John Wesley, the Methodist Church, and the History of the First Watch Night Service


On this day in 1770, America’s first-known “watch-night” service was held at St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia.

Watch Night services are a tradition started by John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church. In all honesty, he borrowed the tradition from Moravian Christians that  used them as a late-night vigil for the faithful; however, as time marched on, John molded this into a New Year’s Eve service where Christians were invited to review the year, confess to sins and pray for the year ahead.

These services remain in Methodist worship manuals as “Covenant Renewal Services.” Here’s a brief description from the UMC website:

The renewal of the individual’s covenant with God through a service that was established and emphasized by John Wesley. He believed that Methodists, and all Christians should reaffirm their covenant with God annually.

In 1755, John Wesley held his first covenant service using words written earlier by Richard Alleine. Wesley published this service in a pamphlet in 1780, and this form was used without alteration for nearly a century in England. It has been modified somewhat in more recent years.

The covenant hymn, “Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine,” was written for this service by Charles Wesley. The service is included in The Book of Worship under the title “An Order of Worship for Such as Would Enter Into or Renew Their Covenant with God — For Use in a Watch Night Service, on the First Sunday of the Year, or Other Occasion.”

This covenant service is often used in United Methodism as a Watch Night Service on New Year’s Eve. The covenant service is observed in some local churches on New Year’s Day or on the first Sunday in January. The service focuses on the Christian’s renewing the covenant of response to the grace of God in Christ.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer is typically used for the renewal of a believer’s Covenant with God; although, It is also recited in special worship services. It is also a wonderful expression for individuals who want to affirm their commitment to God.

The original version was written by John Wesley in the 1750’s; however, a more modern version is below. (Click here for a PDF of the original.)

Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours
Put me to what You will. Rank me with whom You will.
Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You,
exalted for You or brought low by You.
Let me have all things.
Let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am Yours. So be it.