Lucy Yoh, an attractive young woman in a flower-splashed yellow dress, went to church here yesterday to collect the rent.
Right after the intercessory prayer at Zion Reformed Church and just before the sermon, the Rev. Robert Morrison summoned Mrs. Yoh forward for what he called, "the quaint but significant rite in the light of our church."
While the congregation of about 100 looked on in approval, William C. Bricker, one of Zion's deacons, plucked a single red rose from a bronze vase standing by the lecturn and gave it to Mrs. Yoh.
"For the 199th time since the founding of this congregation," he said, "Zion Church will pay it ground rent."
Not long after Col. Benjamin Chambers, who gave his name to the town, settled in this lush green valley in the 1730s he eset aside a plot of ground, "for the building of a Calvanist Church," stipulating that "annually [forever to (his) heirs shall be paid one rose which is the annual rent." So every June in rose season, on a Sunday of the church's choosing, Zion and two other Chamberesburg church] that were similary endowed by the town's founder pay their "rose rent," to a descendant of the colonel.
Immediately after the sermon in the Zion church, Mrs. Yoh, 29, and her husband, Michael, drove the few blocks over the Presbyterian Church of the Falling Spring, the oldest and largest of the rose rent churhes. In a rambling but well-kept graveyard under giant elms, oaks and walnut trees, she reverenetly laid the single red rose on the tomb of her great-great-great-great-grandfather.
In the grass at the foot of the tomb, shriveled and decaying, lay the "rose payment" that Falling Spring Presbyterian Church had made to the dead benefactor the previous Sunday.
In the 18th Century, Col. Chambers set aside land, at the cost of the annual payment of one rose, for churches of three protestant traditions that came into the south cenra 1 Pennsylavania countryside with the early German and Scotch-Irish settlers.Lutheran, Reformed and Presbyterian. Since he and his wife were Presbyterians, that congrgation is the oldest. Foundeed in 1734, the Falling Springs Presbyterian Church first met in a mill on Chambers' property. Within three years the members had put up a log church on the ground Chambers had contributed. The solid limestone structure was not completed until 1803, but it survives today.
Zion Reformed Church's classis red brick building, the youngest of the rose-rent churches, was not completed until 1811. During the Civil War citizens of Chambersburg climbed the church's lofty Sir Christopher Wren style steeple to watch General Lee's troops pass through the town on their fateful march to Gettysburg 24 miles to the east.
The troops set fire to buildings in the center of town, three blocks away, including the elegant Greek-revival differences. When Col. Chambers style courthouse.But none of the town's churches was touched. Zion Church grew out of the sabbath day services in the German language conducted for German settlers in the area by the Rev. Jacob Weimer, pioneer pastor of Hagerstown, Md., beginning in 1778. Both German Lutherans and the German-speaking followers of the Swiss Protestant, Ulrich Zwingli, worshipped together for a time at an inn in Chambersburg. But while the two traditions - Lutheran and Reformed - are similar, there are made land available to both, each group opted for its own church.
Zion Reformed Church, which was formally organized in 1978, shared the hospitality of the long church erected by the First Evangelical Lutheran Church until 1808, when it began holding services in the school house its members had built on their own property in the back corner of the graveyard.
The church itself was built in 1877, "and we've been here ever since," Morrison told a visitor.
It is not in the tradition of Zion or any other Reformed Church to display much emotion in their religious practices. Accordingly the 199th observance yesterday of the rose rite was formal and restrained.
But after the service, members of all ages crowded around the young descendant of their early benefactor, welcoming her to their service. A white-haired woman who had stationed herself at the door as a self-appointed greeter, seemed to sum it all up as she clasped Mrs. Yoh's hand and said, "The older you grow the more the tradition means to you."