.

T H E “W A T C H N I G H T” S E R V I C E


Sheeiness Goss
Vernon M. Herron

Many of us who grew up in the Black community of a typical city have probably heard of a “Watch Night Service.” It was the gathering of the faithful in Church on New Year’s Eve to give thanks and praises to God for seeing us through another year. But is that the real historic meaning of “Watch Night” service?

I remember two distinct “Watch Night” services which left an indelible impression upon this writer. First, during my adolescent years, often I would attend Watch Night services at St. Paul Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC where one had to arrive before 10 p.m. to be assured of a seat for the midnight service. The worship service basically was “thanksgiving” in substance. It consisted of the singing of meter hymns, moaning prayers of thanksgiving, testimonies, and preaching which must be in progress at the strike of midnight, when all lights would be extinguished and when worshippers shouted and yelled, “thank you Jesus to see another year!” This was a dramatic moment of congregational achievement. The Church’s bell would sound for 3 to 5 minutes after which all lights would return. After the offering, everyone went home with a new year’s blessing for being alive at the beginning of a new year.

The second “Watch Night” experience which left an indelible impression was when I visited the mission field in San Andres Island, Columbia as the guest evangelist of the First Baptist Church. The annual revival was held during the last week of December including New Year Day. There was the popular notion that everybody on the Island must be in Church or on its grounds when the New Year arrives for “good luck” and to ensure blessings during the year. Consequently, the church was packed and its grounds filled as the Islanders had come, not to hear the proclaimed Word but to insure each individual of personal charm and prosperity.

The truth of the matter is that “Watch Night” service is an intrigue part of the African American cultural tradition yet lacking in full understanding of its historic significance. As stated earlier, the Watch Night service begins anywhere from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year.

It is assumed that Watch Night was a fairly standard Christian religious service---made a bit more Afro-centric because that’s what happens when elements of Christianity become linked with the Black Church.

Still, it seemed that predominately White Christian churches did not include Watch Night services on their calendars, but focused instead on Christmas Eve programs. In fact, there were instances where clergy in main denominations wondered aloud about the propriety of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve services in African-American congregations.

The Watch Night Services in Black communities can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862, also known as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation actually had become law.

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued an Emancipation Proclamation declaring that the War between states had ended and that the enslaved were now freed. For two and a half years, this information was delayed in getting to Texas and when it did, it had little impact due to the minimal number of Union Troops to enforce the new Executive Order. Then, at the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863, and all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free.

It was not until December 18, 1865 that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified which ended slavery in all parts of the United States. When this news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as people fell to their knees and thanked God. Black folks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.

It’s been over a century since that first Freedom’s Eve and many of us were never taught the African American history of Watch Night, but tradition still bring us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Note: This blog was first published as blog # 6 and is repeated by popular request.





Christmas is coming! The toy market is appealing to children. Children are persuading adults regarding their choice of Christmas wares and desired gifts. During my early childhood, I was fascinated in a state of expectation because Santa Claus was coming to town. The song text goes like this:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He’s making a list
And checking it twice,
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

Oh! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

The above folk song comes in the form of a Santa Claus Gospel. This Christian idol not only pollutes a sacred story but also corrupts theological and spiritual truths. It has the form of omniscience but its appearance is without substance.

Christmas is that time of year when the focus should be upon that One for whom the day was named CHRIST-MASS- the Lord Jesus Christ. But every year that focus seems to shift more and more to another –and that is to Santa Claus. Is is not easy to speak out against Santa Claus, because to attack him is to attack the Christmas idol.

Santa Claus has taken on some of the characteristics of an idol. (Innocence)
God’s Word says:

          “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”

Certain powers are attributed to Santa Claus which belong to God alone,
                               sees all they do      
                               hears all they say.
                               In essence he is

These are powers that are God’s alone. God’s word says, “I am God and there is none like me.” Yet children are taught that Santa Claus has God-characteristics

The role of Satan in this scenario

Satan is not presented as fiction--. He is presented as fact—real—living—and having involvement in their lives. Children are taught to believe in Santa Claus.

Satan is the Father of Lies

          The Santa Claus gospel strives to make him seem alive and real and
            strives to make the Very Real Saviour seem dead and fictitious.

Satan gets help from parents by:
          Perpetuation of myth
          Hanging of stocking at chimney vs parents’ love
          Claiming that Santa knows child’s behavior
          Claiming that Santa hears and answers specific petitions
          Claim of his coming in person to their home.

Actually, these are mocking imitations of the Lord Jesus Christ—of Christ’s genuine Reality—of his real knowledge of each person’s behavior;  his actual answer to specific prayer petitions and his authentic coming in person, not simply to the home but to the heart of each believer.

Even Santa’s elves seem strangely parallel to scripture’s account of ministering angels. Note the similarity between the words “Santa” and “Satan”.

The “Santa Claus Gospel” indoctrinates children with the idea that if they are “good”, they will get presents from Santa Claus. This doctrine compounds the true Gospel of Grace. God’s presence does not depend on our being “good”. The Bible says “There is none that doeth good, no not one.” Romans 3:12

It does not depend on our goodness; we have none!  But it depends on the perfect goodness, the sinlessness of the Son of God which qualified Him to pay for our badness, our sinfulness. On the cross Christ suffered for that sin as our substitute, died and rose again. By believing and trusting in Him, they will get eternal life as His present---earned by him, not by their own efforts.

Salvation comes by Faith, not by being “good.” Yet the “Santa Claus Gospel” of works has gotten to children and has left them resistant to the truth, that entrance into heaven is not determined by behavior but by trust in Christ and His sacrifice.

Another serious effect of the Santa Claus myth is that it can deter children from coming to Christ in faith. Once they discover that Santa Claus is a liar, they can be hesitant to put their trust in anyone further in whom they’ve tried to believe but cannot see.

Monday, December 13, 2010

# 43 Vocabulary Building

# 43 Vocabulary Building

Vernon M. Herron

Word power is indispensable. It helps one to articulate ideas, communicate concepts, it helps in mental gymnastics, social networking and in the increase of earning power. There are many sources for vocabulary building. Hearing and learning words from each other is a common source. I like words. It fascinates me to hear words used in unique expressions. Word power is star power, either written or spoken. Either way, always check the spelling, pronunciation and definition.

Last week, it was rather refreshing to hear and read about three words, “awesome,” “crestfallen,” and “gentrification,” and to note the users of those words. That is what this writing is all about. Meet three distinguished friends of mine and their use of a descriptive and sometimes an emotional word.

Simeon Ray

Simeon is my five year old friend. He and I were born on the same date. He is a bright kindergarten pupil at River Oaks Academy in Charlotte, NC. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Kwasi Ray and the grandson of Dr. and Mrs. Rudolph Hendricks.

Simeon’s distinguished grandmother, Mrs. Barbara Hendricks can best tell the story of his word use.

“Having spent last week-end in the NC mountains, the grandsons---enjoyed the 3-D pictures during the evening hours in the hotel. One night Simeon was viewing some of the pictures and exclaimed loudly, ‘this is AWESOME!’ We all chuckled at that, as we were not aware that ‘awesome’ was a part of his vocabulary.”

I remember the first time hearing the word ‘awesome.’ I had just finished preaching as a guest preacher in a stately Philadelphia church. When the pastor’s wife was approaching me, I wondered what she would say, and it was, “the sermon was awesome.” Checking the definition, I found it to mean ‘inspiring.’ I thank you madam and especially Simeon.

Steve Johnson

Referring to a previous published blog, Steve Johnson, Media Specialist for The Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum (Charlotte, NC) wrote, “my first reaction was to be crestfallen…but on reflection, I’m delighted…”

It is not strange to note Mr. Johnson’s use of the word “crestfallen” because he is a journalist by training and experience. But this is an opportunity for me to describe how this multi-talented person is so human and is a “servant for all.”

“Steve” as he is affectingly called, is a native of Delaware but has been a Charlottean since 1978. His noteworthy achievement was serving as Executive Director of the Swann Fellowship during the time that the Fellowship published EDUCATEL, a weekly journal on Charlotte-Mecklenburg public education.

But the real soul of Steve Johnson can be seen any Tuesday morning when he is in action. He:

- Serves as refreshment coordinator. (Prepares coffee and refreshments)
- Offers the morning prayer when asked.
- Computerizes and distributes the minutes.
- Provides visual aid on demand.
- Publishes community service announcements and much more.

We all love Steve Johnson and his ‘crestfallen’ word.

Donnell Sheppard

Donnell recently wrote the following, “I spoke to a friend about ‘gentrification’ taking place in south Philly…(I remembered you using that word when I was a teenager.)”

How gratifying it is to note that a thriving citizen still remembers a word he heard from me when he was a teen ager. “Gentrification” is the word; it is the process of a middle-class people migrating into a nearby center city, low income, deteriorating neighborhood and rehabilitating the same at a cost which prevents the original homeowners from reclaiming the said property for community living; and that is economic ostracizing.

Gentrification is taken place in most metropolitan area where low income people live. Generally, it is near the down town area with transportation and necessary city services. This is a ‘wake-up’ call word which should call the electorate to action.

Donnell Sheppard is a Government Analyst in the Corporate Accounts Department of Shire Pharmaceuticals. He earned his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Temple University. He is married with a son and lives in Chesterbrook, PA. He is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. where he is the Director of its Education Activities. (Right on, my man!)

Little Simeon, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Sheppard remind us of three good words to be used appropriately; AWESOME, CRESTFALLEN, AND GENTRIFICATION.

Thank you!