Wesleyan Traditions: Watch Night & Covenant Renewal
I often struggle to experience worship when I am leading worship. That was not the case on January 1, 2017. That Sunday morning I led my congregation through the liturgy of Wesley’s covenant renewal service. We included a time for personal reflection and journaling our covenant with God for the year ahead. I then kept my covenant within reach at my desk for the entire year. I reread it a few times. Looking back on it now, it’s plain to see how the covenant I entered into that day shaped the year ahead, shifted my ministry, and compelled me to follow my call in a new direction. It was a powerful experience for me!
A new calendar year is a time of crossing over. It signals a fresh start, the opportunity to begin again—and that’s a gift many need any given year. What if we could invite our congregations, our small groups, our families, or just ourselves to really make the start of the new year a deeply meaningful time in our faith?
I remember well the challenge of offering something new or creative in worship immediately after an exhausting Advent and a pull-out-all-the-stops Christmas Eve. As a result, I want to offer you some resources in hopes that you and those with whom you worship and fellowship might revisit the tradition of a covenant renewal service.
The resources you’ll find here are intended to be helpful, which means that I hope you will adapt them to fit your context and your sense of where the Spirit is leading you. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking creatively:
- Use these materials as a ready-to-go Sunday morning service on any of the first several Sundays after Christmas or at a time when a fresh, new start is needed in your setting.
- In keeping more with the watchnight tradition, include this opportunity for covenant on New Year’s Eve. (Shout out to Burley UMC in Burley, Idaho! In years gone by, they sometimes had a game night on Dec. 31 as an option for those who didn’t have or want a raucous party. Shortly before midnight, there was an invitation to enter the sanctuary for a very informal covenant renewal service. Got a recovery ministry in your church? Invite them to join you!)
- Have a potluck with all those holiday leftovers and invite those gathered around the table (in homes or church fellowship halls) to read the covenant renewal liturgy and talk about it together.
- Familiarize yourself with the liturgy, then gather a group for informal conversation about the ideas within it. Talk about God’s faithfulness in the past year and your commitment to following God more closely or in new ways and different directions in the year ahead.
- Include in the life of your family, your small group, your friends, or your church a “blessing of the calendars.” Gather all kinds of time-keepers—watches, day planners, cell phones—hold them or place them in the center of the group. Invite other voices and pray about how you long for God to be present and how you commit to be present to God in your moments and days, throughout the seasons and the year ahead.
Resources offered here include the following:
- Sample Order of Worship—Watchnight Service – PDF
A basic pattern of worship for traditional Sunday morning worship services that includes the Covenant Renewal liturgy and reflection time in lieu of a sermon
- Wesleyan Tradition of Covenant Renewal—Sample Introduction – PDF
The sample order of worship includes an introduction to this tradition. The text provided here can be used as that introductory material or adapted to suit your community.
- Covenant Renewal Service Liturgy & Journal Pages PDF Version – Publisher Version
This document includes the complete liturgy, covenant prayer, and lined pages for journaling about one’s own covenant.It is designed to be printed on letter sized paper, two-sided pages (flip on short edge), and folded in half. Each booklet uses 3 sheets of paper.
- Covenant Renewal journal for KIDS – PDF Version | Publisher Version)
This document invites children to think about the past year and the year ahead. It is most useful for children who can read, but it can be used alongside an adult for non-readers and has plenty of spaces for drawing or coloring. It is designed to be printed on letter sized paper, two-sided pages (flip on short edge), and folded in half. Each booklet uses 3 sheets of paper.
Click here for some additional Watchnight liturgical resources courtesy of Ministry Matters
Do you have great ideas of your own about how to bring greater meaning to people of faith at the start of the new calendar year? Share them here!
Rev. Karen Hernandez is Sage District Superintendent. Most recently she served Kuna United Methodist Church (Kuna, Idaho), where the congregation graciously tried all kinds of new things in worship and beyond.