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MANY FOLKS WOULD RATHER PRAY THAN PLAY ON NEW YEAR’S EVE

SHARE MANY FOLKS WOULD RATHER PRAY THAN PLAY ON NEW YEAR’S EVE

New Year's Eve. The very name evokes images of mindless celebration and idle cheer.

Not for Elisa Ford.Instead of ringing in 1995 with a glass of bubbly and a cardboard party hat, she'll be bending her knees in prayer.

New Year's Eve, said Ford, is just another night to do God's bidding. And that means no dallying, no dancing, no drinking till dawn.

"Instead of partying in the new year, we will be praying in the new year," said Ford, 31, a member of Holy Temple Holiness Church in North Philadelphia. "It's a matter of choice. We choose to serve God and be in the house of the Lord to celebrate the coming of the new year."

Church isn't exactly the first location that springs to mind when most people are planning their New Year's Eve excursions. But scores of Christians would rather pray than play, think a New Year's Eve dance is a dance with the devil and have tried to get their less rigorous friends to view church as the perfect holiday haven.

"I believe," said Ford, "that people who don't go to church on New Year's are having a good time. But they would have a better time if they acknowledged God more."

Ford's longtime friend, Iva F. Gregory, 38, sees it differently. She rebuffed Ford's invitation to await 1995 in church, saying she prefers "going to a party and bringing in the new year right."

While Gregory and millions of other revelers are on the town Saturday night, many of the area's Baptist, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches will be open for traditional late-night, or all-night, "watch meeting" services. Individual congregations in other denominations will hold similar services.

At Cana Galilee Church in South Philadelphia, the Rev. Matthew C. Haskell Jr. and 14 other Baptist preachers will lead an all-night watch meeting for 400 people - food, music and roof-raising sermons included.

"The moral decline within America is exemplified by the way we celebrate," he said. "The glass of champagne and the party hat didn't give us the new year, God did. The glass of champagne and the party hat didn't get us through the last year, God did."