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Rose rental service a church tradition

June 20, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The people at Zion Reformed United Church of Christ in Chambersburg certainly like roses. Local history and traditions, too.

Sunday, there were roses on the altar and dozens more roses stenciled in chalk on the walks beside the church. The minister, wearing white vestments with an embroidered red rose on the stole, joined the congregation as they followed the roses to the Rev. Henry Rice monument on the South Main Street side of the church to cut a single, perfect, red rose.

That's how they pay the rent on the church property.

"Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1780, this parcel of land on which now stands our beloved church home was granted to our ancestors for the sum of the rental of one rose annually from the church grounds," the Rev. Jeffrey Diller said.

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"German immigrants formed the congregation 227 years ago, and 225 years ago (Chambersburg founder) Col. and Mrs. Benjamin Chambers granted the land."

During the Rose Rent service in the sanctuary, Leland Neuroth, a deacon of the congregation, presented the 2005 Rental Rose on behalf of the church to Zoey Wilhide, a ninth-generation descendant of Col. and Mrs. Benjamin Chambers, to fulfill the 1780 deed stipulation.

Zoey, 6, the daughter of Jarrod and Elizabeth Wilhide of Fairfield, Pa., received the rose on behalf of the Chambers family.

The choir sang the Rose Festival Anthem, written "decades ago" for the annual service, Diller said.

"Today is designed to help us remember that none of us got here on our own," said Diller, pastor of the church since 1987.

"Settlers came here and dug out stumps to make their farms. They endured cholera epidemics, and the ravages of the Civil War. We are indebted to the early trustees, the generous donors, the women who obtained the chandelier. Some were ordinary citizens, other were extraordinary. We all depend on the labor of those who went before us. The rose helps us remember our debt to them."

Diller said that everyrose.com lists 7,250 varieties of roses, but that "the Rose of the Month is the one we choose today. You and I are here because God has chosen us. He has chosen what is ordinary to become holy."

Elizabeth Wilhide accepted the rose at Zion Reformed a few years ago, she said, and has also received it at another Rose Rent church, the Presbyterian Church of the Falling Spring.

"I don't live here any more, and I want to keep a piece of my background and share it with Zoey." She added that the family will place the rose on the grave of Col. Chambers.

Zoey attended the ceremony with her parents and sister, Kara, 2.

When asked how she got to participate in the ceremony, Zoey said, "Col. Benjamin Chambers actually picked me."

Jarrod Wilhide said that Zoey, who recently finished first grade, practiced her part in the ceremony for two weeks.

Even though Zoey is missing four top teeth, she enunciated her part clearly.

She said that while Kara can talk, "she can't say big words like 'descendants.'"

The present church building was dedicated in 1813, Diller said. The church was not harmed when Confederate forces burned the town during the Civil War, although church records were lost because one of the deacons had taken them home with him and his house was torched.

The 230-member Zion Reformed Church at the corner of South Main and Liberty streets is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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