ST. PETERSBURG — Since Dec. 31, 1862, Watch Night Services have taken place across the United States. Originally known as Freedom’s Eve, slaves and free blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation eagerly waiting to hear if the Emancipation Proclamation had actually become law.
Now, African Americans gather in churches annually on New Year’s Eve praising God for bringing them safely through another year, and this year was no different.
Thousands of people around St. Pete could be found in their houses of worship praising God. From Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church where the Reverend Rickey Houston officiated over services, to Friendship Missionary Baptist Church where you could find Pastor John Evans at the pulpit, the night was filled with song and praise.
At Mt. Zion Progressive, not an empty seat could be found in the main sanctuary. As Ministry Kevin B. Parrott had the house swaying from side to side with the Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir, Senior Pastor Reverend Louis Murphy, Sr. took to the pulpit.
“I know you could have gone anywhere in the city but you came to Mt. Zion,” said Rev. Murphy.
Not only was the main sanctuary packed, the overflow room on the second floor was filled with church members and guests. One special guest closing out 2015 and bringing in 2016 was Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Jameis Winston.
“I just want to first of all thank God for y’all. I don’t know how I would be able to do it if I didn’t have the support of everyone in here, all of your prayers,” said Winston, thanking everyone for accepting him and his family into this community.
“It’s been a tough course for me and my family over the past few years, but God is good. We’ve overcame so much and we’ve persevered, but we would not have been able to do it without your prayers and you having our backs,” concluded Winston.
2015’s service, like any other year, had song, worship and praise, but this year the service was full of laughter. World-famous Christian comedian Trina Jeffrie and her alter ego, Sister Cantaloupe, brought the house down with her folksy brand of humor.
Sister Cantaloupe, the nosy busybody church lady that every congregation has, performed a 50 minute set on topics such as finding a man, church music, her ugly nephews and much more. But when the time came, Rev. Murphy took control back from the “”First Lady of Gospel Comedy” and preached in the new year with words of inspiration.
With electricity in the air, Rev. Murphy advised that in 2016 everyone should focus on understanding who God has created them to be.
“So many times we lose sight of who we are and whose we are. So many of us are trying to be like someone else; so many of us are caught up in this old crazy world in which we are living in where everything is about me,” he said. “What if I would just focus on being the best that I can be? What if you focus on being the best that you can be? What if we all decided that we are going to live in the image that God has created us?”
Rev. Murphy told the congregation that making New Year’s resolutions are futile “because you’re going to break them before the night is over anyway.” He said most people break them because they’re not ready for the commitment.
“Stop making the commitment and just start developing the relationship. Don’t worry about trying to commit to something that you ain’t got the power to…When you and your relationship get right with God, then God works everything out,” he boomed.
If you’re still struggling with something, he said, you’re not ready to give it up, such as smoking, fatty foods, drinking, cursing, etc. Instead of making resolutions, he urged them to cultivate a relationship with God through prayer.
“Stop worrying about it and tell God about it,” Rev. Murphy said, basing his advice on Matthew 6:33, where Jesus said to keep seeking God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.
“Pray to Him in the morning, pray to Him in the noon day, pray to Him in the evening time, pray when you are on your job; pray when you are talking to your neighbor; pray when you are talking to your coworker. Pray all the time,” he stressed.
If we cultivate our relationship with God through prayer, we can obtain “the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us get through 2016,” he averred.
Once the clock struck midnight, Rev. Murphy encouraged all who were able to come to the altar and pray with him for a New Year filled with God’s Holy Spirit.