The Last Wendish Sermon in Serbin, Texas

This article by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) first appeared in Rozhlad, Lětnik 64, Fall 2014, pgs. 16-22 and then, with Peter Barker and Weldon Mersiovsky, and an introduction by David Zersen, in the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, Volume 88, Number 3, Fall 2015, pg. 59-72.

The Introduction is from the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly.


Introduction

European Lutheran Immigrants immigrating to the United States typically had more on their minds than preserving their native languages in the new homeland. Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Slovaks and Wends had various concerns, including improving their economic status, experiencing a greater sense of freedom than they had known, and, in some cases, securing the substance of the Christian teaching they cherished. Although they may not have given much thought to it, language is one of the essential components of culture, and when it disappears as a result of immigrants being absorbed into the majority language and culture, many of the ties with heritage are lost. Occasionally one finds a contemporary Lutheran parish in which a holiday celebration includes a service in a continental European language followed by a reception serving Stollen or Julkakke or Vianočka. It is a way of holding on to an intangible treasure, a past that for most is only a memory discussed by grandparents and scholars. There is a sense of nostalgia and unspoken yearning belonging to such events. A language in the process of being lost provides ties to ways of thinking and believing that have value and power. For the most part, the historical records do not share when Finnish was last spoken in a home or Norwegian last preached from a pulpit. In the case of Wendish, this article is able to get quite specific about the time when the public use of a Lutheran heritage language was lost and the impact such loss provides.

It is interesting co compare such losses in European heritage with the vast number of Native American languages once spoken by many hundreds of tribal groups now being rapidly reduced because of cultural change. According to Terrence G. Wiley, UNESCO ranks 165 native American languages on a scale from vulnerable to critically endangered.[1] Such groups are endangered largely because younger generations have no interest in the heritage languages, and because there are no immigrants to refresh and strengthen the dwindling indigenous populations.

A significant contrast to the Native American language decline is found among many cultural groups in the U.S. that are growing. From 1990-2000, for example, due to revolutionary or climatic changes in home countries, the U.S. Haitian population grew by 142%, the Vietnamese by 99%, and the Persian by 55%. Such growth will support a respect for heritage among the existing cultural groups with these ethnicities during the next decades even as they become immersed in the culture of the United States. However, during the same period, Wiley documents that languages taught in public high schools have changed dramatically. German is no longer taught as a foreign language in public high schools (although still in some private ones) and Spanish is taught in 79% of public high schools. These changes, the increases and the decreases, would be surprising to immigrants who arrived here at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Lutherans who immigrated to the United States as larger groups are generally classified in 5 categories: the Salzburgers who settled near Atlanta, Georgia; the Saxons who settled in Perry County, Missouri; the Franconians who settled in the area around Frankenmuth, Michigan; the Pomeranians by way of New York who settled in Wisconsin, and the Wends or Sorbs who settled in Texas. All of them have experienced the losses that result from cultural change and decreased ethnic immigration.

The last group, the Texas Wends, are unique with respect to this discussion because unlike the other four German-speaking groups, they were a true minority, having a Slavic language and culture. Further, with the exception of some scattered small groups, their cultural and linguistic enclave was not supplanted or enriched by continuing immigration. They were, so to speak, on their own, in Texas, largely surrounded by immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia, not to mention those who spoke Spanish and English.

The Texas Wends were not the only Slavic Lutherans to come to the United States. Between 1880 and 1920, approximately 500,000 Slovaks immigrated. Of those, only 12% were Lutheran, perhaps around 6000.[2] Yet these 6000 Slavic Lutherans represented a group ten times the size of the Wends who arrived in Texas in 1854. (The contributions made by the Wends during the first fifty years of their presence in the U.S. have recently been explored in a 2015 Lutheran Forum article.[3]) However, worth noting up front is that Concordia University Texas, was founded largely by thirteen Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregations whose membership majority was Wendish. The challenges faced by this minority immigrant group in the United States – to their language, style of worship, way of making a living, providing education for their children, founding new institutions – were enormous. That they survived and left a legacy is a great blessing to the Lutheran community.

However, the strongest tie with their heritage in Europe was lost when the use of the Wendish language disappeared in the United States. Mrs. Malinkowa’s detailed linguistic analysis of the last Wendish sermon preached shows not only how a heritage disappears word by word, but how a community recognized that just hearing the Word proclaimed in public once again, even if they did not understand the Wendish language, was a proof that roots were real and that they had both an intangible and a spiritual value. The following article is thus a generous tribute to and a specific documentation of a valued minority language which Lutherans once spoke in America.

David Zersen


[1] Heritage Language Research, www.internationalcula.edu.

[2] Mark Stolariki, Catholic Historical Review, 96, Jan. 2010.

[3] David Zersen, “The Lutheran Sorbs at Home and Abroad.” Lutheran Forum, 49:2, Summer 2015, 18-21.

The Last Wendish Sermon in Serbin, Texas

Pastor Theodore Schmidt preached a sermon in Wendish on the occasion of the parish anniversaries in 1954 and 1979

The Tradition of Wendish Church Services in Serbin

In 1854 about 600 Lutheran Wends (today called Sorbs) from Saxon and Prussian Upper Lusatia emigrated to Texas. They founded a settlement there in 1855, which was named Serbin (place of the Wends/Sorbs), on the suggestion of their Pastor, Jan Kilian. The name is an expression of the deep affinity of the person who supplied the name with his nationality. Kilian also attached great importance in Texas to preserving the Wendish language and the Lutheran faith, as he had done before in his homeland Lusatia, Germany. The Wendish language was the predominant language in the life of the Serbin congregation during his time. It is true that he also celebrated services in German for those Germans living nearby who had joined his congregation, and he also occasionally preached in English. But, during his time in office the services in Wendish remained the major services in the church of Serbin.

When Jan Kilian retired in 1883 and handed over his office to his son, Hermann, he wrote a Wendish liturgy for him. This was published in 1909 in the nearby town of Giddings by the Wendish printer, Johann Proske. It is the only Wendish-language book that has ever been printed abroad. This fact alone shows the tremendous importance, which this religious book had for the Wends in Texas. By creating this Wendish liturgy Jan Kilian provided the basis for the continuation of services in Wendish after his retirement by his son, who had been born and brought up in Texas.[1] Hermann Kilian carried on the tradition of Wendish services until his death in 1920. During his period of office the people of Serbin experienced the first phase of linguistic assimilation, in which they gradually abandoned the use of the Wendish language and used German as their everyday language. The result of this development was that the number of participants in Wendish services declined, and the services in Wendish were finally reduced to one per month. German services now predominated.

After the death of Hermann Kilian, Hermann Schmidt became pastor in the parish of Serbin. He was born in 1875 in Serbin, was brought up at home as a Wend and mastered the Wendish language. But because German had taken over as the everyday language, the congregation no longer considered it necessary to continue to have services in Wendish. As a result, Pastor Schmidt only used the Wendish language when visiting the homes of older members of the congregation, no longer as the language of church services. It was only in 1929 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the parish that he preached in Wendish, when referring to Kilian’s exhortation to the Lutheran Wendish nation to fight with prayer “za swoju rěč a wěru” (for its language and faith)[2], he emphasized that languages were indeed transitory, but faith was not. He also preached in Wendish in 1936, when a monument was erected in front of the church commemorating the foundation of Serbin. Hermann Schmidt remained pastor of Serbin until his death in 1947.[3]

His successors as pastor of Serbin did not speak Wendish. The language was no longer being used in the life of the community. Members of the older generation used the language only occasionally as a means of communication, and in some families traces of the language survived in certain expressions and idioms, or songs and prayers. The decline in the importance of the German language also began to accelerate round about the middle of the 20th Century. The Germanized Wends entered the second phase of linguistic assimilation, during which all family, public, and therefore also church life came to be conducted in English. The people of Serbin were only reminded of the language of their forebears on special occasions. Thus Pastor Theodore Schmidt preached in 1954 and 1979 in the Wendish language during the special services for the 100th and 125th anniversaries of the foundation of the congregation.

Pastor Theodore Schmidt

Paul Gerhard Theodore Schmidt was born on 29 October 1907 in Northrup, Lee County, Texas, the eldest son of Wendish parents, Bernhard Schmidt and Emma née Jurk. His father was a farmer, his mother came from the sawmill in Warda, a settlement founded by Wends near Serbin. His grandfather, Georg Schmidt, had come to Texas with his father and sister in 1869 from the Wendish village of Kringelsdorf in Prussian Upper Lusatia. The other grandfather, Peter Jurk, came from the village of Dubrauke near Baruth in Saxon Upper Lusatia and had emigrated to Texas in the 1870s with his wife and four children. His father’s brother, that is the uncle of Theodore Schmidt, was Hermann Schmidt, mentioned above, after Jan and Hermann Kilian, the third and last Wendish pastor of Serbin. The Schmidt and Jurk families were both of Wendish nationality. As a result, Theodore grew up with the Wendish language in his family environment and spoke Wendish at least part of the time with his grandfathers and grandmothers, perhaps occasionally also with his parents. Wendish was also still spoken at that time on social occasions with his other relations, which included the Wendish families of Krause, Bohot, Hohle and Bamsch. It is also possible that as a child he occasionally attended the Wendish services of Pastor Hermann Kilian.

Theodore Schmidt attended the parish school of St. Paul in Serbin and afterwards worked at home on the farm. After the Lutheran Concordia College was founded in 1926 in Austin, the capital of Texas, Pastor Hermann Schmidt persuaded his parents to send the nineteen-year-old man to this school, to be trained as a pastor. As a result, Theodore Schmidt studied at the Lutheran Concordia College in Texas from 1926 to 1930, at St. John College in Winfield, Kansas, from 1930 to 1932, and at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1932 to 1936. He completed his curacy in 1935 in two parishes in Texas, at the Salem Lutheran Church in Freyburg and the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Greens Creek.

After the end of his training in 1936 Theodore Schmidt was commissioned to undertake teaching and missionary work in Belknap, Michigan. He married Erna Mae Sides from St. Louis, Missouri in 1937 and went with her as a missionary from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to Brazil. He worked there for the first few months in Rio de Janeiro, and from 1937 in Santa Catarina, in the south of Brazil, where he was given the task of running twelve preaching stations under difficult conditions. As a missionary he was both a pastor and teacher, he founded new missionary stations and congregations, built new churches and parish schools. In the early years he only preached in German. When the use of the German language was prohibited in 1942 because of the Second World War, he was only allowed to preach in Portuguese. The couple had two daughters in Brazil, Ruth and Lois.

The family returned in 1946 to the USA on account of the wife’s and mother’s illness. Theodore Schmidt then worked as a pastor in a number of parishes belonging to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, in the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Missouri, until his retirement in June 1979. Together with his wife, he spent his years of retirement with the family of his daughter Ruth in Evergreen Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He died on 21 December 1987; his wife died in 1991. Both are buried in Jackson, Missouri.[4]

Two Parish Anniversaries

The parish of Serbin celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation in 1954. Theodore Schmidt was working at the time at the Trinity Lutheran Church in LaGrange, Texas, where he officiated from 1952 to 1957 as pastor, and where there were also members of his congregation of Wendish origin. He was therefore the obvious choice, as a son of the Serbin congregation, who as part of his upbringing had acquired a sound knowledge of the Wendish language, to take on the task of delivering the anniversary sermon in nearby Serbin. According to the chronicle of St. Paul parish in Serbin, written by the pastors of the time, the festival took place on Sunday 11 July 1954 with a German and an English service, which were held simultaneously at 10am and 3pm; the German service was held in the church and the English one in a tent.[5] A Wendish service on this day is not mentioned in the chronicle. However, it represented the high point in the anniversary celebrations, according to a press report: “The climax came in the afternoon service in the Wendish language by the Rev. Theodore Schmidt of LaGrange, assisted by a mixed choir selected from the local members and visitors who still remembered the Wendish language which sang the traditional Wendish closing hymn, ‘Abide, O Dearest Jesus’. This was followed by the reading of Psalm 145 by the Rev. P. B. Fritsche of Denver, Colo.”[6] Retired Pastor Elmer Hohle still remembers this service today. He had heard Schmidt’s sermon at the time and had asked his father afterwards, whose Wendish was still very good: “What did you think of the sermon?” to which his father had answered: “Oh well, all of it was fine, but he didn’t pronounce all the Wendish words properly.”[7]

The Wends in Lusatia also heard of the Wendish service on the occasion of the anniversary nine months later. The Wendish daily newspaper, Nowa Doba, appearing in Bautzen, published a short report in March 1955 under the title “W Serbinje běchu loni poslednje serbske kemše” (“The last Wendish service took place in Serbin last year”), after a reader from the village of Belgern outside Bautzen received from information about it from a relative from Giddings: “The parish of Serbin in Texas celebrated its 100th anniversary on 11 July 1954. More than 3,500 people who came from near and far took part in this jubilee service. They celebrated a Wendish service, along with services in German and English. The old Pastor Fritsche read Psalm 145 in Wendish and after that the young Pastor Schmidt delivered a sermon in Wendish. Older people who could still read Wendish sang Wendish hymns. Wendish has suffered a serious decline in general in Texas. The German language is also in decline. It was also probably the last Wendish service.”[8] Three photos of the jubilee are attached to the report, which show views of the interior and the exterior of the church, as well of Pastor Schmidt during his sermon in the altar area of the church.

Pastor Theodore Schmidt delivered the 1954 sermon once more on 24 June 1979, when the 125th anniversary of the parish foundation was celebrated in Serbin. The day began with a service in English and German in the church, which was celebrated by Pastor Paul W. Hartfield. In the afternoon a thanksgiving service took place in three languages, which was conducted by three pastors who had come from the parish of Serbin, including Theodore Schmidt with his Wendish sermon. At the service the church choir sang the hymn “Ach wostań při nas z hnadu” (“Abide, O Dearest Jesus”) in Wendish. Almost 1,000 people attended the trilingual service.[9]

According to Theodore Schmidt’s daughter, Ruth, both sermons represented outstanding events in his long working life as a pastor. She recounts from memory: “Because Dad had some knowledge of the Wendish (but not real fluently), he asked a man (don’t remember his name) – who could still speak Wendish fluently – from Giddings help him in writing his brief sermon for the 1954 service, which was a separate service that day from the English and German services. When he was again asked to preach for the 125th service, he could no longer find someone to help him write another sermon, so he used the same sermon over again.”[10] Both sermons were recorded on tape and are preserved in private hands and in the archive of the Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, Missouri, and they were recently put on a CD, and given to the Sorbian Cultural Archive in the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen, Germany.

The Wendish Sermon of Pastor Schmidt

The manuscript of the Wendish sermon of Pastor Schmidt was in the possession of his family and kept by his daughters. Recently, the material, including extensive correspondence, was handed over to Weldon Mersiovsky, a member of the Schmidt family and an active member of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. He, together with a number of assistants, is currently editing these documents of Pastor Schmidt for research purposes for the Wendish Research Exchange.

The sermon covers eight small typewritten pages. A large part of it consists of quotations, which have been taken from the Bible and the hymnbook. The sermon ends with all six verses of the well-known hymn, “Ach wostań při nas z hnadu” (“Abide, O Dearest Jesus”), which the pastor read out, together with the Lord’s Prayer and the Blessing. There is relatively little written in his own words to be found in the sermon. The preacher reflects in these short passages on the hundred-year-old history of the Wendish congregation in Texas as the history of the mercy and compassion of God. Many expressions and phrases can also be found in these sections, which have been taken from the Bible, not as direct quotations, but expressed in his own words.

Pastor Schmidt mainly uses the Lutheran form of the Upper Wendish language, which can be seen in forms, such as “te, teho, tele, temu, tehodla, wjesełosć, w swěći, hižom.” But the written form using “e” is not used throughout, the word “toho,” in which “o” is used, occurs occasionally. It is possible overall to conclude that Pastor Schmidt does not have an absolute command of the language. There are spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well wrong endings, missing words and other errors. He adopts the use of “wodwali“ (German: “wurden”, English: “was” as a passive form), which is often used in spoken language, but is however regarded as an unacceptable Germanism in written texts. It seems that the writer firstly translated the Lord’s Prayer himself and then corrected the typewritten text in pencil from the printed version of the Bible or the hymnbook. Since his typewriter had no diacritic marks, Pastor Schmidt simply put upturned hooks over the letters, without actually making it clear, whether it should be a stroke or a hook. He uses the old spelling in Latin script, therefore writing “sch” instead of “š”, “sz” instead of “ß”, “cẑ” instead of “č” or “ć”. As a result, we find words in the text, such as “Duscha, Lubosz, Ssmilnosz, Knes, Kyrlisch, Ssłowo, Sapocẑatk, swezelmy, szam, szwjate, szłyschecẑ, wschjech” etc. Schmidt essentially writes nouns in upper case, presumably following the example of his mother tongue, German. The influence of English in his spelling of the ending of “Wotrocẑkey” instead of “Wotrocẑkej” (German: “dem Knecht”, English “laborer”) can clearly be seen.

The text of the sermon has been transcribed into present-day Wendish spelling for its publication in this article. The references to the quotations from the Bible and the hymnbook have been assigned by the author of this article. Some linguistic corrections in the Wendish version have been put in square brackets.

Text of the Wendish Sermon

[“]Njech Bohu dźakuje so wutroba wšěch ludźi, kiž wulke wěcy sam tu čini a tež wšudźe; kiž wot młodosće nam tu zdźerži žiwjenje a wšitku dobrotu nam stajnje wudźěli[11] … Spěwajće temu Knjezej nowy kěrluš; spěwajće temu Knjezej wšitkón swět. Spěwajće temu Knjezej, a chwalće jeho mjeno; připowědajće [dźeń] jako dźeń jeho zbože[12] … Chwal teho Knjeza, moja duša; a štož we mni je, jeho swjate mjeno. Chwal teho Knjeza[,] moja duša, a njezapomń jeho dobrotow[13] … To je tón dźeń, kotryž tón Knjez činił je; tehodla zradujmy a wjeselmy so we nim[14] … Tón Knjez je wulku wěc na nas činił; teho my so zwjeselmy.”[15]

Tak spěwamy, chwalimy dźensa tu hnadu, tu lubosć a tu smilnosć našeho Knjeza, kotryž wón na nas we tych poslednich sto lět[ach] wulał je. A započatk bě mało[y], wokoło šěsć stow dušow. Woni su natwarili jow jen dom teho Knjeza, we kotrymž [su] woni Bože słowo we čistosći słyšeć a prědować móhli. Woni su natwarili jow jenu šulu, w kotrymž [kotrejž su] jich dźěći wučić móhli, a jehnjata Knjeza na zelenej łuce to Bože słowo [teho Božeho słowa] pasć a wjedźeć [wjesć] k čerstwej wodźi. Podachu so najprjedy temu Knjezej a potom nam přez Božu wolu. Kak krasnje je Bóh jich skutki žohnował, a dźěło jich rukow! A Bože słowo bě jich wjesełosć. Bě wodnjo a [w] nocy jich noham swěca, a swětło na jich puću. To słowo je to jeničke, štož nuzne běše. Běše krasniše dyžli złoto, haj dyžli wjele rjaneho złota; běše słódše dyžli měd, dyžli mjedowy płast. To je jena njezasłužena hnada našeho Knjeza, hdyž jena wosada móže hladać na jene sto lět. Tehodla budźe jich ponižić so pod Božu mócnu ruku. Woni wědźa a póznaja[,] kak husto woni wšitke te wulke skutki teho Knjeza su wopušćili a zapomnjeli[,] kak wjele mol[i] su sprócn[i] wodwali. Móža z Jakubom prajić: “Ja njejsym dostojny wšitkeje twojeje smilnosće a swěrnosće, kotruž mi, twojemu wotročkej, sy wopokazał.”[16] Móža tež z Dawidom prajić: “Nic nam, nic nam, ale twojemu mjenu daj chwalbu, twojeje hnady a prawdy dla[17] … Temu samemu budź česć a móc wot wěčnosće hač do wěčnosće.”[18]

Je hišće jena druha wěc, kotryž [na kotruž] dźensa my chcemy so dopomnić a wopomnić. Hdźe su jich nanojo a maćerje, kiž přez sto lět tak wjele mol[i] swojom Bohu tak wjele woporow su přinjesli, zo by to Bože mjeno we tej wosadźi wostać móhło. Njejsu jow pak dlěje na kraju tych žiwych. Su hižom nutř šli [do] toho Knjeza krasnosće a wjesełosće, a wohladaja wšitki[ch] wuzwolenych Božich a woblečo teho Knjeza. Wjele je so přeměniło na člowickich[jeskim] žiwjenje[u]. Njepřińdźa wjac kemši jako prjedy, z[e] sankami a z wozami. My smy we swěći, wot kotrehož naši wótcojo njejsu ničo wědźeli. Wšitke rěče budźa přestać, a póznaće so zhubić budźe. Ale jeno te jeničke budźe wostać[,] štož nuzne je. Ale jeno, štož nuzne je, je dźensa[,] kiž wěčnje wostać budźe kak we [kaž za] sto lět: a [to je] Bože słowo. Tele słowo, dokelž [kotrež] woni sy [su] słyšeli a nawuknyli, słyšimy hižom dźensa.

Što budźe to [tón] přichod nam přinjesć? Nimamy prawa[,] wobroćić so k Bohu, našeho [našemu] Knjezej, prosyć a wutrobnje žadać: “Wostań pola nas, dokelž so k wječoru přibližuje, a dźeń je so nachilił.”[19] Nam płaći a [to] Bože słowo: “Budźeće-li wy wostać při mojej rěči, da sće moji prawi wučomnicy, a wy budźeće tu prawdu póznać, a ta prawda budźe was wuswobodźić[20] … Budź swěrny hač do smjerće, da chcu tebi krónu teho žiwjenja dać.”[21]

Ach! wostań při nas z hnadu,
Hlaj, swěta wječor je,
Zo njepřińdźemy k padu
Přez čerta lestnosće. 

Ach! twoje słowo swjate
Njech bydli pola nas,
Zo budźe zbože date
Nam přez nje kóždy čas. 

Ach! wostań při nas, krasnosć
A swětłosć žiwjenja;
Dha mamy w ćmowym jasnosć
A błud nas njezjeba.

Ach! twoje žohnowanje
Staj k našej chudobi;
Njech kóžde lube ranje
Nas z nowoh wobdari. 

Ach! budź ty nam, o Chryšće,
Naš škit, Knjez ryćerski,
Hdyž so nam w swěće styšće,
Čert šumi žałostnje. 

A hdyž so přibližuje
Ta dołha smjertna nóc,
Nas wšitko wopušćuje,
Dha budź ty naša móc.[22]

Hamjeń.

Wótče naš, kiž sy we njebjesach,
swjećene budź twoje mjeno.
Přińdź k nam twoje kralestwo.
Twoja wola so stań,
kaž na njebju, tak tež na zemi.
Naš wšědny chlěb daj nam dźensa.
A wodaj nam naše winy,
jako my wodawamy našim winikam.
A njewjedź nas do spytowanja,
ale wumóž nas wot teho złeho.
Přetož twoje je to kralestwo a ta móc a
ta česć hač do wěčnosće. Hamjeń.[23]

Hnada budź z wami, a pokoj wot Boha, našeho Knjeza, a wot teho Knjeza Jezom Chrysta![24]

English Translation of the Wendish Sermon

“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today”[25] … O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.[26] … Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.[27] … This is the day, which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.[28] … The Lord has done great things for us; whereof we are glad.[29]”

So we sing today and praise the mercy, love and compassion of our Lord, which he has bestowed on us over the last hundred years. In the beginning there were only a few, around six hundred souls. They built a house of God here, in which they could hear and preach God’s word in all its purity. They built a school here, in which they were able to teach their children, and the Lord’s lambs were able to graze on the green pastures of God’s word and be led to fresh water. They submitted themselves from the first to the Lord, and then us through God’s will. How splendidly did God bless their deeds and the work of their hands! And their joy was the word of God. It was a lantern and light for their feet on their way through the day and night. His word was all that was needed. It was more glorious than gold, yes than much beautiful gold; it was sweeter than honey, than honeycomb. It is an undeserved favor from our Lord, when a congregation can look back over a hundred years. He will therefore make them humble under God’s strong hand. They know and acknowledge how often they have deserted and forgotten all the Lord’s great works, how many times they have grown weary. They can say along with Jacob: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou has shewed unto thy servant.”[30] They can also say with David: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.[31] … To him be glory and dominion for ever.”[32]

There is one further matter we wish to remember today and on which we wish to reflect. Where are their fathers and mothers, who over 100 years made so many sacrifices on so many occasions to their God, so that the name of God can survive in the community? They are no longer in the land of the living. They have already entered the glory and joy of the Lord and can see all God’s chosen people and the face of the Lord. Much has changed in human life. We do not come to services as we did earlier, on sledges and wagons. We live in a world of which our fathers knew nothing. All languages will cease and knowledge will pass away. But only one thing will remain which is necessary. But what is necessary today, what will remain for eternity, for so many hundreds of years, that is God’s word. This word, which they heard and learned, we are already hearing today.

What will the future bring for us? Do we not have the right to turn to God, our Lord and to ask and plead from our hearts: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”[33] God’s word applies to us: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[34] … Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.[35]”

Abide, O dearest Jesus,
Among us with Thy grace
That Satan may not harm us
Nor we to sin give place.

Abide, O dear Redeemer,
Among us with Thy Word
And thus now and hereafter
True peace and joy afford.

Abide with heavenly brightness
Among us, precious Light;
Thy truth direct and keep us
From error’s gloomy night.

Abide with richest blessings
Among us, bounteous Lord;
Let us in grace and wisdom
Grow daily through Thy Word.

Abide with Thy protection
Among us, Lord, our Strength,
Lest world and Satan fell us
And overcome at length.

Abide, O faithful Savior,
Among us with Thy love;
Grant steadfastness and help us
To reach our home above.[36]

Amen

Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.[37]

Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ![38]

Translated by Peter Barker


[1] See Daphne Dalton Garrett, Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt 1899–1949. A History of the Newspaper and Print Shop of the Texas Wends, Garrett Historical Research Warda, Texas, 1998; Trudla Malinkowa, ‘Texaska serbska agenda wuslědźena’, Pomhaj Bóh 49 (1999) 1; Trudla Malinkowa, ‘Stawizny zamórskeje serbskeje ćišćernje’, Rozhlad 49 (1999) 9, 347–349.

[2] Pastor Herrmann Schmidt quoted the last verse of the hymn by Jan Kilian “Na cyrkwinu reformaciju”, see Serbska poezija 43: Jan Kilian, compiled by Trudla Malinkowa, Bautzen, 1999, pp. 27–29. English version entitled “Reformation” in David Zersen (ed.), The Poetry and Music of Jan Kilian, Austin 2010, pp. 38–39. 

[3] On the decline in the importance of the Wendish language in Serbin, see Trudla Malinkowa, Ufer der Hoffnung, 2nd edition, Bautzen 1999, pp. 187–191; Trudla Malinkowa, Shores of Hope, Austin 2009, pp. 182–187.

[4] I would like to thank Mr. Weldon Mersiovsky from Walburg, Texas, and other researchers from the Wendish Research Exchange, for supplying biographical details.

[5] ‘A Brief Extract of the History of the Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul Congregation of Serbin, Lee County, Texas. As written by the Pastors of St. Paul Congregation‘, in A Collection of Histories of St. Paul Lutheran Church Serbin, Texas. In Commemoration of the Congregation’s 150th Anniversary, edited by Rev. Michael Buchhorn, Serbin, Texas, 2003, pp. 35–63, here p. 52.

[6] ‘Centennial of Wend Settlement Commemorated at Serbin Church’, The Giddings, Texas, News, 15 July 1954. I am grateful to Weldon Mersiovsky for this source.

[7] Elmer Hohle in an email to the author on 23 November 2013.

[8] ‘W Serbinje běchu loni poslednje serbske kemše’ (The last Wendish service took place in Serbin last year), Nowa Doba 9 (5 March 1955), no. 27.

[9] ‘A Brief Extract’ (as in footnote 5), p. 54; ‘St. Paul Lutheran Church serves over 1000 dinners’, Giddings, Texas, Times & News, 28 June 1979.

[10] Ruth Sievers, née Schmidt, in an email to the author on 3 January 2014.

[11] 1st verse of the hymn “Njech Bohu dźakuje”, in Spěwarske za ewangelskich Serbow, Bautzen, 2010,  no. 189. German version “Nun danket alle Gott”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 321.

[12] Psalm 96: 1–2.

[13] Psalm 103: 1–2.

[14] Psalm 118: 24.

[15] Psalm 126: 3.

[16] 1 Moses 32: 11.

[17] Psalm 115: 1.

[18] Revelation of John 1: 6.

[19] Luke 24: 29.

[20] John 8: 31–32.

[21] Revelation of John 2: 10.

[22] Verses 1–6 of the hymn “Ach wostań při nas z hnadu”, in Spěwarske (as in footnote 11), no. 241. Text version according to the old Wendish hymnbooks (editions before 1930). German version “Ach bleib mit Deiner Gnade”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 347.

[23] The Lord’s Prayer.

[24] 1 Corinthians 1: 3.

[25] 1st verse of the hymn “nun danket alle Gott”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 321. Translation by Catherine Winkworth.

[26] Psalm 96: 1–2. All bible translations from the King James version.

[27] Psalm 103: 1-2.

[28] Psalm 118: 24.

[29] Psalm 126:3.

[30] I Moses 32:10

[31] Psalm 115: 1.

[32] Revelation of John 1: 6.

[33] Luke 24: 29.

[34] John 8: 31–32.

[35] Revelation of John 2: 10.

[36] Verses 1–6 of the hymn “Ach, bleib mit Deiner Gnade”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 347. Translated by August Crull 1923.

[37]  The Lord’s Prayer.

[38] 1 Corinthians 1: 3.

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