Spaghetti dinner with friends was fun, but nobody wanted to stay up to see the years collide. Except the kids, of course. But they need sleep. I don’t. So by 11, this modest house party was over and there wasn’t an awake soul around me.
I’ve never missed a NY midnight, yet hitting the hay became my decision. I was nearly horizontal. But then the church bells started ringing…
“Come to church!”
Oh yeah! I remembered. The Moravian Church just across the bay holds NYE service at 11—and rings bells like crazy at midnight. They sing and sing and then shake hands and wish each other Happy New Year with smiles of contagious hope.
So my clothes came back on, and I headed out the door. I was late to church, but God don’t mind. And neither do Moravians. Once in the classic old structure, I was clueless about which hymnal or page to follow—and not being a Moravian, that happened a lot.
But not to worry: A parishioner would appear—head bobbing and voice booming—from beside or behind and hand me the right book and get me on the same page.
All singing was a cappella—no piano, organ, no guitars. Just loud, proud voices echoing through this gorgeous old sanctuary. A church like this thinks nothing of hymns with 12 verses and a chorus each time between them. The lyrics were all about starting anew, the passage of time, faith and renewal.
Repeat! Repeat! Until you believe!
In between hymns, the pastor might say a few things in Christian Island Patois. Through his words, through wide-open windows, two live bands—one reggae and one classic rock—came crashing in like noisy (but not uninvited) guests.
“Legalize It!” “Tumbling Dice!” “Suzy Q!”
We must sing louder to drown all that out!
At midnight, hoots and howls from the streets and bars joined a clamor of car horns, conch blasts, and fireworks. But nothing compared in sheer volume to the peeling of the bell we sat under in church. That thing must have rung hundreds of times, for five minutes or more.
The sound was glorious and made it impossible to think. Feel it! Listen! Resist the temptation to plug your ears!
One more hymn, and we received the benediction. May the Lord bless and keep you…lift his countenance upon you…and give you peace and prosperity fo’ the who’ yeah a-haid! Amen Amen Amen!
Church is out. A New Year begins. It’ll be just like starting over.
Then came gentle handshakes from folks age 3 to 103. The only other White person was a beaming, elderly lady with messy hair, a humped back, and a yellow rain slicker. A number of fellow worshippers kept hold of my hand and said,
“I’m glad you came tonight.”
So was I.
Unlike the island-bro many-moves handshakes (that’s so fun, but so macho), these grasps were simple, caring. And nobody worried about that pushy, dated, dress-for-success suggestion: Always assert a firm handshake.
On the way home, I stopped by to sing more, but now on to rock and reggae with fellow St. John sinners. “Work of Art” was thumping big backbeats at Skinny Legs while dressed-up natives and dressed-down locals rubbed shoulders with Yachty babes in black lace and their East Coast boyfriend bums in Polo shirts.
The bartender charged me half the usual price for my red wine and knocked twice on the well-worn wooden bar. I took communion.
Then on to Island Blues. Drunks danced with abandon and filled the air with smoke to the sounds of butchered Hendrix and Stones. One local cutie would soon have her choice between two tan men competing for her attention like the geckos here lazily joust over a bit of sugar.
I stayed till almost 2. The party had only begun. Happy New Year.