Three Texas Generations of Quiet Self Sufficiency

This article by Marguerite Johnston first appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Friday, 31 October 1966.

Note: John Kilian’s grandson did not succeed him as pastor. Gerhard became the teacher.

The road climbs and dips through pine woods from LaGrange toward Giddings, and the French mulberry bushes were royal purple in the sunshine.

We paused in Warda to ask the way, and were directed by Northup to Serbin.

The blacktop road gave way to gravel from time to time, as it wound between farms and woodlands, until we came to an arrow pointing to “Serbin Church.”

Three roads come together to make a large triangle around the church. A large, well-kept cemetery lies beside the church, and there are pavilions and desks scattered through the wooded triangle which suggest that Sunday school or Bible class has been taught under the trees.

The simple stone church was built in 1868, and inside is airy and light. The high ceiling is painted a deep Williamsburg blue with stencils in gold, and hanging on long brass rods from the high ceiling are chandeliers whose oil lamps now hold electric lights.

The wooden balcony is painted blue with white trim – this blue closer In the Wedgewood.

Outdoor light pours in with cool freedom, and the atmosphere is wonderfully serene.

We walked among the gravestones and traced the Kilian family, which gave continuous leadership to the Wendish people for three-quarters of a century.

John Kilian, leader of the Wends, was born in Saxony and was an ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church. He thought of becoming a missionary to India.

In 11 years as pastor of the church at Kotitz, he used both German and Wendish, and translated Martin Luther’s Large Catechism and the Augsburg Confession into Wendish.

But in 1817, the Prussian government had decreed a union of the Reformed and Lutheran Churches, and the forced union was particularly offensive to the Wends. In 1854, six laymen – representing 558 Wends – asked – John Kilian to become their pastor and leader in a migration to Texas.

He accepted, and the Wends came to Texas in search of religious freedom – landing at Galveston and founding their settlement of Serbin in Lee County.

Their Wendish language was unfamiliar to other Germans in Texas, and the Wends held to their quiet, self-sufficient ways well into this century. But John Kilian setup preaching stations at New Ulm, Roeder’s Mill, at Louis Settlement (Swiss Alp) in Fayette County, and in Bastrop.

His son and grandson succeeded him as pastors of the Serbin Churches. Their pictures, set in their tombstones in the graveyard show that this was a family of strong, handsome men.

We drove by guess toward LaGrange – finding roads that grew increasingly narrow, only to come out on a blacktop; crossing an old, old bridge which gave a view of a charming little palisade on a now-dry Creek bed; seeing almost no one.

At half-past lunchtime, we waved down a truck to ask the way and when – in our unhurried fashion – we had followed the man’s directions, we found him standing at the intersection in a small town waiting to be sure we did not lose ourselves again at the crossroads.

It was a lovely, easy-going day and when in the evening we set out again to our friends for dinner, there was a new moon just ready to set in the western sky – a new moon whose curve clearly outlined the enormous harvest moon, a new moon much too big to be real.


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