By TIM KELLYThe preserved remains of an historic tree, a treasured relic linking the Ocean City Tabernacle to its founding and that of the city, will receive a new place of honor on the grounds of the house of worship, Pastor Jay Reimer said on Thursday.The tree, a cypress, was growing at a location near North Street in 1879 when the Tabernacle was founded, the same year as the town itself.The Reverends Ezra B. Lake, S. Wesley Lake and James E. Lake, all brothers, along with the Rev. William H. Burrell, dedicated the resort “under this tree with a prayer to God … as a Christian Seaside Resort,” states a plaque, which formerly stood in front of the tree, and will be re-installed.Pastor Reimer, who serves as president and chief executive officer, said the Tabernacle’s board voted to move the tree to a soon-to-be developed “Founder’s Plaza” on the grounds near the prominent corner of Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue.“This location has some of the best pedestrian and vehicular traffic on the island,” he said. “In this way many more people will have the opportunity to see it and learn about its history.”A plaque describes the historic significance of the tree in Ocean City’s founding as a Christian seaside resort in 1879.Pastor Reimer said Ocean City’s weekly Farmer’s Market in the summer, the block party, parades and many other events along Asbury will expose the symbol of the Tabernacle and city’s founding to a much larger audience in its new location.“Where it is located now, (indoors, in the building’s narthex, or antechamber) most people who visit Ocean City have access to it 16 times a year. This will enable so many more people, beyond those who come inside the Tabernacle, to see it 24-7.”He said the historic tree and its plaza are envisioned as a place to “honor and link the founders of the Tabernacle, as a place of prayer, and the City of Ocean City as a Christian seaside resort.”One of the tipping points for the decision to honor the tree was a letter Pastor Reimer received from a visitor to town who was disappointed the history tours of Ocean City did not include a stop at the Tabernacle.“It is hoped that by having such a prominent display, more people will learn of the connection” between the town and the house of worship, originally a camp meeting known as the Ocean City Association, Pastor Reimer added.Ocean City Tabernacle Pastor and CEO Jay Reimer, right, is shown with Philadelphia Eagles Chaplain Ted Winsley during a service in 2019.The tree is technically a large piece of petrified wood, he said, adding it was unknown when exactly the cypress died. The portion of the trunk stands an estimated 12 feet tall and has approximately 15 branch stumps extending from it.Pastor Reimer said steps are being taken to preserve the tree for its permanent home, including coating it with sealants to handle the weather, designing a raised viewing pedestal or platform of some kind and enclosing it behind fencing.“It has stood outside for all but about 15 years of the 140-plus years” of the Tabernacle’s existence, he said.This week, contractors removed the dirt and concrete from around the tree and moved it to an indoor location in preparation for the next step of placing it outside in the plaza.Pastor Reimer said that the removal of the tree will provide a clear view to the cross on the front wall of the sanctuary. The board members agreed that the first impression of those entering the building from the main entrance should be a cross.The cross is more reflective of the mission on which the Tabernacle is based, as a Christian house of worship “where the gospel of Jesus Christ is central,” he noted.At the same time, it was hoped the tree’s relocation will be a permanent symbol of “the prayer and faith of the founding fathers” of the Tabernacle, the pastor said.Ocean City Tabernacle is a spiritual, cultural and community anchor for the town.There is a practical reason for the change as well, Pastor Reimer explained. Removing the tree to an outdoor plaza frees space in the narthex for ministry events, social gatherings and special occasions such as the Christmas dinner that drew about 300 people last year.The upcoming Women of Faith Conference, expected to draw 250 women from most of the area’s churches on March 21, will benefit from the added space as well, he noted.It’s important, though, to celebrate what the tree has symbolized to the town and the Tabernacle. As part of the historic district, he said the founders mapped out the area bordered by Third and Eighth streets, from Central to Ocean avenues, and that more than 48 permanent homes sprung up within the first two years of the Tabernacle’s existence.“When you think about it, the founders were also the first planning authority and real estate board on the island,” Pastor Reimer said, adding that the founders would be pleasantly surprised to see how well Ocean City has evolved across the decades and endured as a family town.Now, he said, there will be a fitting place of remembrance and celebration of Ocean City’s earliest days and the vision of its founders.An early, undated photo shows the tree when it was alive on the Tabernacle grounds (Photo courtesy Ocean City Tabernacle) The tree, decorated with Christmas lights, prior to its removal from the Tabernacle’s narthex. (Photo courtesy of Ocean City Tabernacle)
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