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Garden Club invites all to peace ceremony, tree lighting

The Cultura Garden Club’s annual Every Light a Prayer for Peace and Christmas tree lighting event will be held outside the Franklin County Courthouse Dec. 2, starting at 4:15 p.m. and finishing by 5 p.m. The program will conclude with the official lighting of the Christmas tree, and the Russellville Christmas parade will begin at 6 p.m.

Club members said his ceremony has been locally observed and sponsored by the garden club for more than 30 years. Honorees of the event include veterans, active-duty military, frontline workers, first responders and emergency medical personnel. They will be recognized for valor, dedication and service to city, state and country.

The Every Light a Prayer for Peace ceremony first began 70 years ago, when the memories of World War II were still at the forefront of American hearts and minds. The program was adopted by the Federated Garden Clubs of Alabama and has been observed in towns across the state and on the steps of the Alabama Capitol each year in December.

“The horrid memories of World War II were still fresh when our courageous soldiers were sent once again to fight against the spread of communism in Korea in early 1950,” explained Susie Malone, longtime club member and event chairperson. “Families were no longer worried about stringing lights, Christmas shopping, singing carols and festive parties. Prayers for peace were on everyone’s minds.”

Dec. 1, 1951, Dorothy Parrish of Greenville established a tree lighting ceremony for her town, in which citizens could take a moment to light a candle to honor or remember a loved one fighting on foreign soil. This became a time for her community to come together and offer prayers for peace.

Russellville’s Lighting of the Candles will be coordinated by garden club members as a combined school choir sings “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”  RHS band director Jeremy Willis will play taps, and Bert Fowler, minister of music for First Baptist Church of Russellville, will give the closing prayer.

Pastor Chase Dowdy of First Baptist Church in Russellville will present the Prayer for Peace message.

“This event is a wonderful opportunity for our community to start the Christmas season off right,” said Dowdy, “by uniting in prayer for our churches, country, military, law enforcement, first responders and all who daily go above and beyond to ensure our protection.”

The RHS and RMS choruses, along with the RES fifth-grade chorus, will perform.

“We’ll sing ‘Christmas in Dixie,’” said RES choral director Lauren Ritter, “and I’m excited to hear the students sing, as well as for them to have the opportunity to participate in a nationwide peace event.”

The RHS JROTC will present the colors. Madelyn Cooper, Franklin County’s Distinguished Young Woman for this year, will sing the national anthem.

Malone said the event has grown significantly over the years, starting as a “very small group.”

This will be the second year for the tree-lighting ceremony to be a feature of the program. The tree is located in the green space in front of the Byars Building, 501 N. Jackson Ave., downtown Russellville, diagonally across from the Franklin County Courthouse.

“Our nation and the world continue to be in conflict today,” Malone said, “and this will provide the opportunity to come together as a community and stop to say a prayer and light a candle in honor of those who serve and have served so that we may enjoy our freedom.”