By Bill Robinson
Children may go to sleep Christmas Eve with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, but for some people in Madison County, sugar plums and family gatherings may be only a fantasy.
However, First Presbyterian Church in Richmond will host a Christmas Eve dinner to which they are invited.
Known locally as the Peter Marshall/Ginny Moretz Dinner, the tradition was begun by the Rev. Peter Marshall, a beloved Washington, D.C., pastor who became chaplain of the United States Senate. During World War II, he had his church members serve a Christmas Eve dinner to military service members and others who were in Washington and could not be home for the holiday.
The church continued the tradition after the war, and many other Presbyterian churches began their own Christmas Eve dinners in memory of Marshall after his untimely death.
The idea spread across the country after Marshall’s wife, Katherine, wrote a bestselling biographical of her late husband titled “A Man Called Peter.” It was made into a popular movie. She also wrote a bestselling biography novel about her mother, “Christy.” Focused on her mother’s years as a one-room school teacher in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, it became the basis of popular television series in the 1990s.
Although originally intended to welcome people who cannot be with family on Christmas Eve, anyone is welcomed to participate in First Presbyterian’s dinner, said Sandy Connor, who helps plan the event.
“We hosted our first Peter Marshall Dinner in 1981,” she said. “It was organized by Ginny Moretz, who was in charge for many years. After she and her husband moved away, we decided to honor Ginny by adding her name to the event.”
The dinner is free and reservations are not required, Connor said, but planning is easier if people who expect to attend call her at 582-8822 or Linda Adams at 200-0762.
“Last year, we had about 90 guests,” Connor said.
The evening begins with a reception and games at 4. Dinner is at 5 with church members serving as hosts at each table. Santa Claus arrives at 6 bringing gifts for the children and baked goods for the adults. Spiced tea and candy is served then.
At 7, a candlelight service begins in the church sanctuary.