Rose rent service a hint to church's past

June 16, 2003|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - At just 3 months of age, Taylor Sue George would have no way of knowing that the ceremony her father participated in Sunday dates back more than two centuries and that one day it may be her accepting the rose rent.

Each year the symbolic rose rent ceremony is held at Zion Reformed Church, which received its grant of land in 1780 from Col. Benjamin Chambers, founder of the borough. On Sunday it was Paul George, a seventh-generation descendant of Chambers, who accepted the rent of a single white rose, cut from a shrub on the church's property at the corner of South Main and Liberty streets.

After the service, George noted that his son Garrett, 2, may also be called upon to collect the rent from this and two other churches in the future.


Two weeks ago, Falling Spring Presbyterian Church handed over its rose, and earlier on Sunday the First Lutheran Church paid its rose tribute.

Zion Reformed was established two years before Chambers' donation, when a group of German immigrant families formed the church in 1778. They met at a North Main Street inn owned by Nicholas Schneider, according to Lois Evrette Picking, a descendant of the innkeeper who traveled from Irwin, Pa., for the event.

Sharon Waddell came from Atlanta for the ceremony. Waddell said she is descended from three brothers named Straley who were among the founders.

"My branch went to Texas," she said.

The rose rent ceremony also marked the 225th anniversary of the church's founding.

"We are keeping a tradition. But keeping faith is not always easy," Pastor Jeffrey Diller told the congregation and guests. "Col. Chambers and his wife did not use these words ... but they could have. Till it. Keep it," he said in drawing an analogy between roses and faith.

After the service, he said the rose rent tradition apparently fell to the wayside for some years until it resumed in the early 1950s. Diller gave a historical presentation before the ceremony, reading from and commenting on the journals of William Heyser, an early member of the church who lived from 1796 to 1863.

"In William Heyser's diary, there's no mention of it," Diller said of the rose rent. He noted, however, that it might have been such a tradition that it passed with little notice.

There was little, though, that passed Heyser's notice in the diaries.

On a June day in 1854, he noted the temperature of 98 degrees and preparations for the Fourth of July parade, which was "occasioned by much drunkenness." In 1857, he wrote of the death of a former church member, "dismissed for improper conduct, having several bastard children."

"The way of the transgressor is hard," Heyser wrote.

There were visits to the area by "Barnum's Menagerie," newspaperman Horace Greeley, a band of Sioux Indians on their way to Washington and other well-known people of the day. During the Civil War, he also wrote of the October 1862 raid of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, the battle of Gettysburg (Pa.) and trains carrying 20 or 30 dead Union soldiers back to their homes each day.

On Election Day in 1856, when Franklin County native James Buchanan was elected president, Heyser again took note of the excessive drinking and wrote, "One man I know sold his vote for $1 and two drinks."

Invited to the inauguration the next year, he described the White House as "poorly furnished ... an old building that has the appearance of antiquity."

Of the executive mansion's next resident, Heyser, a Democrat, may have let politics influence his opinions, remarking on Abraham Lincoln's "unfaithful stewardship" of the office.

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