The Covenant Renewal Service

Liturgical Color: Red


In 1663 Richard Alleine, a Puritan, published Vindiciae Pietatis: or, “A Vindication of Godliness in the Greater Strictness and Spirituality of It.” In 1753, it was again published in John Wesley’s “A Christian Library.” Wesley used one chapter, “The Application of the Whole,” on Monday, August 11, 1755, in what probably was the first real celebration of the covenant service in the Methodist movement.

Wesley found the service rich and meaningful, as expressed in his journal: “many mourned before God, and many were comforted” (April 1756); “it was, as usual, a time of remarkable blessing” (October 1765); “it was an occasion for a variety of spiritual experiences… I do not know that ever we had a greater blessing. Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for a fresh manifestation of His graces, healing all their backslidings” (January 1, 1775). In London these services were usually held on New Year’s Day. Around the country the Covenant Service was conducted whenever John Wesley visited the Methodist Societies.

After the time of Wesley several versions of the Covenant Service were developed, gradually giving Wesley’s material less place in the total service. The present service follows our Basic Pattern of worship, enables the congregation to participate more fully, and updates language. Most significant, the liturgy beginning with the Invitation is taken directly from Wesley’s service of 1780.

The heart of the service focused in Covenant Prayer, requires persons to commit themselves to God. This covenant is serious and assumes adequate preparation for and continual response to the covenant. Leaders of worship must take seriously the need to prepare the congregation for this service, possibly through study sessions and prayer. The leaders must also assume responsibility to assist persons to be faithful to the covenant, possibly through meetings for spiritual discipline.

The covenant service is most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or Day and therefore is sometimes called a Watch Night Service. Historically, a Watch Night Service would be three hours or longer, including readings from Scripture and hymn singing. This Covenant Service would also be appropriate on one of the Sundays After The Epiphany, during Lent, on a church anniversary, or during a revival are preaching mission. Ideally, the service should be used only once a year on the same Sunday. Red is an appropriate color for parents and vestments.

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