The world has changed a lot since I was a kid. It’s the new year, and specifically “New Years” that makes me think of this. A family tradition of several years running in my growing up days was to attend the New Year’s Eve Watch Service at church. What’s that? It’s where you gather with folks at church to “watch” the new year come in.
Our celebrations were often filled with food, games and conversation in the church basement. I faintly remember one year when Father Time and Baby New Year made an appearance in some kind of dramatic presentation. I think this was imprinted on me as some adult relative played the part of Baby New Year, clad in nothing but a cloth diaper!
As the hands on the clock crept ever closer to midnight we would go upstairs to the sanctuary for a special time of worship and Holy Communion. I remember it as a pretty introspective time, when the pastor asked us to think about the year that was closing and what kind of spiritual goals we had for the new year about to begin. I have to confess that I enjoyed the earlier hours of “watch night” more than that last, rather somber one.
But when the new year did arrive and we were released to our homes, our fun was not over. You see we almost always gave my Grandma Cash a ride to and from church, New Year’s watch service included. But on this night, when we dropped her off, we were invited to announce the dawn of another year to all our neighbors by ringing Grandma’s dinner bell. This bell was affixed to a column in her yard and had been used over many years to call her family home for dinner – this when she was raising a brood of four boys and a girl on the family homestead. For most of my childhood the only time I heard the bell ring was on New Years. Oh the joy of clanging away with that bell on a cold winter night in the deep dark! That tradition, to me, was one of proclamation and hope. We were celebrating another year, a fresh start, a beginning. All that had been built up in the “watching” was now released in the ringing. Everyone had to have a turn ringing, so this went on for some time. Ringing, ringing, ringing . . . . back and forth ringing!
Can you hear it? With each peal comes an announcement – a prayer. May this year be better. May we be stronger in this new year. May we be faithful. May we be true. May this year be a year of cooperation. May it be a year of difference making. May this year be a year to build on all that has been in a way that helps it make sense. May this year be a good year, a year of blessing, a year of hope. And when hardship comes, as it surely will, may we remember who holds us and guides us through this year.
Go ahead, give the bell a ring, and add your prayer for the new year.