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.


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,

[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]


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]


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.

Jan Kilian and the Emigration of the Sorbian Lutherans

Jan Kilian und die Auswanderung der sorbischen Lutheraner / Jan Kilian and the Emigration of the Sorbian Lutherans, written by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) and translated by Jay Cram first appeared in: Eduard Ludwig Nollau Mission und Migration im 19. Jahrhundert. Eine Spurensuche / Eduard Ludwig Nollau: Searching for Traces of Migration and Mission in the 19th Century. Published by Thomas Koppehl in cooperation with Hans-Wilhelm Pietz, Jill Vogt und Christoph Wiesener. Studien zur Schlesischen und Oberlausitzer Kirchengeschichte Band 11, Verein für Schlesische Kirchengeschichte 2011, pps. 196, 206, 207, 216.


Even the first fleeting glance at the biographies of Jan Kilian (left) and Ludwig Eduard Nollau (right) shows remarkable similarities. Both are sons of Upper Lusatia. Nollau was born on July 1, 1810, and Kilian only a few months later, on March 22, 1811. Kilian’s birthplace, Döhlen, is located not even 30 Kilometers from Nollau’s home town, Reichenbach. At three years old, Nollau lost his mother and as a 16-year old, his father. Kilian’s mother died when he was two years old, and at ten years old he was completely orphaned. Nollau, like Kilian, attended secondary school, and both became Protestant clergy. Influenced by the Moravian Brethren, both desired to dedicate their lives to being missionaries to the heathen; Nollau graduated from the seminary of the Rhenish Mission Society in Barmen in 1837, and in the same year, Kilian decided to attend the mission institute St. Chrischona in Basel following his theological studies in Leipzig. Both ultimately went to the USA, but did not work there as missionaries, but rather as pastors in congregations of immigrants from Germany. Nollau and Kilian became prominent personalities in their church federations, whose work is not forgotten, even today.

Besides these similarities, we also find dramatic differences between these two outstanding personalities of Lusatian emigration history. The theme of this presentation is an examination of the life of Jan Kilian while paying special attention to his place in the history of Sorbian emigration abroad. In contrast to Nollau, we will run across a different theological orientation. It will also become clear that a meeting between the two could not have generated any special rapprochement between the two or sympathies for one another.


Jan Kilian was born on March 22, 1811 in Döhlen, a small Sorbian village in the parish of Hochkirch. He was the first child of the farmer Peter Kilian and his wife, Maria, née Mättig, of Hochkirch. When he was two years old, his sister, only a few months old, died, and soon thereafter so did his mother. Consequently his father married a widow from Meschwitz, but died already in 1821. The orphaned boy was embraced especially by his mother’s family, who belonged to the respected and wealthy mill owner in the area of Hochkirch. He was allowed to attend secondary school in Bautzen and to study theology in Leipzig. Afterwards he became an associate pastor under Pastor Möhn in his home congregation in Hochkirch.

Already in his early years one could see that he set a high value on his Sorbian nationality and the Lutheran faith. At the Bautzen secondary school he congregated with other Sorbian students, to spend some time studying their mother tongue. In Leipzig he did not join, as was generally commonplace for Sorbian students, the Wendish Preachers’ Society Sorabia, which had been active since 1716, but rather affiliated himself with a group of religiously awakened German students. In his younger years, he had given a pledge to devote his life to missionizing to the heathen. To honor this pledge, he made his way to Basel in 1837 to study at the Mission Institute of St. Chrischona. But when his uncle, Pastor Michael Kilian, died soon after in Kotitz near Weißenberg, he returned to Lusatia and became his successor in the Kotitz congregation.

The small size of the congregation – of which the only members were from Kotitz and the neighboring village of Särka totaling about 90 households in the parish – allowed the young cleric to spend time on personal interests outside of his official duties. Kilian took up the pen in service of Lutheran teachings amongst the Sorbs. In the course of only a few years, he published a series of Sorbian books, especially translations of religious German writings. The supplies of some were exhausted so quickly, that soon reprints became necessary. Amongst his translations one can also find “symbolic Books,” the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, whose full details were edited over several years and were finally presented as a comprehensive book of more than 700 pages. Kilian also published some of his own writings. Additionally he worked tirelessly on the publication of a monthly religious journal in the Sorbian language. In the forties he repeatedly applied for a press license, for which he was always refused, much to his regret. The reasons for the rejection were never named to him by the Saxon Cultural Ministry, and so Kilian speculated that either “his person, his Lutheranism, or his Wendishness” were too dislikable for the Ministry.

In Kotitz, Kilian developed himself into a masterly and fruitful hymnist. Already in 1838, at that time Kilian was 27 years old – his works were being incorporated into a new edition of the Sorbian hymnal. In 1846, a collection of his hymns was published, for which he had also composed some of the melodies. The booklet was used as a textbook for decades in some Sorbian schools and was repeatedly reprinted. In one of his religious songs, he coined a phrase which would become a familiar quotation amongst Sorbs, and which today is still used and understood as an admonition: “serbja, zachowajće swěru swojich wótcow rěč a wěru.” (Wend, stay faithful to your fathers, language, and belief.) Alongside his own creations, he also translated a multitude of hymns into Sorbian, amongst them such well known works as “Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud” by Paul Gerhardt and “Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt” by Johann Matthäus Meyfart. Altogether, there are more than 50 distinct sacred songs from Kilian, of which nine have melodies that he composed himself, and about 70 translations which are known. With this number, but above all with the quality of his works, his turn of phrase, and his strength of expression, Jan Kilian is amongst the most outstanding poets of the Protestant Sorbs. He became the bard of the Lutheran awakening of the 19th century in the Sorbian community. As such, he was frowned upon during the Socialist times, but recently his works have experienced a renaissance. A selection of his compositions was published in 1999, in a series of Sorbian poetry. His Hymns can also be found in the Catholic Sorbian Hymnal and especially in the new Protestant Upper Sorbian Hymnal, which was published in 2010 and contains 19 of his hymns.

Starting in 1841, Jan Kilian belonged to the Upper Lusatian Scientific Society in Görlitz. In 1847 he joined the newly founded Sorbian Education and Science Association Maćica Serbska. In spite of his work as a Sorbian cleric, publicist, and poet, Kilian remained an outsider in the ranks of the Sorbian intelligentsia. The reason was his vehement advocacy of the Lutheran faith. While Kilian uncompromisingly regarded the Sorbian nationality and the Lutheran faith as belonging together, for the majority of the Sorbian intelligentsia questions of faith took a back seat to nationalist concerns, in order to represent common Sorbian interests across confessional boundaries. The blooming of Sorbian cultural and intellectual life around the middle of the 19th century, which went down in history as a national rebirth, was described by Kilian as a false, unbelieving Wendishness. He strove not for the national, but rather the religious, awakening of his people.

Amongst the Protestant Sorbs, decades of influence of Hallean pietism and the Moravian Brethren had prepared fertile soil for an awakening stamped with Lutheranism. The conventicle apparatus – the meeting of laymen for devotions in private homes – was a fixed tradition in many villages. On this breeding ground, a Lutheran movement developed, which reached its climax in the 1840s. In Saxon Upper Lusatia, four Sorbian Evangelical Lutheran societies were established in 1849 under an umbrella organization in response to the societal changes caused by the revolutionary turbulence. In Prussian Upper Lusatia, the Sorbian Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf/Klitten had already been established a few years earlier. The intellectual leader of this ecclesial separation in Prussia was Jan Kilian, who was at that time still pastor in Saxon Kotitz. Through the introduction of the Unified Church, uneasy believers from Weigersdorf sought council from him in religious matters. As a strict Lutheran, he advised them to break away from the State Church. He established a connection with the Old Lutherans in Silesia, and translated their texts into Sorbian. As a result, the Old Lutheran congregations of Weigersdorf and Klitten were established in 1843. None of the Sorbian clergymen was willing to take over the separatist congregation. Eventually Jan Kilian felt compelled to leave Saxon Kotitz and become pastor in Prussian Weigersdorf in 1848. In the same year, he married Maria Gröschel from Särka, a Sorbian farmer’s daughter from the congregation in Kotitz. She was a loyal companion to him for more than 32 years. Four children were born to the pair during their time in Weigersdorf, but three of them died very young.

Jan Kilian, who in his younger years had given a pledge to dedicate his life to becoming a missionary to the heathen, and for that reason had attended the Mission Institute in Basel as a young theologian, had already been contemplating emigration from a young age. The increasing emigration fever in Germany, especially after the large and successful emigration waves of the Prussian Old Lutherans to Australia in 1838, nourished his hope of being able to merge emigration and missionary work. In the year 1844, when he was still pastor in Kotitz, he had already discussed the advantages and disadvantages of emigration with the Old Lutheran ecclesial authorities in Breslau. Soon, Kilian took practical steps of preparation for emigration. In the year 1845, he made contact with Pastor August Ludwig Christian Kavel in South Australia, the pastor, who, in the year 1838, had led the emigration wave of Prussian Old Lutherans. It was Kilian’s intent to join Kavel’s German settlers with a large group of Sorbs, but he doubted it would be possible to maintain a pure Sorbian identity in such close proximity to Germans. Apparently he reckoned that this emigration would take place very soon, because already in 1846 he was negotiating with the emigration agent responsible for South Australia, Eduard Delius, in Bremen, about a ship for passage to Australia. From Delius, he also received printed reports about the German settlements in Australia, which he passed on to interested church members. In the conviction that he would soon follow, he also took up contact with Pastor Philipp Jakob Oster, of Posen, before he set sail for Adelaide with his congregation in 1847.

In 1848, the same year that Jan Kilian moved from Saxon Kotitz to the separatists in Prussia, the first Sorbian group immigrated to Australia. Enabled by the expansion of the rail network in the 1840s, year after year more Sorbian groups left their homes to move to Australia; 92 people belonged to the largest one. Most emigrants came from the area East of Bautzen, especially from the parishes of Hochkirch, Kotitz, and Gröditz, where the Lutheran movement had its home. Amongst them were the leaders and many members of the Sorbian Evangelical Lutheran societies in Saxony, as well as a few individual members of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf. In 1848, Pastor Andreas Kappler of Weissenberg emigrated and in 1849, Pastor Andreas Pentzig, who was ordained in Krischa, today called Buchholz, just before his departure. Some of the groups were pursuing the expressed goal of establishing a Sorbian Lutheran congregation in Australia. This intention, however, failed. In spite of their efforts, they did not manage to establish a central Sorbian colony in Australia or to install a Sorbian cleric as the leader of a Lutheran congregation.

For Jan Kilian, thoughts about emigration fell into the background after taking over his new responsibilities as Pastor for the Old Lutherans in Prussia. The work was arduous. In addition to Weigersdorf and Klitten, he also ministered to small daughter congregations scattered through the Sorbian area in Prussian Lusatia – all together more than 1,200 souls. Every third month he went on a three week trip to the areas around Muskau, Spremberg, and Cottbus, all the way to Lübbenau in the Spreewald region. From the beginning, a dire financial situation was prevalent. The congregants, who could scarcely feed themselves off the sandy soil of Lusatian moor, had to erect two new churches, a parsonage, and a school with their own resources, as well as pay the salaries of the pastor and the teacher. In order to do so, they took large debts onto themselves. Furthermore, two more problems made their lives even harder. Jan Kilian had a running argument with the neighboring congregations who were not disposed to recognizing the Old Lutherans. His congregants were denounced as “Muckers” (or “false saints”) were regarded as odd in their villages, and were rejected by other villagers. There were even incidences in which they were verbally harassed and beaten on their way home from church

After only a short time in Weigersdorf, Jan Kilian was exhausted. There seemed to be only one way to get out of all the conflicts: emigration abroad. Depressed by the conditions, he came to the conclusion, in a 1851 letter to Adolf von Harless, the courtpreacher of the saxonian king in Dresden, that “the consequences of even the smallest churchly separation appear to be ominous, if we stay in the country.” Kilian discussed his wish, to be a chaplain of the Sorbs in Australia and to missionize the Aborigines at the same time, extensively with his Old Lutheran pastoral colleague Ehlers in Liegnitz in 1853. Ehlers was of the opinion that the two could not be combined with each other, and that Kilian would thus have to choose only one of them.

Unfortunate news about the circumstances in Australia and the ecclesiastical disputes amongst the immigrant German Lutherans soon resulted in Sorbs who were interested in emigration looking for a new destination. In the year 1853, the first families of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf and Klitten headed out for Texas. Their praise-filled letters had the result that one year later, several hundred Sorbs started out to follow them. They founded an emigration society just for this trip, and it managed the practical concerns. Jan Kilian was asked to move with them as pastor of the immigrants. He assented. The move under Jan Kilian went down in history as the largest emigration of Sorbs, and at the same time as the last great emigration of Old Lutherans out of Prussia.

In September of 1854, 531 Sorbs began their journey with a chartered train from Bautzen to Hamburg. By ship and rail they continued on to Liverpool, in England, where the three-master ship, “Ben Nevis” was ready for them. The passage across the Atlantic to Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico, went tragically; 81 emigrants died en route from a cholera epidemic and other illnesses.

In early 1855, they managed to buy about 1,720 hectares of undeveloped land in Bastrop County and to found a Sorbian colony there. Derived from the nationality of its inhabitants, Kilian conferred upon it the name Serbin. With great sacrifice and in unfamiliar climatic conditions, the settlers cleared forest, plowed virgin soil, and managed, by and by, to carve out a rudimentary life for themselves. Together they raised a church, school, and parsonage. At the same time, a cemetery was laid out, in which Kilian was to perform the first burial for his own newborn daughter, Maria Theresia, in March of 1855. Serbin became the main destination for Sorbs from Upper Lusatia in the following decades, and as a result, the most important Sorbian colony abroad.

As the first one in Texas, Kilian joined the Missouri Synod – whose full name was the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States – in 1855. This German Lutheran Church had been founded by awakened immigrants from Saxony, the so called Stephanianer – so named for their leader, pastor Martin Stephan from Dresden – in 1848 in St. Louis, Missouri – in the same place where only eight years earlier Nollau, together with German and Swiss clergy brethren, founded the German Evangelical Church Society of the West, in 1840. Kilian knew the president of the Missouri Synod, Dr. Ferdinand Walther, who is also described as the “Lutheran Pope of the West,” and other leading clergymen of the Synod personally. In Leipzig they had studied together, and strengthened each other’s faith within their pious circles. As it had been in Lusatia, Kilian also took a position of isolation for the sake of his personal beliefs. He suffered from the fact that he did not find any like-minded people amongst his colleagues in Texas, because they all belonged to the Texas Synod, a synod which, according to Kilian’s view, represented the liberal, watered-down teachings of the Unified Church. Furthermore, Kilian was not even in agreement with all of the teachings of the Missouri Synod, and as a result ended up getting into some arguments with his ecclesial authorities in St. Louis. Amongst other things, he regretted that they could muster up no sympathy for his efforts to maintain the Sorbian language and nationality in their colony in Texas. In spite of all the conflicts, they never came to a breaking point, and that is how Jan Kilian became the father of the Missouri Synod in Texas.

In his congregation in Serbin, Kilian had to tackle an extensive workload. For many years he was not only busy as a Pastor, but also as a school teacher. He was often on horseback, en route to distant settlements where his services were needed. For the most part, economic responsibilities, and the care for his family, he left up to his wife, to whom four more children were born in Texas.

He was not granted a restful life in his new home either. Just when the most important issues were settled in Serbin, the arguments began. Only three years after the settlement was established, in 1858, one group split from the congregation because of religious differences. Although this split would be overcome after a few years, the religious conflict was followed shortly by one of nationality. In the area around Serbin, some Germans had settled, who, with the support of some Sorbs, requested more and more German-language church services and community events. Jan Kilian and his followers fought against this, which eventually lead to a split between a predominantly German St. Peter’s congregation and a predominantly Sorbian St. Paul’s congregation. Besides that, several daughter settlements in the area sought the dissociation from the mother congregation in Serbin, and the establishment of their own congregations. In all of these related conflicts, Kilian sought support from his authorities in Missouri, which, however, he failed to receive.

In light of the many difficulties in Texas, Jan Kilian yearned to be back in Lusatia. It was not to the Old Lutheran Weigersdorf in Prussia to which he longed to return home, but rather to quiet Kotitz in the Evangelical Lutheran state church in Saxony. However he did not want to leave his congregation in Texas without having found a Sorbian successor. He hoped that a young Sorbian pastor from Lusatia would come to Serbin so he could return to his old home. His hopes, however, were never realized.

At the end of his life, he often asked himself if the path he had taken with the founding of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf and Klitten which had required so much sacrifice from himself and others had been the right one. On September 12, 1884, Jan Kilian died. His sons carried on the work in Serbin, Gerhard Kilian as a teacher, and Hermann Kilian as pastor.

Jan Kilian is still remembered with reverence today. For the descendents of the Sorbs in Texas, he is the Sorbian Moses, who led his people out of European oppression over the sea to America’s freedom. He went down in Church history as the founder of Old Lutheran congregations in Lusatia, as the spiritual leader of the last great migration of the Old Lutherans out of Prussia, and as the father of the Missouri Synod in Texas. In Lusatia he is treasured by Protestants as well as Catholics as a powerfully elegant poet of sacred songs and hymns.

An overview of the life and works of Jan Kilian shows that there are similarities with the career of Nollau. However what is truly impressive are the differences in personal beliefs and the spiritual home of both pastors. Nollau was sent as a missionary to America, Kilian went as the spiritual leader of a large immigrant society. While Nollau was a deliberate representative of the Unified Church, Kilian, as an avowed Lutheran, strongly rejected the Union, and finally fled from it with his brethren abroad. One further substantial difference between Kilian and Nollau consists of their differing national and social origins: Through his rural heritage, his sense of belonging to the Sorbian people, and his deep-rootedness in the national and sacred traditions of his people, Kilian remained estranged from the quickly developing modern world with its liberal and civil Zeitgeist in both Germany and America. With unshakable consistency and with great sacrifice, he followed the goal he formed early in life, to preserve the Sorbian language and the Lutheran faith as an indivisible entity. His biographer Otto Lehmann described Jan Kilian as “one of the most faithful and important Sorbs that ever lived.”


Malinkowa, Trudla. Serbska poezija 43: Jan Kilian. Bautzen 1999.

Malinkowa, Trudla. Ufer der Hoffnung – Sorbische Auswanderer nach Übersee. 2. Ed., Bautzen 1999.

Malinkowa, Trudla. Shores of Hope – Wends Go Overseas. Concordia University Press Austin, Texas 2009.

Nielsen, George. In Search of a Home. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1989.

Nielsen, George. Johann Kilian, Pastor. Bloomington: 1st Books Library, 2003.

Wićaz, Ota. Jan Kilian. Předźenak 1927.

Wićaz, Ota. Jan Kilian – japoštoł a rewolucionar, Pomhaj Bóh (1951) 4–5.

Wilson, Joseph. Pastor John Kilian’s Shipboard Diary. Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly 4 (1985).


The Evangelical Lutheran Wends (Sorbs) in Germany

This article by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) and translated by Gerald Stone was written for an information booklet, that was published in Bautzen, Germany, five times in the German language and one time, 2009, in English.

The Wends (Sorbs)

are the smallest Slavonic nation. They are descendants of the Slavonic tribes who around 600 A.D. during the migration of peoples settled in the territory between the Rivers Oder/Neiße and Elbe/Saale, and between the Baltic Sea and the east German secondary mountain chains. These tribes were not able to establish state structures of their own. Their territories became part of the Holy Roman Empire during the High Middle Ages. For hundreds of years the Wends have lived under German statehood. There is no “Mother State” beyond the German borders.

Wendish territory

has been shrinking for about 1000 years. The remains of it in Lusatia began to break up when industrialization began. The growing domination of the German language and culture in all spheres of life, sometimes aided by the suppression of Wendish activities in the church, the schools, and in public life, led to the loss of the language and culture of the Wends. They became a minority in their own country. Only a small area populated by Catholic Wends has managed to survive as a result of being a kind of “religious island” and because of its distinct agricultural structure. Here the Wendish language and culture have been preserved until the twenty-first century. At the end of the nineteenth century there were approximately 160 000 Wends. Today there are about 40–60 000.

The terms “Wends” or “Sorbs”

are, generally speaking, interchangeable. For centuries the term “Wends” was widely used. The term “Sorbs” is derived from the Wendish word “Serbja” (German: Sorben) and became the official term after World War II. In Lower Lusatia the term “Lower Sorbs/Wends” is now preferred.

The Lower Wendish and Upper Wendish languages

are of Slavonic origin and in them quite a number of Old Slavonic characteristics are to be found. In Lower Lusatia, in the southern parts of Brandenburg, the people speak Lower Wendish, which is quite close to Polish. In Saxony, in Upper Lusatia, the people speak Upper Wendish, a language quite similar to Czech. There are some transitional dialects in the Hoyerswerda and Weißwasser areas in Central Lusatia.

With the Reformation

the Wendish people became Evangelical Lutheran, though some communities near Kamenz and Bautzen remained Roman Catholic. Luther’s mother-tongue principle led to the development of the Lower Wendish and Upper Wendish literary languages. As early as 1548 his version of the New Testament was translated into Lower Wendish, but this remained in manuscript. It was followed by Luther’s catechism, which was printed first in Lower Wendish in 1574 and later in 1595 in Upper Wendish. By educating and training pastors as well as teachers the Wendish people for the first time acquired an intellectual leadership.

Wendish churches

following the Reformation were established in the towns of Lusatia for the spiritual care of the Wendish population. They were sometimes church buildings which were no longer needed for their original purpose, such as monastery churches (Cottbus, Guben, Kamenz, and Löbau) or suburban churches (Bautzen, Forst). Sometimes leading town churches were designated as Wendish churches (Hoyerswerda, Muskau, Vetschau) or new churches were built (Senftenberg, Spremberg). In this way, for the first time, public institutions were created which were devoted exclusively to the use of the Wendish language. Most Wendish churches today no longer serve their original purpose, though preaching in Wendish still takes place, regularly or occasionally, in Bautzen, Cottbus, Hoyerswerda, and Vetschau.

The Church history

of the Evangelical Lutheran Wends has been influenced by two movements of more than regional significance: In the mid eighteenth century by the development of the “Brüdergemeine” (“Moravian Brethren”) of Baron Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf at Herrnhut and in the mid nineteenth century by the separatist movement of Old Lutherans in Prussia. Today’s “Brüdergemeine” at Kleinwelka, founded in 1751 as a Wendish colony, and certain parishes in Upper and Lower Lusatia belonging to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany are evidence of this process. These independent Lutheran parishes left the “united state church” in Prussia in the 1840s.


affected the Evangelical Lutheran Wends from the 1850s till the end of the nineteenth century. The USA and Australia were the main destinations, followed by Canada, South Africa, and South America. The largest group of emigrants founded in 1855 the colony Serbin in Texas. Here the settlers most clearly showed their intention to preserve Evangelical Lutheran Wendish traditions. In Texas and in Australia societies and parishes can still be found today which keep alive the cultural and religious heritage of their Wendish ancestors.

The cultural development

of the Wendish people was, until the end of the nineteenth century, mainly in the hands of the Evangelical Lutheran educated class. The birth of Wendish middle-class culture was more or less the result of their work. The achievements of the Wendish people in the arts, in culture, and in the sciences can scarcely be paralleled among other nations of comparable size. Owing to the intensified assimilation process among the Evangelical Lutheran Wends, however, the intellectual leadership of the Wendish people was taken over in the twentieth century by the Roman Catholics.

The Bible and hymn-books

have existed in both Wendish languages since the eighteenth century. The New Testament was first published in Lower Wendish in 1709, the Old Testament in 1796, and the complete Bible in 1824 and 1868. The first Lower Wendish hymn-book appeared in 1574, the latest in 2007. An Upper Wendish version of the New Testament came out in 1706, followed by the whole bible in 1728. The latest of its eleven editions appeared in 1905. The Upper Wendish hymn-book of 1710 appeared in its most recent edition in 2010. Since 1854 there has also been an Upper Wendish edition of the Lutheran confessions.

Pomhaj Bóh” and “Pomogaj Bog

are journals published for the Wendish Evangelical Lutherans and named after the Evangelical Lutheran greeting (in German: “Gott helfe dir;” English equivalent: “God speed”). Founded in 1891 the Upper Wendish “Pomhaj Bóh” is an independent monthly, whereas “Pomogaj Bog,” first published in 1988, is a part of the Lower Wendish weekly newspaper.

The national costumes

of the Wendish people are of an astonishing variety and beauty. They are still worn today in the regions of Hoyerswerda, Weißwasser (Central Lusatia) and Cottbus (Lower Lusatia) by women of the older generation. The younger generation put them on for special occasions and festivals. More and more “Costume Societies” have been founded in recent years.

Wendish customs

are widely followed in all regions of Lusatia. Among them are the winter and spring customs “Birds’ Wedding,” the “Wendish Carnival,” “Witch Burning,” “Felling the May Pole,” and “Mid-Summer Day’s Riding.” Around harvest-time there are “Plucking the Cock,” “Beating the Cock,” “Stubble Riding,” and “Moving the Frog on a Wheelbarrow.” Important church festivals too are sometimes combined with special customs. At Christmas there is the Źiśetko (Child of God) and at Easter there are Easter Fires, girls fetch “Easter water,” eggs are decorated, and Easter hymns are sung in the night. Often the colourful national costumes are also to be seen.

Evangelical Lutheran parishes

with a Wendish majority are a thing of the past. Almost all the pastors now are German. But there are still many Wendish-speaking parishioners, most of whom are senior citizens. Wendish-speaking families are a rarity. For a few years there have been attempts in kindergartens and schools to give the Wendish language a new chance and to revive it in the younger generation.

The two districts of the Evangelical Lutheran church

where Wends live today are:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony: It includes some parishes of the Upper Lusatian region. Wendish religious life here continues well-tried traditions and, to a certain extent, develops in autonomous structures. Church life here is regulated by a canon law which was passed in 1949 and rewritten in 2003. It prescribes the existence of such bodies as the “Wendish Parishes Association” as the leading organ, the appointment of a Wendish superintendent, and the membership of one Wend representative in the Saxon synod. In about ten Saxon parishes, at irregular intervals, Wendish and Wendish-German services or similar meetings are held. The high-point of the year is the Wendish Church Day (Kirchentag). Since 1988 services have been broadcast on the radio. Sometimes there are groups of children and young people who receive religious instruction in preparation for confirmation in the Wendish language.

The Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia: In this large church, founded in 2004 by the unification of two district churches, there has been a “Wendish Law” since 2005. Lower Lusatia and part of Upper Lusatia are included. In the Lower Lusatian region around Cottbus after World War II the development of active Wendish parish life became impossible. Attempts to start it were either turned down or stopped. After decades and thanks to private initiative it again became possible in 1987 to hold services in the Lower Wendish language. The foundation of “Serbska namša” (“Wendish Church Service”), an activity group of the church, took place in 1988. Since then they have been able to hold between six and eight services a year in approximately fifteen parishes. Services or devotional items on the radio in the Lower Wendish language started in 1989. Since 2002 there has been a pastor responsible for Wendish affairs in all Lower Lusatian parishes. In the Upper Lusatian region around Weißwasser, Hoyerswerda, and Niesky there were for many years no Wendish-speaking pastors. Every now and then bilingual services and meetings took place in some parishes, organized mostly by the Wendish superintendent from Saxony. Since 2014 an ordained young Wendish woman serves there as Wendish pastor in the congregation of Schleife.

Wendish Evangelical Lutheran social life

flourished in the nineteenth century. Under National-Socialist rule it came to a complete standstill. A real new beginning became possible only after the reunification of Germany in 1990. In Lower Lusatia the “Spěchowańske towaristwo za serbsku rěc w cerkwi z.t.” (“Society for the Promotion of the Wendish Language in the Church”) was founded in 1994, corresponding to the “Serbske ewangelske towarstwo z.t.” (“Wendish Evangelical Society”) in Upper Lusatia. The aim of both is to promote and continue the 500-years-old tradition of Evangelical Lutheran services, ecclesiastical events, and church publications in the mother tongues of the Wendish people.

Trudla Malinkowa

Translated by Gerald Stone

The Lord’s Prayer in Upper Wendish

Wótče naš, kiž sy w 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,

kaž my wodawamy našim winikam.

A njewjedź nas do spytowanja,

ale wumóž nas wot złeho.

Přetož twoje je kralestwo a móc a česć

hač do wěčnosće.


The Lord’s Prayer in Lower Wendish

Wóśce naš na njebju.

Wuswěśone buź twójo mě.

Pśiź k nam twójo kralejstwo.

Twója wóla se stań

ako na njebju tak teke na zemi.

Naš wšedny klěb daj nam źinsa.

A wódaj nam naše winy,

ako my wódawamy našym winikam.

A njewjeź nas do spytowanja,

ale wumóž nas wót wšogo złego.

Pśeto twójo jo to kralejstwo a ta móc a ta cesć

do nimjernosći.



Jan Kilian by Trudla Malinkowa

This article about Jan Kilian, written by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) and translated by Rachel Hildebrandt is a synopis of his life on the 200th anniversary of his birth. It first appeared in the January 2011 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, Serbin, Texas.

Pastor – Poet – Emigrant

In Honor of the 200th Anniversary of Jan Kilian’s Birth

As the firstborn child of the farmer and landowner Peter Kilian and his wife Maria (née Mättig) of Hochkirch, Jan Kilian was born on March 22, 1811, in Döhlen, a village located near the city of Bautzen in Saxon Upper Lusatia.  When Jan was two years old, his sister Anna, only a few weeks of age, died, and soon after, his mother also died at the age of 26.  Consequently, his father married a widow from the neighboring town of Meschwitz.  He too died in 1821.  At this point, Jan’s care was taken up by his maternal family, to which belonged respected and wealthy mill owners in the Hochkirch region.  Thus, Jan’s education at the Gymnasium in Bautzen and his theological studies at the University of Leipzig were made possible.  After the conclusion of his studies in 1834, he worked as an assistant pastor for Rev. Möhn in his home congregation in Hochkirch.

            Already as a young man, it was clear that Jan Kilian placed great value on his Wendish ethnicity and his Lutheran faith.  At the Bautzen Gymnasium, he gathered around him other Wendish students.  This group dedicated itself to the study of their mother tongue.  However, in Leipzig, Kilian did not attach himself to the Wendish Preaching Society, which had been founded in 1716.  Affiliation with this society was a common practice among the Wendish students in Leipzig.  Instead, Kilian attached himself to a group of devout and fervent German students.  During his youth, Kilian had made a vow that he would dedicate his life to foreign mission work.  In order to fulfill this vow, he enrolled in the St. Chrischona Mission School in Basel (Switzerland) in 1837.  However, soon after his arrival, Kilian’s uncle, Rev. Michael Kilian of Kotitz near Weißenberg, died, and Kilian returned to Lusatia to take up his uncle’s pastoral position.

            The small size of the church parish, to which only Kotitz and the neighboring village of Särka belonged, made it possible for the young pastor to cultivate his personal interests once he was done fulfilling his pastoral duties.  To further the Lutheran faith among the Wends, Kilian turned to pen and paper.  Within only a few years’ time, he published a series of Wendish books, primarily translations of German religious writings.  Some of these sold out so quickly that additional printings were needed.  In Kotitz, Kilian also developed into a masterful and prolific chorale lyricist. In 1846, a collection of his church songs was published.  He even composed the melodies to accompany some of the verses.  The small book went through multiple printings and was used for decades as a textbook in some Wendish schools.  With his over 100 chorales, Kilian is considered one of the most outstanding poets among the Lutheran Wends.  In his publications, he appealed urgently to his Wendish fellow-countrymen to preserve the language and faith of their fathers.

            While at Kotitz, Kilian’s reputation as a preacher spread far.  His powerful sermons attracted churchgoers from across the entire region and even from neighboring Prussia.  Faithful Prussians asked him for advice on the religious issues they were then facing.  The Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III had ordered the unification of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions into one church body.  The pious Wendish subjects were uncertain if they should take part in this union or if they should separate from the state church, a development that had already occurred in other parts of Prussia.  Kilian recommended the course of separation.  He established contact with the so-called Old Lutherans in Silesia, who had already split from the state church, and then translated the writings of this group into Wendish.  Subsequently in 1843, the Old Lutheran parish of Weigersdorf and Klitten was established.  No one among the Wendish pastors was willing to take on the responsibilities of the separatist congregation.  Ultimately, Kilian felt obligated to leave Saxon Kotitz to become pastor in Prussian Weigersdorf in 1848.  That same year he married Maria Gröschel from Särka, a Wendish farmer’s daughter from his congregation in Kotitz.  For over 32 years, she remained a true helpmeet and companion.  During their years in Weigersdorf, the couple had four children, three of which died young, and only their son Gerhard grew to adulthood.

            The work in the Old Lutheran congregation was arduous.  Kilian was responsible for caring for over 1,200 souls, who were scattered across the entire area of Prussian Lusatia.  Every third month, he made a three-week trip into the Muskau, Spremberg, and Cottbus regions, subsequently continuing his travels over to Lübbenau in the Spree Forest.  From its inception, the congregation suffered from a lack of money.  The congregational members, who had to feed themselves meagerly from the sandy soil of the Lusatian Heath, had to personally pay for the construction of two new churches, a parsonage, and a school.  The pastor and teacher also had to be paid on a regular basis.  As a result, the congregational members assumed large loans to pay for these things.  Other problems also created difficulties in the life of the congregation.  There were ongoing conflicts between Kilian and the neighboring pastors who had joined the unified state church.  These pastors were unwilling to officially recognize the Old Lutherans as an official church body.  Kilian’s congregational members were decried as “yes-men,” viewed themselves in part as the better Christians, and were thus rejected by other villagers as religious oddities.  On at least one occasion, some of Kilian’s church members were cursed and then beaten while on their way home.  After only a short period in Weigersdorf, Kilian was exhausted.  There was no time left over to devote to writing or compositional projects.  Furthermore, his Wendish friends, among whom were counted the publisher Jan Arnošt Smoler in Bautzen, the pastor-poet Handrij Zejler in Lohsa, and other leading Wends, distanced themselves from Kilian and openly criticized his endeavors.  There seemed to be only one way out of all of these conflicts: emigration overseas.

            In 1853, the first families from the Old Lutheran congregation left for Texas.  Their laudatory letters led to several hundred Wends following them the next year.  A specially established emigrant society organized all of the details.  Kilian was asked to accompany the emigrants as their pastor.  He agreed to this proposal.

            In September 1854, 531 Wends boarded a special train to travel from Bautzen to Hamburg.  By ship and train, they eventually reached Liverpool, England, where the large sailing ship Ben Nevis already awaited them.  The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean met with tragedy.  81 emigrants died along the way from cholera and other diseases.

            In spring 1855, the group succeeded in purchasing a large piece of property in Bastrop and Lee counties and in establishing a Wendish colony.  Inspired by the ethnicity of its residents (who in their native language called themselves “Serbja”), Kilian named the community Serbin.  Under great duress and unaccustomed climactic conditions, the settlers cleared the land, plowed new fields, and gradually created a foundation for their lives in their new homeland.  Collectively the settlers constructed a church, a school, and a parsonage.  At the same time, a cemetery was laid.  It was first used when Kilian buried his newborn daughter Theresia there.

            In 1855, Kilian became the first pastor in Texas to affiliate himself with the Missouri Synod, a German Lutheran church body.  The synod had been established by devout emigrants from Saxony who had settled in the state of Missouri.  In the Serbin congregation, Kilian had extensive work on his hands.  For many years, he was not only pastor, but he was also engaged as a school teacher.  Often he rode by horse to distant settlements, where his services were needed.  He left the financial concerns and the care for his family, which included four additional children born in Texas (Theresia, Bernhard, Hermann, and Hulda), primarily to his wife.

            A quiet life eluded Kilian in his new homeland.  The most critical concerns about basic survival had hardly been solved in Serbin before new conflicts developed.  Only three years after the founding of the settlement (1858), a group of church members separated from the congregation because of differences of belief.  This division ended after several years; however, the faith issue was soon replaced by new conflict linked to issues of ethnicity.  Not far from Serbin, German families established homesteads.  These individuals, with the support of some Wends in the community, made increasingly strident demands for German-language worship services and community meetings.  Kilian and his supporters fought valiantly against this pressure, which led in 1870 to another congregational split.  After this division, two congregations came into existence: predominantly German St. Peter’s and predominantly Wendish St. Paul’s.  At the same time, other Wendish communities in the area, such as Warda and Fedor, began to agitate for separation from Serbin and for the establishment of independent congregations.  During all of these conflicts, Kilian repeatedly sought support from the synodical authorities in Missouri.  In the end and in great disappointment, he came to the conclusion that those from whom he wanted support were, instead, sympathetic to the cause of his opponents.

            In light of his many difficulties, Kilian yearned to return to Lusatia.  However, he did not want to abandon his congregation without finding for them a Wendish replacement.  He hoped that a young Wendish pastor from Lusatia would be willing to come to Serbin.  His hopes remained unfulfilled.  At the end of his life, Kilian often wondered if he had chosen the right path, the one that had begun with the establishment of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf and had required of him and others so much sacrifice.  On September 12, 1884, Jan Kilian died.  His sons continued his work in Serbin, Gerhard as teacher and Hermann as pastor.

            Today, Kilian is thought of with great respect.  For the descendents of the Texas Wends, he is the Wendish Moses who led his people across the ocean and away from European oppression into the freedom of America.  In terms of church history, Kilian is remembered as the founder of Old Lutheran congregations in the land of the Wends, as the spiritual leader of the last large emigration of Old Lutherans from Prussia, and as the father of the Missouri Synod in Texas.  In Lusatia, he is still known among both Lutheran and Catholic Wends as a powerfully eloquent writer of spiritual songs and chorales.

            As for his goal to preserve the faith and language of the Wends, Kilian took upon himself great personal sacrifice with unflappable resolve.  His biographer Ota Wićaz described him as “one of the truest and most significant Wends who has ever been.”

  1. The former Kilian farmstead in Döhlen under Czorneboh.  In the center of the picture is Kilian’s birthplace.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

1. Jan Kilian (1811-1884)

Reproduced with permission of the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum, Serbin.

2. Kilian’s signature in Wendish: “Jan Kilian, Pastor”

Reproduced with permission of Sorbisches Kulturarchiv, Bautzen.

3. Church and parsonage of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf

Reproduced with permission of Pfarrarchive Weigersdorf

4. Jan Kilian with his wife Maria, née Gröschel, from Särka, and their children Theresia, Hulda, Hermann, and Bernhard (from left) in Serbin in 1868.  Son Gerhard is not pictured, since he was already studying to be a teacher at the teacher’s college in Addison, Illinois.

Reproduced with permission of Texas Wendish Heritage Museum, Serbin

5. Jan Kilian with his daughter Theresia

Reproduced with permission of Texas Wendish Heritage Society, Serbin

6. In Kotitz, a street has been named for Jan Kilian, who worked there as a pastor from 1837 to 1848.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

Translated by Rachel Hildebrandt


Christoph Samuel Daniel Schondorf – Pastor to the Wendish Migrants to South Australia

Ths article by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) was translated into English from the original German publication by Christine Greenthaner, Melbourne, Australia. Please click on the link below to take you to the article as it is posted on the Australian Wends website.


Johann August Miertsching

Johann August Miertsching was an internationally acclaimed explorer and missionary.The following article about him was written by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) for the August 2017 edition of Pomhaj Boh. It was translated from Upper Sorbian/Wendish by Gerald Stone.

Sites to Remind us of Jan Awgust Měrćink (John August Miertsching) in Lusatia.

On the 200th birthday of the Wendish missionary from the Herrnhut Moravian Church

His birthplace in Gröditz

Jan Awgust Měrćink (Johann August Miertsching) was born on 21 August 1817 in Gröditz, the son of a cottager and carpenter. His father Jan Měrćink was a Wend and his mother Erdmuth (née Naake) was a German, the daughter of a cobbler from the nearby little town of Weißenberg. Before he was three years old the little boy’s father died, whereupon his mother remarried, this time to Jozef Bareš (Baresch), a Czech by birth from the Čáslav region in central Bohemia. A further six children were born from the second marriage. His stepfather was a tailor whose income was small and the family lived in modest circumstances. Both his mother and stepfather came from the pietistic circles of the Herrnhut diaspora. The children grew up in a pious atmosphere and with three languages: the colloquial Wendish of the village, their mother’s German, and their father’s Czech.

Jan Awgust Měrćink (1817–1875)

Courtesy: Sorbisches Kulturarchiv, Bautzen

At the age of fifteen Jan Awgust Měrćink joined the Herrnhut Moravian Church parish. After the appropriate education in Kleinwelka and Herrnhut he was active as a missionary in Labrador from 1844 to 1849. After this, while he was spending a few weeks in his parents’ house in Gröditz, he received an invitation from England to participate as an interpreter in a great journey to the Arctic. The expedition lasted five years, during which Měrćink kept a detailed diary. It is said that after his return he prepared his diary for publication in his parents’ peaceful house in Gröditz. His book, the Reisetagebuch, was in great demand and went through three editions in a few years.

Měrćink’s birthplace was a poor cottage on the south-west edge of Gröditz. The single-storeyed, little thatched house used to stand on the western slope of a gulley or valley called Smoła (in German Smoa), which today has been to a large extent filled in. The older villagers remember the little house still being in use until the mid-twentieth century. In the 1930s a certain Kuba lived here, who used to make slippers, and after 1945 the Klutz family, refugees from Silesia. A few years after the War, probably around 1951, the surviving house, which was dilapidated and likely to collapse, was demolished. Sadly, no photograph of it is known to have survived.

 Today the property is surrounded by a fence and is used as a garden. On it stands an arbour, which may perhaps have been built on the foundations of Měrćink’s birthplace. The place is still known in the village as the Baresch garden. Its present-day address is Nowa dróha (Neue Straße) 17.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

Retirement in Kleinwelka

After Měrćink’s activity as a missionary among the Eskimos in Labrador the church authorities sent him as a missionary to the opposite end of the earth, to south Africa. In preparation for that he married a young teacher from Herrnhut. From 1856 for thirteen years the couple worked among the Hottentots. After tormenting labours and the death of four of their children they returned in April 1869 to their homeland and to Kleinwelka. There, in December that year, his wife died. Měrćink, though only fifty-two years old, took retirement.

The Měrćink family had found itself a house which had belonged to the Šćěpank family in the neighbourhood of the Gruhl bell foundry. Two stories high, it had been built in Klein Neida in 1787 by Jan Šćěpank (Schippang) from Klein Neida. It was the thirty-fourth house to have been built in that new settlement following the foundation of the Herrnhut Moravian colony at Kleinwelka. For many years one of the relatives generally known as ‘Gemüse-Schippang’ ran a greengrocer’s shop here. After remaining in the family’s hands until 1869, it passed in 1870 into the ownership of the parish. Because until 1902 it was overgrown with ivy, it was called ‘Efeuhaus’ (ivy house).

In this house Jan Awgust Měrćink lived out the years of his retirement, looked after by his half-sister from Gröditz. It was probably here too that he died on 30 March 1875, only fifty-eight years old, leaving behind his aged mother and two young daughters, Maria and Helena.

Unfortunately, the house has been empty for many years and is in need of renovation. Its present address is Friedricha Gruhlowa dróha 2 (Friedrich-Gruhl-Strasse 2).

The house in Kleinwelka,

where Missionary Měrćink spent his retirement.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

The grave in Kleinwelka

Jan Awgust Měrćink was buried in the cemetery of the Moravian parish in Kleinwelka. His grave is in the third row of plot nine of the cemetery in the so-named ‘Brothers’ Plot’ (Brüderbeet). Following the custom of the Moravian church, it is of simple form, like the others. On the grass there lies a sandstone flag with a domed surface into which there is carved in gothic letters the words in German: ‘Johann August/Miertsching/born 21 August 1817/ in Gröditz/went home 30 March/1875’. An additional plaque with his name and the dates of his birth and death draws attention to his last resting place.

On the 130th anniversary of J. A. Měrćink’s death in 2005 the Wendish Lutheran Association had his gravestone renovated. The Kleinwelka Moravian Church of the Brethren and the Foundation for the Wendish People also participated financially. Because the original stone was beyond repair, the sculptor Uwe Konjen from Bautzen made a copy. The renovated grave was unveiled in the course of the meeting of the Wendish Lutheran Association on Reformation Day 31 October 2005. A brief bilingual address was given by the Pastor of Kleinwelka, Christine Welschen and the Wendish (Sorbian) Superintendent Jan Malink. Before the ceremony in the cemetery the late Alfons Frencl from Rosenthal gave a talk to members of the Association in Wendish about the life and activities of Měrćink, after which he repeated his speech in German for the Kleinwelka parishioners.     

The grave of J.A. Měrćink in Kleinwelka.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa  

                                                                                    Trudla Malinkowa


Shores of Hope

Copies of Shores of Hope can be purchased from the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 or through the Executive Director,  or online at

Preface to the English Edition

“Božo, daj, zo docpimy ze wšěch strachow wumóženi k brjoham našej’ nadźije!” (“God grant that we protected from all dangers reach the shore of our hope!”) This was the prayer of the Wendish emigrants offered before the voyage across the wide ocean in a poem written by Pastor Johann Kruschwitz in 1869. The title for this book, Shores of Hope, is taken from this very personal petition for gracious protection from the dangers at sea.

The book was written in the early 1990s. During the decades of Socialism in East Germany, the history of the Wendish emigration bad been widely ignored. As a result, after the reunification of Germany in 1990, there was a great desire to work on this moving chapter of Wendish history. The opening of the borders and the unrestricted travel freedom led many visitors from Australia and Texas and other countries to Lusatia. They sought their roots in the homeland of their ancestors and awakened an interest in the history of the Wendish emigration, in which the individual life stories of the emigrants are imbedded.

Initially, the book was written for readers in Lusatia. In 1995, it appeared in Wendish and in German, and in 1999 a second German edition was published. From my perspective, there was no intent to publish this book in English because it was written from a European standpoint for Europeans. Additionally, George R. Nielsen’s groundbreaking study, In Search of a Home, had already been in English for years. The request to have Shores of Hope accessible to the English-speaking descendants of Wendish emigrants overseas was repeatedly made in recent years, especially in Texas. Now Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus at Concordia University Texas and Managing Editor of Concordia University Press, has accepted the challenge to publish the entire book. For this he is heartily thanked. My thanks are also extended to the three translators, the typographic designer, and the proofreaders who helped bring the story to English speaking shores.

The English version is based on the 1999 German edition. Added are merely some detailed matters related to new understandings and a short chapter about the Wends in Iowa about which little information was available at the time of the publication of the book a decade ago.

May Shores of Hope provide the reader with a living picture of the Wendish emigration and may it contribute to a contemporary understanding and deepening of relationships between the Wends in Lusatia and the descendants of the Wends overseas.


Bautzen, Germany

July 2009

Preface to the 1999 Edition

This book addresses an interesting chapter in the history of Lusatia, specifically the exodus of several thousand Wends to overseas countries in the 19th century. For decades, researchers in the USA and Australia have concerned themselves with the Wendish immigration. A great number of publications, among which George R. Nielsen’s groundbreaking study In Search of a Home needs to be mentioned, testify to the results. In contrast, hardly any mention of the theme is to be found in Lusatia. This situation has little to do with disinterest, but is rather the result of the controlling political relationships prior to 1989. Without overseas contacts and without free access to source material abroad, it was a pointless undertaking to concern oneself with the theme.

After Germany’s political change in 1989 the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen addressed this deficit in Lusatian history.

In 1992, a two-year research project was undertaken. The results set the groundwork for two books published in 1995: K brjoham nadźije and Ufer der Hoffnung, through which Wendish and German readers for the first time received the opportunity to inform themselves about the transoceanic emigration of the Wends. Due to growing requests the publisher decided on a new edition of the German work.

Ufer der Hoffnung (Shares of Hope) makes the attempt to offer a complete presentation of the Wendish emigration. The reader receives an overview of the process of the Wendish emigration movement, of the fate of the emigrants in their new homelands, and of their integration into the environment. Included in this presentation is existing scholarly consensus as well as new insights and understandings, especially from the Lusatian perspective. Three chronologically ordered segments starting with the beginning of the emigration present the destinations of the emigrants: Australia, Texas, and Other Countries. In both an introduction and a conclusion, the cause of the emigration and the current Wendish heritage is briefly presented. As an appendix, George R. Nielsen’s list of the names of the Wendish emigrants is attached.

To illustrate subjects described in the text, excerpts from contemporary documents have been assigned to individual chapters. In the text itself, an attempt is made to reconstruct history on the basis of facts, and given the countless potential conflicts, to maintain objectivity and to avoid premature judgments.

In this second edition, the overall picture of the emigration history remains unchanged. Only a few sections were reworked in order to give more precision to expression, to make a few corrections, to add relevant new knowledge, to add the list of the deceased on the Ben Nevis, and to provide in the appendix further names from the State of lowa. Shores of Hope seeks not merely to tell the story of the past. lt also wants to awaken interest and understanding of the past and the present state of a small Slavonic nation and make a contribution to the development of fruitful contacts between Lusatia and the descendants of the Wends on other continents.

My thanks are extended to all who participated in the development of this book.

First, I thank those who made the research project possible. Prof. Helmut Fasske, until 1992 the director of the Institute for Sorbian Folk Research in Bautzen, made it possible for the project to come to fruition. Prof. Dietrich Scholze, Director of the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen, assigned the research. The project was carried out under the auspices of the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen and by the Saxon Ministry of Science and Culture. The Support Group for Sorbian Culture and Art provided important preparation.

Additionally, my thanks are offered to all who provided access to research material. Without the willingness of individuals, organizations, and institutions in Germany, the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Canada it would not have been possible to assemble the extensive materials that were necessary for the completion of this book. About thirty people from Lusatia responded to an extensive public search in 1992 and made available letters in their possession about the emigration. This previously unknown material brought about new understandings.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to mention all these donors by name. The many descendants of Wendish emigrants in Australia, Texas, and Canada who shared family and place chronicles, documents, and photographs, as well as research conclusions, must also remain unnamed.

The Texas Wendish Heritage Society in Serbin made it possible for me to have a three week study trip in Texas in 1992 and provided comprehensive picture and text material. Permission was given to view the parish archives in Klitten, Weissenberg, Werben, Hochkirch, and Gröditz. Help in undertaking this research was provided by Beverley Gotzky in East Malvern, Victoria; Robert Wuchatsch in Melbourne, Victoria; Kevin P. Zwar in Croydon, Victoria; John Doecke in Berri, Australia; Bill Biar in Denver, Colorado; Leo Symmank in New Orleans, Louisiana; Mary Chudobiak in Ottawa, Ontario; Georgie Boyce, Texas Wendish Heritage Museum in Serbin, Texas; Roy Eric Alan Ledbetter, Archive of Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, Missouri; Rheinhold Wuensche, Archive of Texas District-LCMS, in Austin, Texas; Lyall Kupke, Lutheran Archives in Adelaide, South Australia; Siegfried Grabs, Valhalla Research Center, in Moose Creek, Ontario; Staff of the Kaffrarian Museum, in King William’s Town, South Africa; State Archive in Hamburg, Germany; Shipping Museum in Bremerhaven, Germany; Moravian Archives in Herrnhut, Germany; City Archive in Bautzen, Germany; Sorbian Culture Archive and Sorbian Central Library in Bautzen, Germany.

Dr. George Nielsen, Professor Emeritus at Concordia University Chicago, generously provided permission to include in this book his list of the names of the Wendish immigrants. Information about the activities of the Wendish organizations in Australia and Texas were provided by Paul Noack, President of the Australian Lusatian Society in South Australia, and by Dr. Joseph Wilson, Professor Emeritus at Rice University in Houston.

Finally, Lucia Boehme is to be thanked for the preparation of the manuscript and Eberhard Kahle for the impressive form that the book assumed.



October 1999


The Poetry and Music of Jan Kilian

The Poetry and Music of Jan Kilian, edited by David Zersen, translated by Viera Buzgova and Milan Pohontsch, with English lyrics by Martin Doering and tune harmonics by Harold Rutz, is a product of the Concordia University Press, Austin, Texas.

We have reproduced for you here the introduction by Trudla Malinkowa, of Bautzen, Germany.

Copies of The Poetry and Music of Jan Kilian can be purchased from the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 or through the Executive Director, or online at

Jan Kilian was born on March 22, 1811, in Döhlen, a small Wendish village near the Lusatian Mountains in Upper Lusatia. He was the first child of the farmer Peter Kilian and his wife Maria, nee Mättig, from Hochkirch. At the age of ten he became an orphan, legally represented by his uncle, Johann Mättig, a miller from Niethen. The inherited farm of the parents and the contributions made by his relatives enabled him to receive a higher education. Beginning in 1826 he became a student at the Gymnasium in Bautzen, the capital of Upper Lusatia. There he gathered Wendish students mutually to study their native language.

During his study of theology at the university in Leipzig from 1831 to 1834 he did not join the Lusatian preacher’s society, Sorabia, as did other Wendish students, but rather joined a group of pious German students. From the year 1834 on, he served as an assistant preacher for the parish pastor, Michael Möhn, in his home parish in Hochkirch. To fulfill his youthful pledge to become a missionary, he went in 1837 to study at the mission seminary St. Chrischona in Basel, Switzerland. While there, he learned of the death of his uncle, Pastor Michal Kilian, in Kotitz, a village near Hochkirch. Returning to Lusatia, he became the pastor in Kotitz in September 1837.

Because of the small size of the parish, Jan Kilian had enough time to dedicate to personal interests. Employing his pen in the service of the Lutheran Wends, he published his first two booklets in 1838. More writing followed in subsequent years, most of it devotional literature, translated by him from German into Wendish. He also composed hymns and spiritual songs, publishing them in newspapers, journals, hymnals, and also in his own devotional books. Kilian published only one collection of poems, Spewarske wjesele [Joyful Singing] (Bautzen 1846, 1858, 1881). One year later he added tunes to the words, among them some he had composed himself (Bautzen 1847). The Saxon Ministry of Culture in Dresden rejected his repeated requests for a license to publish a Wendish Lutheran magazine. Beginning in the year 1841, he became a member of the Upper Lusatian Academic Society in Görlitz, and in 1847 he joined the newly founded Wendish academic society Maćica Serbska in Bautzen.

While still a pastor in Kotitz, Saxony, he led the separation of Lutheran Wends from the United Church in neighboring Prussia. In the year 1848 he became the pastor to the Old Lutheran parishes in Weigersdorf and Klitten, founded in 1843, as well as to some affiliated parishes in middle and Lower Lusatia. He moved to Dauban near Weigersdorf and married Maria Gröschel, the daughter of a Wendish farmer from Särka, a village of his former congregation in Kotitz. After the parsonage was finished in 1852, the young family lived in Weigersdorf. Because of the huge amount of work and also because of problems within the congregation, his writing activities declined. In the year 1854 he took the opportunity to emigrate, a desire he had nurtured for years. Together with almost 600 Wends from Saxony and Prussia he immigrated with his family to Texas.

Kilian named the town the immigrants founded in 1855, Serbin. There he served the parish as pastor until 1883 and as teacher until 1872. Kilian was the first Texas pastor to join the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, which had been founded by, among others, a former fellow student from Leipzig, Carl Ferdinand Walther. Continuing contentions in his parish drained his energy, and his desire to move back to Lusatia was never realized. Only occasionally did he again put his poetic pen to paper, as he did for the roofing ceremonies of St. Paul ‘s Lutheran churches in Serbin in the years 1859 and 1868.Jan Kilian died September 12, 1884, in Serbin, Texas, where he was also buried.

* * *

lt is really not easy to place Jan Kilian in the literature of the Wendish Awakening movement in the middle of the 19th century. “He stands alone among his contemporaries, isolated and unique.” That’s how Rudolf Jenč (Stawizny serbskeho pismowstwa [Rudolf Jentsch, History of Wendish Literature], Bautzen 1954) describes Kilian’s position. Loneliness characterized his life, from his childhood as an orphan through the productive period in Lusatia to his isolation on the barren plains in Texas. All alone he voiced his appeal: “Wendish people, keep alive our parents’ faith and speech.” This admonition was not unfamiliar, but Kilian’s intent was specific. He wanted to unite the conservative Lutheran confession and the Wendish language in a structure that guarded the faith.

Some understood his words to have mere religious appeal, and today honor Kilian as a founder of parishes, as the father of the Missouri Synod in Texas, and as the Wendish Moses who led his people across the waters from bondage to freedom. Others welcomed his efforts to preserve the language, but rejected his religious perspective. The ambivalent relationship of the Wendish intelligentsia toward Kilian encouraged the view that he was a “lower middle class utopian,” with the somewhat fanciful goal to “build a social and national ‘Kingdom of Heaven”‘ (Nowy biografiski slownik [New Biographie Dictionary], Bautzen 1984). Only a few individuals accepted the spirit of Kilian’s appeal. Admiring the qualities in his life, they easily ran the risk of glorifying him. For Matej Urban (Matthäus Urban), Kilian’s successor as pastor in the Old Lutheran congregation of Weigersdorf and Klitten and a Wendish poet himself, Kilian was a “religious hero.” Ota Wicaz (Otto Lehmann) calls him “one of the most faithful and most famous Wends who ever lived” (Předźenak 1927), a man with a prophetic spirit, who “surpasses all of our hymn writers” (Pomhaj Boh 1951).

Kilian himself gives us the key to his religious songs:

Where the church of God stands in living strength, there the people are nowhere ashamed to sing spiritual hymns, be it in a city or village, at home or out-of-doors, on the mountains or in valleys, in solitude or in society. But where people are ashamed to sing spiritual hymns, there life is not worth living; there is the end of tranquil joy; there you can hear the sad sound of songs that were learned at godless spinning gatherings and baptismal feasts. This is the sound of the losers! Seductive and destructive is the singing of secular songs, but useful and constructive is the singing of spiritual hymns.

Spwarske wjesele [Joyful Singing],

Bautzen 1846

The rejection of secular songs, which is also a criticism of Jan Arnost Smoler (Johann Ernst Schmaler) and his Grosser Sammelband wendischer Volkslieder / Pesnički hornich a delnich Lužiskich Serbow [Songs of the Upper and Lower Lusatian Wends, Grimma 1841-43], is a consequence of Kilian’s uncompromising theological position. He does not foster the tradition of folk rhymes, but rather the tradition of religious poetry. Biblical psalms, hymns and odes form the root of his creations, and centuries old singing traditions from the ancient Church fathers to Martin Luther to contemporary poets are his models.

Kilian is a singer of the Lutheran Awakening movement of the 19th century, which unifies in itself the pietism and orthodoxy of the 18th century, and which using a critical perspective and sharp words argues with its own era. Masterfully, Kilian uses the poetic forms from both pious directions to create dignified church hymns for the worship service, general songs of comfort, and above all, songs of meditation and discipleship filled with biblical references. Subtly he paints the circumstances of the soul and thereby exceeds the impersonal lyrics of his contemporaries. While his friend, the pastor and well known poet Handrij Zejler (Andreas Seiler), is singing about the seasons, Kilian reflects on the individual’s setting between time and eternity. In his best hymns he convicts the hearer with the use of strong pictures and well implemented words. The power of his words set within an eloquent use of Wendish poetry would be reached again only decades later by the famous Wendish poet and Catholic priest Jakub Bart-Cisinski (Jacob Barth).

Kilian does not play with shallow thoughts, but struggles with doubts and inner conflicts, with the recognition of personal vanity and the longing for an eternal home. Additionally, he is hurt by wounds he has received.

Honestly he laments his self-imposed separation from the Wendish intelligentsia, and deeply he grieves for his first and lost son, Nathanael Martin, who died a few months old in 1850. The gradual dilution of the traditional faith’s substance and the spread of Enlightenment ideas, as well as the political rumors and the revolution of 1848/49 in his homeland, troubled him. His goal was not national rebirth, but the religious revival of his people.

Ultimately among the Wends, folk songs prevailed against pious hymns and at the large Wendish song festivals in the 1840s became the symbol of an awakening Wendish nationality. Depressed by defeat, Kilian observed the progress of what, in his opinion, were unbelieving Wends. While the pastor and poet Michal Domaska (Michael Domaschke) in his poems rejoices that the Wends are rising from the dust, Kilian complains that the best of times are passing.

Bitterly Jan Kilian recognizes that even in Texas he is fighting alone for preserving both the Wendish language and the Lutheran faith. There his hymn writing pen dried up – not in the dry winds of liberalism as in Europe, but in the destructive storms of national and religious conflict within the freedom in America.


Bautzen, Germany



Jan Kilian, 1811 – 1884, Kěrluše – Choräle – Hymns

On the occasion of Jan Kilian’s 200th birthday, we created a CD that presents his chorals to the broad public for the first time. We have selected 22 of his songs, with 17 being his own creations among them and nine containing Kilian’s original melody (Numbers 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 17, 19, 20, and 22). Additionally, you can find five translations of German chorals into Wendish.

The songs on this CD are grouped by their theme as follows:

Jan Kilian’s credo (No. 1)

Religious fundamental event (Nos. 2-4)

The Church (Nos. 5-9)

Everyday: God’s gifts, summer delights, charity, marriage, birth, death of the son, longing (Nos. 10-17)

Death and eternal life (Nos. 18-22).

This CD can be purchased from the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 through its Executive Director,, or online at

As son of a free land owner, Jan Kilian was born on March 22, 1811 in Döhlen near Hochkirch. Losing his parents at the age of 10, he grew up with his grandfather in Hochkirch, where he also completed elementary school. After that he attended secondary school in Bautzen from 1826 to 1831 and studied theology in Leipzig from 1831 to 1835. Later he worked as assistant pastor in his hometown of Hochkirch and, starting in 1837, as pastor in Kotitz. Besides his official duties, he engaged in Wendish literature and fully devoted himself to Lutheran teaching among the Wends.

Within only a few years, he published a series of Wendish books, mainly translations of German religious literature. He repeatedly applied for the permission to publish a Wendish religious magazine, which he was denied. In 1841 he became a member of the Upper Lusatian Society of Sciences in Görlitz and since 1847 he was part of the Wendish scientific society Maćica Serbska. He spoke out against liberalization movements by initiating the Kotitz petition in 1845. This petition, supported by 10,000 people, was then handed out to the Saxon government in Dresden. From Kotitz he also led the religious separation in the Wendish area of Prussia, which resulted in the foundation of the Old Lutheran congregation of Weigersdorf/Klitten in 1843. From 1848 to 1854 he worked as Old Lutheran pastor in Prussia, his area of responsibility extending up to Lübben in the Spreewald. In 1848 he also married Maria Gröschel from Särka, a Wendish peasant’s daughter from the parish of Kotitz. The couple was gifted with nine children, of which five grew to adulthood.

Together with almost 600 Wends, the family immigrated to Texas in 1854. There, the township of Serbin was founded in 1855, the most significant Wendish colony across the ocean. In the following decades, Serbin became the primary emigration destination of Wends from Upper Lusatia. Kilian was the first in Texas to join the German Lutheran church of the Missouri Synod in 1855 and lead his congregation to join it as well in 1866. He worked as a pastor up to the year 1883 and also as a teacher in Serbin till 1872. Serbin was troubled with religious conflicts in 1858 and national disputes in 1870, which lead to its division. When Jan Kilian tried to return to Lusatia, he did not succeed. He died on September 12, 1884 in Serbin.

Even today, Jan Kilian is remembered with awe. For some Wendish descendants in Texas he is considered to be the Wendish Moses, who led his people over the sea from European suppression into America’s liberty. In church history, he went down as founder of Old Lutheran parishes in Wendish areas, as spiritual leader of the last great emigration of Old Lutherans from Prussia, and as Father of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in Texas. His biographer Ota Wicaz called him “one of the most faithful and significant Wends to have ever existed.”

In the years in Kotitz from 1837 to 1848, Jan Kilian displayed much talent as a choral poet. He became singer of the 19th century’s Lutheran awakening among the Wends. Already in 1838, songs from his pen were added to the new issue of the Wendish hymnbook. In 1846, he published a collection of his hymns titled “Spewarske wjesele” (“Joyful Singing“) and followed it up in 1847 with a little book containing the corresponding melodies. As he writes in the preamble, nine of those melodies “just came to him, (…) who hardly understands a thing of music.” In creating the musical notation, he was supported by the Kotitz cantor and church school teacher Johann Traugott Michalk. Kilian’s song book was used for decades in some Wendish schools and has been reissued repeatedly. More than with other Wendish choral poets, in Kilian’s works one can note a national accent besides the religious one. For example, in “Zbudźenje za Serbow” (“Wendish Anthem“) he urges his people: “Serbjo, zachowajće swěru / swojich wótcow rěć a wěru!” (“Wendish people, keep the witness of our parents’ hope and language.”) This call became Jan Kilian’s personal credo and a winged word among the Wends. Besides writing original works, Kilian also undertook choral translations into the Wendish language, among them such popular ones like “Go forth, my heart, and seek delight” from Paul Gerhardt and “Jerusalem, thou city fair and high” from Johann Matthäus Meyfart.

Altogether, Jan Kilian is known for more than 50 original religious songs and 70 translations. Not just by the sheer number, but also by the eloquence and expressiveness of his works, Jan Kilian is one of the most outstanding poets among the Wends. Bjarnat Krawc considered him a significant hymnist and made in the 1920s edits of his chorals. During the decades of Socialism, Kilian and his life work fell into oblivion. Only in recent times, they are experiencing a renaissance. A selection of his poetry was published in the series “Serbska poezija” (“Sorbian Poetry”) in 1999 and again, translated into English, in the USA in 2010. His chorals are popular among Wends of both denominations. The Protestant song book contains 19 and the Catholic counterpart three of his hymns.


Jan Kilian – Pastor, Poet, Emigrant

Copies of Jan Kilian – Pastor, Poet, Emigrant, the latest book by Trudla Malinkowa can be purchased from the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 or through the Executive Director, or online at


Many diverse influences on the development of the church in North America have in the past come from Upper Lusatia. As early as 1735 Nikolaus Ludwig Count of Zinzendorf, the founder of Herrnhut, sent missionaries from the Moravian Brethren to the “New World.” He traveled in person in 1741 to Pennsylvania in order to promote religious work among Native Americans and to build up the American branch of the Moravian Brethren, the present day Moravian Church of North America. At the same time, the deacon of Grosshennersdorf, Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg von Gotthilf August Francke, the director of the Francke Foundations in Halle, was sent to Pennsylvania. After his arrival in Philadelphia in 1742 he worked as a Lutheran preacher in German speaking communities and founded a church association on the east coast of America, which later merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Further impetus came a hundred years later from Ludwig Eduard Nollau, who was born in 1810 in Reichenbach, Upper Lusatia, and who worked from 1838 as pastor in St. Louis, Missouri. The German Evangelical Church Association of the West was founded in his parsonage in 1840, a group which belongs today to the United Church of Christ (UCC). Nollau’s contemporary, Jan Kilian, takes his place in this line of Upper Lusatian Fathers of the Church in the United States. He was the first pastor in Texas to join the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod), which had been founded in 1847 in Chicago, Illinois, mainly by the Lutherans, who had emigrated from central Saxony under the leadership of Pastor Martin Stephan to Missouri. In 1866 he also led his congregation of Lutheran Sorbs (Wends) from Upper Lusatia, founded in Texas, into membership of the Missouri Synod. In this way, Jan Kilian became the founding father, and the congregation of Serbin the founding mother of this church in Texas, which as the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) with 2.4 million members today forms the second largest Lutheran Church in the United States, and is also involved in a wide range of activities abroad.

However, Jan Kilian’s work was not only devoted to the preservation of denominational Lutheranism in the Protestant Church, but also to the protection of the Sorbian nation, to which he belonged. His exhortation addressed to the public at large, “Serbja, zachowajće swěru swojich wótcow rěč a wěru”[i] (Wendish people, keep the witness of our parents’ hope and language) became his personal creed. In his efforts to maintain the unity of faith and nationality, he developed his fruitful work as a writer on contemporary affairs and a writer of hymns in the Sorbian language, alongside his official duties as a pastor. Jan Kilian is one of the outstanding Sorbian poets of the nineteenth century with his numerous religious songs and translations of hymns, which testify to his linguistic skills and use of expressive language. While his contemporary fellow pastor in Lohsa, Andreas Seiler (Handrij Zejler), provided the major impetus for the national renaissance movement with his activities as a journalist and his poetic works, which reflected his closeness to his people, Jan Kilian became the forerunner of the Lutheran revival among the Sorbs. He continued his work in the Sorbian colony in Texas, which was committed to preserving his language and faith. lt is not only thanks to him that the community of Serbin acquired its name, but also the fact that it became the most significant Sorbian settlement overseas, in which the religious and national heritage of the Sorbian emigrants and its pastor is cultivated to this day, and from which stimulus for a return to traditional national values is transmitted to the descendants of Sorbian emigrants – also in other countries overseas.

The progressive loss of the Sorbian language in the Lutheran areas of Lusatia and the onset of secularization trends – both of these trends accelerated in the second half of the nineteenth century as a result of the industrialization and modernization of society – led to the fact that the name of Jan Kilian was increasingly forgotten. His significance was also essentially reduced to his role as parish pastor in the memories of the descendants of the Sorbian emigrants – similarly a result of linguistic and cultural assimilation in the American melting pot. Only occasionally did Sorbian intellectuals, who were able to find an echo of Kilian’s work in Sorbian Lutheran circles, turn their attention to him. In the 1920s composer Bernhard Schneider (Bjarnat Krawc) discovered Kilian, the “Sorbian hymn-writer,”[ii] and adapted the tunes of his hymns. High school teacher and cultural historian Otto Lehmann (Ota Wicaz) studied Kilian’s life and work and called him “one of the most faithful and significant Sorbs ever.”[iii] Matthäus Urban (Matej Urban), Kilian’s successor as pastor in the Old Lutheran congregations of Weigersdorf and Klitten, even called him “a religious hero.”[iv] During the socialist years the prevailing historiography downgraded his role to that of a utopian dreamer who did not reach his goal of “creating a social and national Kingdom of God.”[v] It was only in the wake of a new examination of the history of the Sorbian emigration overseas in recent times that there was a renewed focus on the figure of Kilian. George R. Nielsen provided a summary of his work in his book on emigration, “In Search of a Home” (1977, 2nd ed. 1989), and also Trudla Malinkowa in her publication “Ufer der Hoffnung” (1995, 2nd ed. 1999). The latter presented a selection of his poetry in 1999 in the series “Serbska poezija” (Sorbian Poetry), which also appeared in 2010 in an English translation in the United States. George R. Nielsen collected the fundamental research material in his project “Texas Wends: Letters and Documents” in the 1990s, and in 2003 produced the first biography, “Johann Kilian: Pastor.”

The two hundredth anniversary of Jan Kilian’s birth in 2011 offered the occasion for historical research to introduce this outstanding personality from the Sorbian clergy to a wider public for the first time, and at the same time to engage more intensively with his life and work. The Texas Wendish Heritage Society in Serbin and Concordia University in Austin, Texas, organized commemorative events. In Lusatia a number of institutions, church congregations, and associations came together to put on a wide ranging program of commemoration (see pp. 20-22). The Sorbian National Ensemble invited audiences to concerts of Kilian’s songs. The Sorbian Lutheran Association produced a CD with a selection of hymns and erected a memorial in Kotitz, Kilian’s former place of work, which is in the form of a sailing boat and has inscriptions in the three languages that Kilian used in his work: Sorbian, German, and English. The Sorbian scientific society Maćica Serbska and the Sorbian Museum assembled a mobile exhibition in three languages about Jan Kilian, which was exhibited many times in and outside Lusatia, also after the end of the jubilee year. The Lutheran congregation of Weigersdorf invited people to a special service of commemoration in three languages in the church in which Kilian once preached. The Sorbian Artists’ Federation dedicated the festival of Sorbian poetry in 2011 to the poet Jan Kilian. Finally, the climax of the anniversary celebrations was the conference organized by the Sorbian Institute, “Jan Kilian: Pastor, Poet, Emigrant,” which took place on 23 and 24 September 2011 with strong participation from the public in Bautzen. Patron of the conference was Stanislaw Tillich, prime minister of the Free State of Saxony.

The present volume contains the written versions of the papers given at this conference. One contribution was not included, two have been added to the volume. The contributions are essentially arranged chronologically, following the biography of Kilian. At the beginning, a general overview in the form of a family tree with biographies by Trudla Malinkowa presents basic information on family members. Arnd Matthes provides insights into the many branches of the Kilian family’s network of relationships in Lusatia and their way of life in Jan Kilian’ s youth. In his study of Kilian, theologian, Jens Bulisch puts him into the context of the intellectual history of his time. Ludger Udolph examines Kilian as a poet and translator of hymns, using selected examples. Jan Mahling provides insights into Kilian’s involvement in Saxon state politics by examining the birth, development, and effects of the Kotitz Petition of 1845. Gilberto da Silva examines the foundation of the Old Lutheran Church in Germany and Lusatia. Trudla Malinkowa provides a link to this with her contribution on Jan Kilian’s work as a Lutheran pastor in Prussia. Joachim Bahlcke then provides a survey of emigration from Saxony and Upper Lusatia in Kilian’s time. George R. Nielsen describes Kilian’s relations with his fellow pastors in Texas, and William W. Schumacher examines his relationship with the President of the Missouri Synod, C. F. W. Walther. Roland Marti analyzes the two addresses that Kilian wrote on the occasion of the topping out ceremonies of the church buildings in Serbin in 1859 and 1868 and describes his role as an “occasional poet” in Serbin. Finally, providing at the same time a bridge to the present day, David Zersen examines the tangible and the intangible legacy of Kilian and its cultivation in the United States today. The contributions are preceded by a preface from Saxon Prime Minister Stanislaw Tillich, who puts the conference and its outcomes into the context of Saxon-American relationships. The contributions are being published simultaneously in German and English, in order to make reception by readers easier in both Europe and America.

My thanks are due to all who contributed to the success of the conference and to the other events on the occasion of the two hundredth anniversary of Kilian’s birth, and to those who have contributed to the development of this book. lt is to be hoped that the volume will stimulate further work on both sides of the Atlantic on this outstanding Sorbian poet, pastor, and emigrant.

Bautzen, February 2014 Trudla Malinkowa

[i] Chorus from Jan Kilian’s hymn, “Zbudźenje za Serbow” (Wendish Anthem).

[ii] “serbski hymnista,” in Bjamat Krawc, “Jan Kilian, serbski hymnista,” in Škowrónčk ze serbskičh honow 1 (1926) 6, pp. 21-22.

[iii] “jednoho z najswěrnišich a najwuznamnišich Serbow, kiž su hdy žiwi byli,” in Ota Wićaz, “Jan Kilian,” in Předźenak 1927, pp. 36-41, here p. 36.

[iv] “nabožny rjek,” in Matej Urban, “K čestnemu wopomnjeću Jana Kiliana,” in Předźenak 1927, p. 35.

[v] “swój utopiski cil, twarić socialny a narodny ‘raj boži’, njedocpě,” in Nowy biografiski słownik k stawiznam a kulturje Serbow, Bautzen, 1984, p. 250.