Chattahoochee Valley residents celebrate freedom at Watch Night - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Chattahoochee Valley residents celebrate freedom at Watch Night services

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

We let go of the old as we head into something new. This is a New Year's Eve tradition of sorts, and for some, the day has a more liberating meaning rooted deep in history.

While many people will be out at parties, or staying at home for New Year's Eve, hundreds of Chattahoochee Valley Residents will ring in 2014 at church. However, Watch Night services, in particular, are more than just religious ceremonies.

Reverend Johnny Flakes, III of the Fourth Street Baptist Church explains why. "We see it as a providential act of God, where God was behind the scene orchestrating the freeing of a people," he says.

These end-of-the-year services date back to December 31, 1862. That night, black people in Confederate states waited prayerfully to be freed from slavery. They called it Freedom's Eve. President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery the next day, something African-American churches around the country now pay homage to through Watch Night services each year.

"Geared towards challenging persons to be free, from a spiritual perspective, of certain habits, but also to be encouraged," Flakes adds.

The pews at Fourth Street Baptist Church fill with worshippers as they review their pasts, and preview their futures.

Flakes says, "Many times people would come to the Watch Night, or Freedom's Eve, before they would go out."

Through songs, prayers and a sermon, Flakes and his congregation hope to use the harsh past as a reminder to keep church members rising higher as they stand on the shoulders of those who've come before them.

Flakes says the purpose is clear, "To identify New Year's Eve, and to engage in celebration as a people." He says, people of all races, creeds and denominations celebrate.

Watch night services typically start between 7 and 10 p.m., and end just after one of the religious leaders counts down to Midnight. 

Story by Tyrone McCoy.

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