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Mount Tabor church marks its 100th year

Party and concert are planned today; the public is invited

Pastor Annemarie Burke leads Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, in Salt Lake City. The church will be celebrating its 100th year.
Pastor Annemarie Burke leads Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, in Salt Lake City. The church will be celebrating its 100th year.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

They could have just had some ice cream and cake and called it good. But to honor its founding in 1907, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church decided to celebrate by collecting 1,907 pounds of food for Crossroads Urban Center.

When the last items were put on the scale a week ago, the number had reached 2,072 pounds, more than a ton of food collected since July by Mount Tabor's small church. It's a perfect fit for a congregation with a social-action bent, says Pastor Annemarie Burke.

Mount Tabor's unorthodox architecture, as much as anything, has created a church full of people who get involved, says long-time member Deb Elstad. The round structure on the corner of 700 East and 200 South has a pulpit-in-the-round interior, so that the people in the pews see the faces of other congregants, rather than just the backs of their heads.

"You connect, and because of that we say it's really hard to be a 'pew-sitter,"' says Elstad. Most members are involved in some kind of social outreach — from Habitat for Humanity to the Food Bank to Family Promise to the Crossroads Urban Center — as well as on church committees, she says.

"I believe that if you visit our church you know you're not invisible; you can't hide for long," laughs Elstad. "I think it begs people to get involved." The congregation also is known for its enthusiastic singing, she says. "It pretty much knocks people out of their seats when they come to visit."

The original church building still stands at E Street and First Avenue, but the church community moved in 1964 to the round building on 700 East. Architect Charles D. Peterson, a church member, says he came up with the design as a way to fit the church and parking lot on a small piece of land. "It had to be something very self-contained," Peterson says, "and slowly it evolved into a circle."

Mount Tabor was founded in the early days of the 20th century by Danish immigrants and was funded, says Elstad, by the state church of Denmark, the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church. That church sent missionaries to Utah ("a reverse mission," she calls it) and donated $15,000 to purchase the land on E Street.

Today there are 250 members, with about 90 worshipping on a typical Sunday, says Pastor Burke. The congregation comes from all over the Wasatch Front, from South Jordan to Farmington.

The 100th birthday celebration includes a wine and cheese party at 7 p.m. today, followed by a concert at 7:45 p.m. that will feature Mount Tabor's veteran organist, Gordon Smith. Alumni choir director Brian Priebe and his wife, Linda, now a professional mezzo-soprano who made her Lincoln Center debut in New York in August, will join current choir director, Harry Heightman. The public is invited.

Sunday's service at 10:30 a.m. will feature former pastors Arthur Sorenson, Tony Auer, Carol West, Grant Aaseng, Howard Corry and Steve Leiser, as well as current minister, Pastor Burke.

Cans and boxes of food likely will keep coming into Mount Tabor, as part of the church's ongoing weekly food drive for Crossroads Urban Center. That's a good thing, says Crossroads pantry director Rachel Fischbein.

"This time of year, we're hurting more than ever." During the summer and fall, before Thanksgiving, she says, hunger "isn't on people's minds." Except for the hungry, of course.