On February 12, 2011, I will be speaking at the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Part of the program will be highland dancing by the Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers. On Sunday, the church will have a “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans" which appears to be an annual event. The event on Saturday is called the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Supper Club.
The Kirkin’ is a purely American event, usually conducted in Presbyterian churches, to celebrate the contribution of Scots to America and the world. The first Kirkin' was held by the Rev. Peter Marshall in Washington, D.C. and I repeat here an article that appeared in the History Club Newsletter in 1999. All of those issues can be found on our web site at www.chicagoscots.net.
The personality of Peter Marshall flashed like a meteor across the conscience of America. Regretfully, it was extinguished with his early death at age 45. As U.S. Senate Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Marshall challenged the best in the nation with his piquant and pointed references to the problems of the day in his prayers.
Peter Marshall was born in 1904 in Coatbridge, Scotland, in the industrial Clydeside. His father died when he was four. He studied engineering, and was encouraged to pursue his career in the U.S. where he arrived in 1927. He worked in New Jersey and Birmingham, Alabama, where he was inspired to study for the ministry.
After graduation, he became pastor of a church in Covington, Georgia, and later in Atlanta. By 1933, he was attracting large crowds with his sermons. He moved to Washington where he was well known as the preacher at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Here hundreds were turned away every Sunday.
He was asked to preach the Christmas sermon to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and family. Before long he was appointed Chaplain to the Senate. It was said that Senators started coming early just to hear his prayers which were widely quoted in national publications. An editorial in the Atlanta Journal said, “His arresting pulpit personality holds his listeners enthralled by the dramatic forcefulness of his delivery.”
He suffered severe heart pains in 1947 and died January 25, 1949. Later, his wife Catherine said of her husband, “There were things that Scotland contributed to Peter - as she does to all her sons - a sturdy independence that scorns hardship, a tenacity of purpose, and a deep appreciation of religion and political liberty with the will to defend it at any cost.”
Posted by Wayne Rethford, President of the Scottish American History Club.