On a frosty Saturday afternoon, three days before Christmas, the doors of the Presbyterian Center here opened for a most unusual holiday gathering.

Runners of all ages, some sporting Santa hats and reindeer antlers, trudged up from the finish line of a 5K race along the Ohio River front to join men, women and children from local homeless shelters inside the Presbyterian Center cafeteria.

They piled their plates high with fried chicken, pizza, Christmas cookies and other tasty treats donated by Louisville restaurants and congregations.

The race and post-race dinner/worship service were sponsored by Sweaty Sheep, an outreach to the athletic community supported by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky.

Sweaty Sheep founder Ryan Althaus, a slender seminary graduate with a mop of natural orange hair, an earnest voice and a twinkle in his eyes, soon had several hundred people in the packed cafeteria singing Christmas carols and passing the peace of Christ to their neighbors.

The owner of a local running-shoe store shared a personal testimony and assured the wildly diverse congregation that “we are all family here.”

Following a reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke (King James Version), Althaus preached about a homeless Jesus.

Awards were presented for the most creative costumes, the fastest runners and to survivors of the race’s optional “Eggnog Challenge.”

Then the members of the motley crew streamed out like words of benediction into the gathering darkness:

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

And the peace of Christ be with you. . . .

Eva Stimson is editor of “Presbyterians Today” magazine.