nation’s capital had never known a minster quite like the Rev. Dr. Peter
Marshall (1902-1949). The Presbyterian minister arrived in Washington,
D.C., in October 1937 amid the gathering storm of the Second World War.
He preached his first sermon as the thirty-five-year-old pastor of the
historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on October 3, 1937, barely
a decade after the Scottish native had immigrated to America, stepping
out, he said, “under sealed orders.” Only God could know that digging
ditches across New Jersey and a stint on the Birmingham News in Alabama
would open the doors to Columbia Theological Seminary and two
flourishing pastorates in Georgia before the charismatic Scotsman was
called to Abraham Lincoln’s church, one of the most important in
PASTOR, NEW YORK AVENUE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Peter Marshall’s life demonstrated to young and old alike that
Christianity can be fun. As word spread of this “thrilling evangelical
preacher,” an overflowing sanctuary left hundreds waiting in long lines
hoping to find a seat. His sermons, many written with anonymous research
by his wife Catherine, revealed a rock-ribbed faith, clarity of
conviction, and a poet’s pen. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Dr.
Marshall preached to the midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in
Annapolis. At the last minute, he felt led to change his prepared
sermon. Within the hour, the Class of 1942 learned of the Japanese
attack at Pearl Harbor. The sermon he preached was “Go Down, Death.”
This was the first of Dr. Marshall's dramatic, powerful, and prophetic
sermons during World War II that his son, Peter John, published after
the September 11th attacks in The Wartime Sermons of Dr. Peter Marshall.
Only a few of Dr. Marshall’s sermons were ever recorded, and they are
now available via this website, resonating above time and circumstance
to touch succeeding generations.
KIRKIN’ OF THE TARTAN
During the Blitz beginning in September 1940, the island nation of Peter
Marshall’s birth stood alone against the Nazi juggernaut. In April 1941
as president of the St. Andrews Society, he offered New York Avenue as a
venue to raise funds for British War Relief. The Kirkin’ of the Tartan,
begun by Dr. Marshall seventy years ago, is still held annually at
Washington National Cathedral.
CHAPLAIN OF THE U. S. SENATE
In January 1947, Dr. Marshall was elected the fifty-seventh Chaplain of
the United States Senate. His pithy prayers that opened the daily
sessions of the Senate soon drew not only senatorial but media
attention. He was called the “conscience of the Senate.” Two years
later, Peter’s valiant heart gave out. He died on the morning of January
25, 1949, his prophetic voice stilled at the age of only 46. But not
silenced. God was still in the business of “making all things work
together for good.” And he did so through Peter’s wife, Catherine
Marshall, who gathered some of his prayers for publication and
chronicled his life in her best-selling biography A Man Called Peter.
Marshall Ministries for this article.