By Obinna Chukwuezie
One of the most widely-attended church services in Nigeria is the “Cross Over Night.” Unlike other Christian services, it holds on the last day of every year and last till the dawn of a new year. It has become a church tradition of some sort, and fondly embraced by the Nigerian society who looks forward to it with great excitement.
Nigerians defy the cold weather, Boko Haram threats, armed robbery threats and the comfort of their room to attend the annual service. Many Nigerians prefer to end the year in the church, as well as start the year in the church. It has been like that for many years and more like a ritual which will outlive them.
As often as it is the case, churches put out posters, bill boards, radio jingles, TV jingles and other publicity about four or two weeks to the date and inviting the public.
Cross Over Night services are widespread in Nigerian cities and rural areas, with varying titles.
Our reporter who went round the streets recorded a few names associated with the services as “suya night”, “new entry night”, “take over night” among other names.
Although not all the churches in Nigeria organize such services; those who do not are in the stark minority. It is estimated that 8 out of every 10 Christian attend cross over night services, especially among the lower class as most of the upper class are spending the holiday outside Nigeria.
Then and now
It is interesting to observe that in recent practice, the services are heavily advertised with lots of buzz and glitz unlike in the 70s and 80s. A middle-aged clergy in one of the orthodox churches explained that things are no longer what it used to be. “Now, some of the churches have introduced ‘Predictions for the forthcoming year’, while others has introduced the concept of bringing popular local or international artistes and comedians to perform at the services.” These current trends attract large number of visitors, tourists, journalists and even people from other faiths attend, not to be left out in the fun.
A visit to one of the would-be centers reveals that the congregation wears new looks, well-decorated with good lightings and sounds and “waiting to-go” according to the presiding clergy. When our reporter asked about the expectation in terms of turn-out, Pastor Chris answered “This is usually filled to the brim with no spare seat. It will be difficult to get a parking space as it is just one single service unlike the usual Sunday Services that attract multiple services. So, if you are thinking of attending the service, it advisable to be there about four hours earlier” to be able to secure space for your butts and space for your automobile (if you have one).
Different strokes for different folks
The reason for attendance differs from one person to another;
In the last episode, a man who sat by left hand side of our reporter admitted that he attends church service just once in a year, and that is the Cross Over Night service. He uses the opportunity to “thank God for the year and ask for the blessing of the New Year.” For the man, it is more of an annual ceremony for him where he also makes his New Year resolution.
Another worshipper who attended with his entire household explained that the service is of high spiritual significance to him and his family. “I could not have been in any other place at this time than here,” he remarked. The praise, jubilation, shouts of joy, testimonies, prayers, communion, anointing, deliverance are something that I cannot afford to miss.
At the entrance of the church came a group of young people clutching green bottles and chanting joyous tunes and waiting for 12 am to explode. They were not part of the congregation but want to associate in the shout of “Happy New year” and then return to where they emerged from. My colleague described this group as “crossing over and crossing back” folks.
Those worshippers, who had had phenomenal year, approached the service with more of thanksgiving, while those who had had a challenging year approached the service with nostalgia-believing that the New Year would be great for them.
Another group you would find in the service is those are uncertain of what the following will bring and who came to hear the predictions direct from prophets. Their expectations are often met as they get a long list of them. Whether the predictions turn out to be to true or far from true is a title for another story.
Everyone gets something
Cross Over Night service is a mixture of joys and tears, it is emotional. Some count their blessings and some count their challenges. Others have their curiosity met. Many attend the service not knowing what the following year will bring. After the service, worshippers return home with high hopes that the year will be good for them. Even the President’s New Year message of hope soon after the Cross Over Night services does not replace the hopes that worshippers derived from various pulpits during the services.
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