Since 1995 PCPC has had a New Year’s Eve service. I love the service, enough so that I have been giving it a part of my New Year’s Eves for over 18 years. The service is held now at 6:00 PM, though when we first started it we actually held it twice on New Year’s Eve; once at 6:00 PM and again at 11:30 PM. But the two services quickly seemed like one celebration too many, and so we happily accepted the 6:00 PM. service.
The service is held in the sanctuary, and we gather toward the front. I’m estimating the crowd varies from 50 to 75 depending on the year and the temperature. People come in a variety of styles of dress. Sometimes we have folks there in tuxes on their way to New Year Eve Balls, and we always have folks there in family casual clothes. A number of children attend, and to my perspective they seem to enjoy it.
I try to keep the service at 30 minutes. As I tell my own family “There is no sermon and no offering!” The room is pretty with the Chrismon Tree still up and all the candles and the Christ candle lit in the Advent wreath. The service has developed some traditional elements. We open by singing a hymn based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem: “Ring Out Wild Bells.” It’s sung to the tune of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.” It’s a great poem, and sings well, and I think the chance to sing that song is alone so appropriate for New Year’s Eve it’s worth the entire service. We also always share some scriptures that are about time and the passing of the year, and I invite volunteers to read those. Amongst them is usually Ecclesiastes 3 (“For everything there is a season’), and Genesis 1:1-5 (“In the beginning God created..”). I moderate and invite people to lift up shouted out things they are grateful for in the past year, and anticipations they are looking forward to in the New Year. Sometimes folks will lift up a burden they are happy to leave behind as well, and to that we shout together in response “Amen!’ Then we serve the Sacrament of Communion; the family meal which Jesus gave us, and that night it is the pivot point in the crossing of the year. And communion is followed by a few minutes of silent reflection, which always seems sacred to me. Then David Matthews rings from the deepest organ chimes the stroke of midnight. Even though it’s just about 6:35 pm it’s midnight at that moment in that room! And we greet each other in joy and love and the peace of Christ across the room, until David brings us back together by breaking into a boisterous rendition of my “Christian Version of Auld Lang Syne” (always with apologies to Robbie Burns).
And right as we finish the side doors swing open, and regardless of the temperature we serve and toast with sparkling grape juice in the courtyard. Some folks run up into the balcony to ring the steeple bell. (We’ve been doing that since the very first year. I wonder who rang those New Year’s bells as a 10 year old child who is now near 30?) In the last several years as the sparkling grape juice flows fire works have burst forth from the columbarium wall courtesy of our fine facilities manager and his lovely wife.
We couldn’t have the service without David Matthews and Coretha Johnson and Wally Wilcher. They make the New Year’s Eve support magic there every year, and I don’t see how it will continue past their willing spirits. In the Weslyan and African American Church there are traditions of Watch Night Services across New Year’s Eve, and I suppose this has some connections in that. But I don’t know of another congregation that has a service quite like this one, especially in Tampa. It’s a great service, and it leaves the rest of the evening for family gatherings, other celebrations, or reasonable bed times (and I’ve noticed folks taste in those vary across the years). For some folks it is their New Year’s Eve fellowship.
I hope you might be able to come and join us for the first hour of the last night this year.
Here are some of the lyrics to my version of “Auld Lang Syne.”
“Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, And Never Brought to Mind
The Fellowship of Christian Faith, Is Sustained By Love Divine
For Auld Lang Syne My Friend, For Auld Lang Syne,
The Fellowship of Christian Faith, Is Sustained by Love Divine.”
For Christ is Lord of Earth and Space, And Christ is Lord of Time
From Everlasting Thou Art God, Since Days of Auld Lang Syne.