Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The History of Watch Care Church Service

The History of Watch Care Church Service
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director and CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
December 26-January 2, 2010

For all Christians, the Christmas holidays are the most sacred spiritual time of the calendar years.

For African American Christians, the week after December 25 holds immense significance as well.

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln, following a decisive Union military victory over confederate forces at Antietam, Maryland, penned and signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation would free enslaved African Americans in confederate states that seceded from the United States of America such as Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

The Emancipation Proclamation was to be effective January 1, 1863. As such, Christmas of 1862 and the week following was the most important week of enslaved African Americans who had fought, bled, prayed, strategized, and died for their legal emancipation. Yet, their spirits were reminded of freedom through song.

The “Negro Spirituals”, developed as sacred songs of African Americans who were forcibly converted to Christianity by un-Godly Whites who disrespected the religions and cosmology of Africans legally designated as “slaves.” Regardless of earthly bondage and inhuman degradation enslaved African Americans established Spirituals to uplift their souls, in the words of James Weldon Johnson, “…felt in the day when hope, unborn, had died…”

During enslavement many states outlawed gatherings of the enslaved. Nonetheless, African Americans gathered in “camp meetings” after sunset (and 14-hour work days) in secluded and wooded areas to feed their souls through song. For example, singers long for freedom in “There Will be a Great Camp Meeting in the Promised Land”. Likewise, “In dat Great Getting’ Up Morning” the writer prophesizes freedom from bondage and wishes that the freed “fare ye well.” Similarly, the Spiritual “My Soul Be at Res” featured the lyric: “One of deese mornin’s my soul be at res.”

Leading up to January 1, 1863 our enslaved ancestors sang and prayed, and sang and prayed. On December 31, religious leaders asked the faithful to have “camp meetings” or church services to “watch” for freedom in the morning. The idea was to spiritually ensure that President Lincoln’s promise of emancipation would fulfilled.

And thus “Watch Care” service was established.

Emancipation Day featured feasts of the diet of the day in 1863—collard greens, black-eyed peas, pig’s feet, and yams.

Today, many African American communities celebrate Emancipation Day

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.