Churches Will Celebrate 2001 With Spirit, Not Spirits

philadelphia-inquirer[1]By Bill Ordine, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Posted: December 31, 2000

At the stroke of midnight, joyful celebrants will whoop and cheer, toot noisemakers, and hug one another with best wishes for a happy new year.
Some will do it at Penn’s Landing, or in Camden, watching fireworks over the Delaware River.  Others in raucous nightclubs.  But thousands in the region will bid adieu to the old and salute the arrival of the new in venues of a far different nature – their places of worship.  “We’ll be making a lot of noise of our own,” said the Rev. Mark Avery, pastor of Christ Temple Church in Kennett Square, “for the King.”  And he wasn’t talking about Elvis.

Like many other churches in southeast Pennsylvania and South Jersey, the Kennett congregation will be holding its own late-night celebration, with an emphasis on spirituality. At Christ Temple, the evening will begin at 10 p.m. with singing and praise dancing and will include a noted biblical scholar as a guest speaker.

“What will happen here is what you’ll see in Times Square – all the same euphoria – we’re going to have that in the sanctuary but in a spirit of praising Jesus,” Mr. Avery said.

Though the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has no special program of late-night services for New Year’s Eve, according to a spokeswoman, because today is Sunday, Catholics will attend Mass earlier in the day. The Sisters of St. Joseph will hold an interfaith prayer service beginning at 11:15 p.m. at the Mount St. Joseph Convent auditorium on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, and spiritual activities there will resume tomorrow at 10 a.m.

In many religious communities, New Year’s Eve church celebrations, sometimes called watch nights, are an old and popular tradition.  Sharon Baptist Church, in a new building on Conshohocken Avenue in Wynnefield Heights in Philadelphia, has traditionally observed the end of the year in grand fashion, drawing 1,500 to 2,000 people to each of two New Year’s Eve services.
In addition to the services at 7 and 10 p.m., Sharon Baptist will present an amateur talent show a half-hour after midnight. Bryant Pugh, the church’s minister of music, hopes to have comedians, instrumentalists, vocalists and poetry readings from among the congregants.  “It’s a praise celebration,” Pugh said. “Christians believe that they should be thanking God that he let them live yet another year. . . . And it’s an excellent alternative to drinking. You still get good singing, you’re exposed to the word of God and . . . you’re not going to go home drunk.”  Or have a hangover in the morning.  Those who attend New Year’s Eve services see it as an opportunity both to celebrate and to give thanks.

“The Bible says to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and that’s who we’re serving, the Lord,” said Anna Anderson, who has spent many of her New Year’s Eves at Christ Temple in Kennett Square.  “We celebrate the last day of the year, no matter what tragedy may have occurred. We know that God has blessed us, and we come together to thank Him for that. These services are a real togetherness thing,” she said.

Bill Ordine’s e-mail address is
* Mary Blakinger, Kathryn Masterson and Evan Halper of the Inquirer suburban staff contributed to this article.



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