The Red Rose Church
On June 1, 2014, Tabor’s historian Greg Keller, Jr. provided this background to the annual celebration of Red Rose Sunday.
This morning I would like to share with you a little bit of a different history of our church. The first church was a log structure standing at the North-East corner of our property and ran east-west with a stone foundation and two bells atop the roof. It was dedicated on July 18, 1762 and the church was “to be forever called Tabor.” The name Tabor was chosen as that is the mountain on which many believe the Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ took place.
From the very beginning the education of the children of the church and community was very important. As early as 1773 there was a parochial school standing at the South-West corner of the lot where our new sign now stands. The school was open to the community and in it was taught reading, writing, arithmetic, the Heidelberg Catechism, and most importantly, the Bible. This school was open until about 1835 when the public school system took over. Yet even after the school closed, our children were still taught by the church. The Sunday School program was founded at Tabor in August 1828 and has been active ever since.
From the very beginning Tabor Church has had a desire to help her members, community and nation. During the American Revolution, Tabor sent 20 of her sons and fathers to the military to help form our country. In 1858/9 Tabor became the home of the Hebron Moravian Church while their own building, which had been destroyed by fire, was being rebuilt. Today, Tabor is the home of Iglesia del Nazareno. In 1862, during the American Civil War, Tabor purchased and distributed 225 copies of The Soldiers Pocket Book which contained patriotic hymns and soldier appropriate scripture. In 1864/5 Samuel Riegel, future choir director of the church, made two trips from Tabor to the war ravaged Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and supplied the Virginians with food, money and clothing provided by the church. In 1865, following the example found in Romans 15:26, Tabor sent money and other goods to the churches in Virginia and North Carolina to help them recover from the devastating Civil War. Ever since Bethany Children’s Home was founded in 1865, Tabor has provided them with monetary support. In our most recent history, we have given a variety of goods to LCCM and today we provide them with a place to feed the homeless of our city. Cemetery No. 1 was open to the community for burial from 1760 until 1877 when it became too full. The cemetery was then limited to the poor of Tabor. Also, there were two blocks in Cemetery No. 3 reserved for the poor of Tabor. There was also a poor fund at the church to be used as the needs of the members dictated. From 1890 until at least 1892 Tabor supported two seminary students in Japan named Shida Toshiyuki and Igarashi Tadasu. Continuing in that tradition, Tabor supports Jesse Stowell of IVCF.
Other former benevolent activities included the Female Benevolent Society and later the Mite Society. These two societies worked alongside other church members to help the church and community. Today, we have the Gardenia Class which performs similar activities. Presently we have a “Noisy Collection” which is collected every month and the money distributed to local organizations which support children.
A Brief History of Tabor
Tabor dates back to 1760, when George Steitz, the founder of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, gave land to church officials for the price of five shillings and the “payment of one red rose in the month of June forever.” Because of this, Tabor is known as the Red Rose Church and still celebrates this rental payment today, more than 250 years later.
The year 2010 was a very special one for Tabor Church. A year-long list of events was planned. We celebrated our 250th Anniversary with historical services, concerts, tours of historical places, a Red Rose Day Luncheon and the “Crowning Event Service” in November. A completely updated book of Tabor’s history has been published and can be purchased by contacting the church office.
Tabor is a church that has dominated the religious, historical, and architectural life of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, since 1792. Her ties to the community can be traced even further, dating back to 1760. American Indians claimed the land Tabor now stands on until sometime in the early 1700’s, when the land was taken over by German settlers. By 1756, plans were being laid out for a city to be called Steitztown (in honor of George Steitz), later named Lebanon. On June 10, 1760, Steitz deeded Lot #136 to Frederick Steindorff, Felix Miller, and Jacob Sollinger, all deacons of the Dutch Presbyterian Congregation (Reformed Church), for five shillings. It is recorded that he sold the lot “well regarding the advancement of true religion and piety and favoring the members of the said congregation of the Reformed Church.” Rather than usual ground rent payment, Steitz asked only for the yearly payment of “one red rose,” thus beginning a tradition Tabor proudly continues to this day.
A log church was constructed and dedicated on July 18, 1762, during the pastorate of Frederick Miller. It was at this time that the name Tabor was given to the Reformed congregation. In 1777, two hundred Hessian prisoners of war and their wounded were housed in the church. Sometime during the winter of that same year, many of the Hessians escaped from the church, leaving no trace of their whereabouts. This log building served as the home of the Reformed congregation until June 6, 1792. On that date, lightning from a severe storm caused extensive damage; no fire ensued, but all the windows were broken and the tower was destroyed. The early Reformed congregation members worshipped at Salem Lutheran Church until a new church could be built. No time was wasted, as the cornerstone was laid for a limestone structure on June 26, 1792. Rev. William Hendel preached the sermon on this special day, quoting scripture from Genesis 28:22. The names of builders, carpenters, stonemasons, and metal workers were carefully recorded. The project took 4 years to complete and cost approximately $6,500, but the outcome was a 42-foot by 62-foot house of worship. Three services were held on May 8, 1796, the day of the dedication of the building.
The first major addition to Tabor benefited the ministry of music: in 1809, a pipe organ was installed. A stone wall constructed in 1772 or 1773 was replaced in 1816, bounding the northern and eastern sides of the graveyard. Parishioners were called to worship at Tabor by the ringing of two bells from the belfry on the roof of the church. In 1827, an imposing stone tower was constructed on the south side of the building. The stone base of the tower was topped by two wooden spires that made Tabor the tallest building in Lebanon. An ever-growing congregation embarked on a building project in 1844 that would change the configuration of Tabor and develop the church as we know it today. A second story was also added at this time, becoming the center of worship for the main services. Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the second story addition are the lintels located above the second story windows. Moving from north to south along the Tenth Street side of the building, these lintels are carved in German and can be translated as follows:
“High German Reformed Church – Rebuilt A.D. 1844”
“The sensible man likes to learn God’s Words, and he who loves wisdom has learned gladly.”
“The cornerstone of this church was laid the 26th of June 1792.”
“Lord, let Thine eyes be upon this house day and night. Hear the cry of Thy people.”
“The law of Thy mouth is dearer to me than many thousand gold and silver pieces.”
“Do penance, and believe in the Gospel.”
The first brick chapel was built in 1872 and later enlarged in 1890. In 1914, the present chapel was built, after the sale of the cemetery west of Tenth Street.
Tabor’s Legacy of Leadership
To lead these people, Tabor has been blessed with pastors that have been pioneers in the field of religion. Twenty-six pastors, including interims, have served Tabor through several name changes and over 250 years of worshipping God:
Rev. Frederick Casimir Mueller 1762-1766
Rev. William Stoy 1766-1768
Rev. Dr. John Conrad Bucher 1768-1780
Rev. John William Runkel 1782-1784
Rev. Andrew Lorentz 1785-1786
Rev. Ludwig Lupp 1786-1798
Rev. William Hiester 1800-1828
Rev. Henry Kroh 1828-1835
Rev. Henry Wagner 1835-1851
Rev. Dr. Franklin W. Kremer 1851-1889
Rev. Dr. David E. Klopp 1889-1898
Rev. Dr. Edward S. Bromer 1898-1905
Rev. Howard E. Bodder 1906-1909
Rev. Dr. William D. Happel 1910-1938
Rev. Paul C. Shumaker 1939-1943
Rev. Malcolm E. Barr 1943-1973
Rev. W. Miller-Price, Interim 1973-1974
Rev. David C. Mark 1974-1992
Rev. David Goode, Interim 1992-1993
Rev. Michael Dack 1993-1996
Rev. Winfield Engler, Interim 1996-1997
Rev. Joseph W. Hedden, Jr. 1997-2010
Rev. C. Hope Knobler, Interim 2010
Michael C. Klahr, Supply Pastor 2011-2012
Rev. Dan Schmidt 2012 -2014
Of this list of pastors, two seem to be outstanding among those that served at Tabor’s altar. John Conrad Bucher came from Switzerland to America in 1756, entering the British Military Service. On April 19, 1760, Bucher was commissioned a lieutenant, and later a captain, and took part in the war that is known as Pontiac’s Conspiracy. When the Revolutionary War began, Bucher accepted a chaplaincy in the “German regiment,” so called because is was composed of soliders from the Pennsylvania Counties. Rev. Bucher entered upon his duties in Lebanon in 1768 and continued until his death on August 15, 1780, while officiating at a wedding. So esteemed was Rev. Bucher that, although a hearse was waiting to carry his body back to Lebanon from Annville, his friends would not allow it, choosing instead to carry their dead pastor on their shoulders to his home, a distance of 5 miles.
The longest pastorate in the history of Tabor was that of Rev. Dr. Frederick W. Kremer, who began his duties April 1, 1851 and served for thirty-eight years, until June 14, 1889. It was while conducting a funeral cortege that his horse and carriage was struck by a fast express on the Lebanon Valley Railroad, at the crossing near the Hill Church. During Kremer’s ministry, the church grew in numbers and influence. Records indicate that Rev. Kremer officiated at 3,245 baptisms and 1,754 confirmations, and conducted 1,247 marriages and 1,647 funerals.
Circa World War I
Much more of the history of Tabor lies in her people than the building itself. Members of Tabor have always been active and have shown great consideration for the growth of the church, as well as the welfare of the community. We invite you to come and listen to our stories of tradition, friendships, and faith and service to Jesus Christ.