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New Year’s Eve Watchnight “Owlah” Service

The Watchnight “Owlah” Service is designed to begin at 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and to end at or near midnight. The Hebrew word owlah means “burnt offering.” This service provides an opportunity to offer to God the struggles, sadness, guilt, and pain of the past year and to renew your covenant relationship with God as you begin the new year.

 

WELCOME

SAY: “On the last night of the year, it is traditional to have a vigil in which we prepare ourselves spiritually: evaluating our lives, renouncing evil and injustice, and renewing our covenant relationship with God.”


OPENING PRAYER

[Invite people to pray this prayer in unison:]

“O God, Searcher of all our hearts,
you have formed us as a people and claimed us for your own.
As we come to acknowledge your sovereignty and grace,
and to enter anew into covenant with you,
reveal any reluctance or falsehood within us.
Let your Spirit impress your truth on our inmost being,
and receive us in mercy, for the sake of our Mediator, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

—from Covenant Renewal Service and Opening Prayer © 1992
United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.


HYMN

“Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee”


LITANY OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Read aloud the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:1–17. Then invite people to join you in this responsive litany by reading the lines in bold type and by reflecting on the ways they twist, dodge, and disobey God’s law.

I am the Lord your God . . . you shall have no other gods before me.

I would never worship another god—or would you call it worship if Sunday’s big game, or my crush, or my stuff is the center of my attention?

You shall not make for yourself an idol . . .you shall not bow down to them or worship them.

“Idol” is an old term. It means what holds first place in one’s life. Many people consider money an idol. Are all my time and thoughts and energy put into making money? Could that be my idol too?

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

Surely all those little slips of the tongue don’t matter . . . or do they? How does the constant misuse of God’s name sound to those who want to be faithful people of God? How do my words make others feel?

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

But times have changed: stores are open on Sunday—I need to shop then. My job requires me to work on Sunday. Perhaps I could declare another day for Sabbath rest?

Honor your father and your mother.

I do, even though they try my patience. They seem out of touch and less informed than I am. But do I really listen to their needs, concerns, and wisdom?

You shall not murder.

I would never do that! But if I even think hateful of someone . . . is that bad also?

You shall not commit adultery.

Unfaithfulness takes many forms today all around us. That’s what we see on TV. But that doesn’t make it right, does it?

You shall not steal.

I don’t do that! Stealing is taking things that don’t belong to us. Burning a CD of copyrighted music or not returning incorrect change or a book I borrowed wouldn’t be stealing, would it?

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

I don’t tell lies. I tell “news” as I heard it. But is it the truth? Maybe I should check the facts first or say nothing.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house [or anything your neighbor owns].

My neighbor has it. The TV says I need it. I envy what my friend has. I really want it. You mean I should be content and thankful for what I have? Or even share what I have with others?

O God, we thank you for your patient and steadfast love.
Help us to be faithful to your covenant love.
Enable us to be the people you desire us to be.
And beginning this night, may we always strive to live according to the
covenant standards you have given us. Amen.


HYMN

“Lord, I Want to Be a Christian”


OWLAH BURNT OFFERING

SAY: “In the Hebrew Bible, the burnt offering goes up in smoke, totally burned and consumed, with nothing left over. For Christians, this sacrifice is a representation of Christ, who offered himself once for all our sin.”

Invite people to remember the life and example of Christ and to think about the times when they have acted outside of God’s will and desire for their lives. Ask them to write on index cards brief descriptions of those times, confessing their sins and asking God’s forgiveness.

[After a significant period of silence, invite the group to pray together:]


COVENANT PRAYER

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

Invite people to come to the table or altar, to place their cards in the Owlah basket, to touch the basket, and to pray for God’s forgiveness.

Ask a volunteer to carry the basket outside, and invite the group to follow. The liturgy continues as people gather in silence around a small fire pit. The basket and cards are lit by a torch (or placed in a burning fire) and are consumed by the flames.


PRAYER OF PARDON AND THANKSGIVING

Ask God’s forgiveness for sin, and give thanks for God’s mercy and grace.


HYMN

“Joy to the World”


RINGING OF THE BELLS

Ring church bell or handbells to herald the new year.


THE PEACE

The people exchange signs of Christian love and reconciliation.

 

—adapted from the Watchnight “Owlah” Service, copyright © 1999, 2000 GBOD, The United Methodist Church. All rights reserved.

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