This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, emeritus, and translated by Ray Martens, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on 9 April 1936.
Conference with Rev. C. Bernthal at St. Peter, 1902
Because of the younger generation, which knows little or nothing about St. Peter, I wish first to report something about it. The congregation came into being in 1870 as the result of the withdrawal of a number of families from St. Paul in Serbin, Texas. This matter was examined and reported on by Visitators [officials of the synod], and the result was a call to Rev. Joh. Pallmer in the same year. After his early death (1873), Rev. A. D. Greif followed in 1874 and 1875, and then, from 1876 on, Rev. C. L. Geyer, who served the congregation for sixteen years, that is, until his death in February of 1892. Then Rev. C. Bernthal was called from Shiner, where he had served for a year and a half. Bernthal was then at St. Peter for thirteen years, until 1905, when he took a call to a congregation up north. Then St. Peter called Rev. Pott, who cared for them until 1912, and, in the vacancy following, Rev. G. W. Fischer took care of them. By the grace of God, he succeeded in negotiating the reuniting of both congregations, and since 1914 only the one old St. Paul exists again in Serbin, the church at which Rev. Joh. Kilian was the first pastor, followed by his son Hermann from 1883 until 1920, and since 1922 their pastor is Rev. Hermann Schmidt, who likewise originated among them.
St. Peter, therefore, existed for forty-four years, and it also experienced God’s blessing during this time, smaller than the mother church, to be sure, but, yet, one that had the Word of God both correctly and richly because of faithful pastors and teachers in church and school, and the congregation had in its midst not a few very knowledgeable and enthusiastic people, who, apart from necessity, never missed the preaching, held home devotions, brought up their children as Christians and sent them to the parochial school, met the needs of their fellow Christians and needs of the church, etc. The same surely applied to the mother church, St. Paul, which still exists today.
We held our annual Texas Pastor/Teacher Conference with Rev. Bernthal in the summer of 1902. All the pastors and teachers belonged to it, although, since 1906, after the founding of the Texas District, we have two such conferences in Texas, one north and one south.
In 1902 we had not more than forty pastors and about eight teachers. In almost all of the congregations, the pastor taught school. So, even if the conferences were fairly well attended, yet there would be barely more than forty in attendance. That afforded the advantage that all of the members would become well acquainted with one another and that in the sessions almost everyone found opportunity and courage to express himself. This does not happen anymore in the large gatherings. Further, I would like to say that, at that time, only German was spoken in our conferences, and we had no one in our district who would not have been willing and able to speak German.
Certainly, these are things about which one must say, “What is past is past; nothing survives to be placed in our present situation.” Yet, we still have the most valuable possession, unity of faith and love.
I remember two papers that were presented to that conference in Serbin. One dealt with brotherly admonition and punishment in the three stages. The second dealt with the question of whether the Reformed, who do not believe in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, nonetheless have the valid Lord’s Supper.
With us at that time was also Rev. Adam Klein, who had been a pastor in Chattanooga, Tenn., for ten years, but now had on his mind the need to make a decision about a call he had to South America. Klein came to the conference with his brother-in-law, Rev. Friedr. Wunderlich.
Mission Festival was held on Sunday, as it was usual at the time to attach such a festival to the conferences. Benches had been provided by the congregation under the trees near the parsonage on which the crowd of participants in the festival settled down, for both congregations always celebrated together—when St. Paul had the festival, the church of the congregation could be used with its room for both congregations.
Conference in William Penn with Rev. Hermann Foerster, 1903
The Easter conference in this year 1903 met in Thorndale. Since I was prevented from attending it, I can say nothing about it. Then the conference with Rev. Foerster gathered in the summer. He had been ordained at a conference in Fedor as a missionary, and that for Hempstead, Hawth [?] Station, White Hall (often called Yarborough), and he had to preach also in Sealy and Patterson, if I remember correctly. Foerster came from Warda.
He was active in this mission for only two years, then became the pastor of the old congregation in William Penn, Washington, County, where he served for thirteen years and where his first wife is buried. Then he married again, a sister of our mission director Bewie. Their father, Teacher Bewie, had lived in the area of William Penn for about seven or eight years and had belonged to this congregation.
He also took place in this conference which we held there in 1903, and he also had as his guests members of the conference, and father Bewie in our free time told us many things about his youth, as he had many experiences during the Civil War. He was called home less than a year later in Seymour, Ind., at the age of ninety-two.
About the conference itself, that is, about its proceedings, I have no recollection, but I do know that Rev. Joh. Buenger from Swiss Alp preached and took care of the liturgical part of the service admirably. He now lives in retirement in Elizabeth, Ill.
Rev. Foerster from Wm. Penn was pastor of the congregation in Anderson, Texas, from 1907 on as the successor of the unforgettable Imm. Eckhardt, who worked there beneficially for twenty-one years. Already in 1912, Foerster arrived at the end of his earthly course.