A spiritual alternative to New Year's revels 'Watch Night' services at area churches are gaining in popularity


While many will indulge in champagne and fireworks to bring in the new year tonight, some in the Baltimore area will opt for a more religious celebration: a holy spirit party.

Churches throughout the area are offering "Watch Night" services to celebrate the new year, and according to some, it's becoming a popular alternative.

"It's a much more spiritual way to welcome in the new year," said Mary D. Sapeta, director of development for St. Ignatius Loyola Academy. "It's very relaxing."

St. Ignatius, at 740 N. Calvert St., is conducting its sixth annual Interfaith Prayer Service at 8: 30 p.m. It will begin with musical arrangements, followed by a one-hour service at 9 p.m. A small reception will he held after the service.

The ecumenical gathering will allow representatives from several religions to offer thanks for the past year and hope for the new year, Sapeta said.

The Most Rev. P. Francis Murphy, regional vicar for the Western Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, will preside over the service. The Very Rev. Constantine Monios of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation will serve as homilist. Clergy from African Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Lutheran churches will offer prayers, and Bishop Naomi DuRant of New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral will offer the closing blessings.

Jim McKay, a broadcaster for ABC Sports, will be the master of ceremonies and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will offer a prayer for the city. Music will be provided by the St. Ignatius Choir and signed by Children for a Peaceful World.

"It's not an organized service with a lot of Scripture reading," Sapeta said. "It's the religious leaders getting up and talking about the common good."

The Rev. William J. Watters of St. Ignatius said the service is modeled after a New Year's Eve celebration at the Church of the Gesu in Rome. The people of Rome celebrate with the pope and the mayor.

"Since we're not a Catholic country, we are having an ecumenical service," Watters said.

Watters said attendance has been growing. About 250 people attended St. Ignatius' first New Year's Eve Service, and more than 750 are expected tonight.

Elsewhere, officials at Bethel AME Church, 1300 Druid Hill Ave., are expecting 1,200 to 1,300 people at their annual celebration, said Tina DeVeaux, executive assistant to the pastor. The celebration, which includes performances by the gospel group Mighty Clouds of Joy and Christian comedian Broderick Rice, begins at 7 p.m. and is followed by a worship service led by the Rev. Frank M. Reid.

"Most churches are having programs to give people an alternative celebration," DeVeaux said.

Payne Memorial AME Church, 1714 Madison Ave., is having its Watch Night service from 10 p.m. to midnight, said Angie Dixon, church secretary. At 11: 55, Dixon said, the Watchmen of the Night recite a prayer for each minute.

The Rev. J. Douglas Wilson, executive secretary for the Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore, said the organization's individual churches are holding services. The group is a coalition of church leaders working to improve East Baltimore.

"All of the churches will overflow with people," Wilson said. "It's a time to give thanks to God for his goodness."

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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