Tabor’s Centennial

You know you’ve got a bunch of Mennonites together when the pastor spontaneously asks the church to sing “Jesus Loves Me” while the children walk up for their children’s story. And, without music, everybody spontaneously breaks into beautiful 4-part harmony. It must be genetic or something.

It was a day of beautiful singing of hymns a week ago for Tabor Mennonite Church’s centennial. It’s hard to write about that weekend, in fact — it was such a nice experience.

Sunday ended with opening the box sealed in the church’s cornerstone back in 1965 when the current building was built. Rudy Schmidt, the person that sealed it up back then, was on hand to open it back up. They took out the stone and removed the box. Before the box was opened, Rudy told a story:

Back in 1965, I was the one to solder this box shut. While I was doing this, all of a sudden I smelled burning from inside. I figured I must have caught something inside on fire. I asked Jake Koehn (another person on the building committee) what to do. Jake said, “Nobody will ever see it again, just put it in.” So let’s open it!

I think Rudy has been wondering all these years whether he set it on fire or not.

The box was opened, and other than a few scorch marks on an envelope, was completely intact and in good shape. There was a copy of a local newspaper from 1965 with a headline about Goldwater, copies of programs of dedication for the new building and parsonage, a Bible, copies of the church constitution, and all sorts of other interesting things. To that we will add a copy of our centennial book (which I helped develop), CDs with recordings of our centennial activities, programs from the centennial celebration, and photos of the weekend.

Earlier on Sunday, we had a long but good worship service with sermons from two former pastors. The choir sang, including a song commissioned for the occasion by Larry Nickel. We got applause after that one (which happens occasionally, but not regularly, in our church). All the living former pastors, and the widow of one of them, served communion as well.

The service ended with the congregation singing the “Mennonite Anthem”. I think it was the most beautiful singing of that song I’ve ever heard. We had 352 people in church that day, and it seemed that not one person was going to let the moment go by without singing.

Saturday had started off with outdoor activities in the church park. There was old-fashioned soap making, remembering how church members used to store fat all year, then get together to make soap for use in their homes and to donate to the needy. There was rope making, wool spinning, and rides for the children. Under the tent, we had some great music the local Greenhorns band, and the former pastors all shared some memories and stories about their time here.

On Saturday evening, we had a meal and a drama — and managed to somehow fit 321 people into the church basement for the meal. We think that’s a record! The drama was written for the occasion by one of our members. John Gaeddert, a pastor here in the early 1970s, has become an expert wood carver in his spare time. He had carved a piece for us to celebrate the occasion, and presented it during the drama. That fit right in, because the drama was called “Bring Your Own Hedgepost” — back in the early days of the church, each member was supposed to do just that so they would have a place to tie their horses.

Friday night was a lecture by James Juhnke about our first paster, P. H. Richert, who was pastor for nearly 40 years. Quite entertaining and interesting.

I think the highlight of the weekend for me was getting to talk to some of the former pastors I never knew well. I had a few minutes to chat with John Gaeddert. I introduced myself, and he said, “Oh! I don’t think I’ve met you, but I’ve heard your name a few times this weekend. You’re on the centennial committee, right?” Yes indeed. I was born after he left this church, but he knew my grandparents — which means he also knows exactly where we live. John and his wife Mary are both such warm and friendly people that it feels like I’ve known them much longer than a few days!

I got to chat with Jim Schrag too. He was pastor at Tabor until I was about 5 or 6. He didn’t remember me specifically, but he was also interesting to talk with. He was one of the people that worked on a detailed history book in 1983 for the church’s 75th anniversary. He told me that he processed most of the black and white photos for that book in a darkroom in his basement. I hadn’t known that — and mentioned I had found all those photos in the church archives and had scanned them all in. Jim requested a copy.

Terah found Lenore Waltner, wife of former pastor James Waltner, who passed away about a year ago. James had started his career as a pastor at Tabor, and ended it at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, IN, where Terah grew up. So she knew him, but I didn’t. Terah introduced herself to Lenore, who seemed quite excited to make this sort of family connection!

And Brenda Martin Hurst, another former pastor, found Terah and introduced herself. Terah said that Brenda said something like, “Hi, I’m Brenda, and I don’t think I know you!” These pastors all want to get to know everybody, I think!

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