This article by Rev. G. Birkmann first appeared in the Texas Lutheran Messenger of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in January, 1928.
THE BEGINNING OF HOME MISSIONS IN TEXAS
In the year 1881 the General Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States resolved to form three new districts, viz: the Nebraska, the Minnesota and Dakota, and the Southern District. The latter was to consist of Louisiana, Texas, and the other Gulf States, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. In Texas we had eleven pastors and about as many congregations, and four teachers. In New Orleans and vicinity we had five congregations, but in several of these there were flourishing Christian Day schools, so that the teachers at that time numbered twelve. There was a congregation in Mobile, Alabama. In the other States hardly so much as a beginning of home mission work had been made.
We Texans were very glad that now at least we had a better chance than heretofore to attend Synodical conventions. Before this, we but rarely could undertake the long trip to St. Louis or wherever Synod might have convened. Now, however, we could meet alternately in New Orleans and in Texas. Eight times we traveled to New Orleans during the twenty-four years we belonged to the Southern District. On the other hand, eight times the New Orleans members of Synod came to Texas to convene with us. Twice in Houston (1883 and 1898), twice in Serbin, (1886 and 1904), once respectively in Klein (1889), Warda (l892), Rose Hill (1895), Fedor 1901). The gatherings without fail were well attended, although with only two exceptions they were held in winter – in Feb.
The gentlemen from New Orleans were just as glad to come to Texas. They took an interest in the State, up till now so little known to them, and in the conditions prevailing in our Texas congregations. Both sides benefitted by this association with the eastern brethren. It was, a good thing also for our congregations, hitherto rather isolated, to have Synod in their midst, or at least to attend it.
The first three Synods I should like to mention especially, inasmuch as at these we heard three essays in succession by Dr. Pieper, and in the business sessions passed resolutions affecting missions. These synods were held in New Orleans (Feb 1882), Houston (1883), New Orleans (1885).
At that time our Missouri Synod and the synods united with it in the Synodical Conference were in the thick of the controversy concerning predestination. It had become obvious that our opponents stood for erroneous views on conversion. Accordingly Pieper had chosen conversion as the subject of his paper. His argumentation was masterful. He was then only thirty years old, but already had published – being professor in St. Louis since 1872 – many articles in Lehre und Wehre in which he treated the points at issue. Hence we, who were concerning ourselves far more lively about this controversy than nowadays perhaps is realized, were profoundly interested. To this day Pieper’s lectures are indelible in my memory. What he said was clear and convincing, concise and fine beyond anything, perhaps, ever heard on the subject by those who listened to his remarks.
At the next synod (Houston 1883) Pieper took for his subject the doctrine of justification. At the third synod (again in New Orleans, 1885) his theme was Living in Faith. Also in the years 1889 and 1891 we had the pleasure of hearing the professor on subjects connected with the doctrine of the church.
It was, moreover, at the first conventions of the Southern District where the question was earnestly considered how mission work might be carried on, on the part of the Missouri Synod. True, already before this, mission work had been done by our pastors in Texas, but only as a private affair, not as a Synodical enterprise. We had neither a mission board nor any provision for subsidizing missions by moneys collected in our congregations. Not till 1882 in New Orleans it was decided to call one missionary for Texas, and to this end a board was elected. An appeal was made to the Western District for financial aid. The sense of responsibility for home missions was in such a rudimentary stage at the time that people thought themselves unable properly to support one man employed in home missions, let alone two missionaries. Only little by little our congregations began to take a more sensible attitude and to show themselves more willing.
It was something that had to be learned, and must to this day be learned. Neither in 1883 nor in the two subsequent years did the income of the Southern District exceed $1500. On this amount not only our mission in Texas, but also that of the other Southern States belonging to the District was to subsist. From the North a little help came for a year or two only, while the expenses kept mounting. So we learned in the course of years ever better to gather funds in our local churches.
For our State then, in 1882, the first missionary was called. It was Candidate J. Trinklein. He was to explore the State and to look up the sparse Lutheran population. Accurate records of his trips and his work are no longer extant, and probably not even obtainable from him himself. Nevertheless some things, at one time generally known among our pastors, the writer can recall. For one thing, Pastor Trinklein was excellently fitted for the call he had. He never tired of looking up new places where German Lutherans (to whom our missionary activity was restricted) might be expected to be found. He was adept in gathering people and winning their confidence. And he gave them regular service. With reference, moreover, to the territory supplied by him, the country easily accessible from Hckley, his first address, and from Hempstead should first be mentioned. He did mission work in Hempstead, White Hall, Cat Spring, and Sealy. In the central portion of the State he gathered congregations in Falls Co. (Riesel), in Hamilton Co., and along the Texas & Pacific Railroad. He labored in Abilene and Cisco and quite likely also at other places before any other of our pastors. In the year 1885 he reported that he had ten places, and synod resolved to relieve him of his stations to the south that he might be able to supply the other four all the better. Pastor Wunderlich as early as 1884 had taken charge of the congregation at Riesel, whence he ministered to Kurten and later also to Willow Hole (Zulch.) For Kurten, too, was first visited by Trinklein.
However, the year 1885 had not yet passed when Trinklein accepted a call to Houston, and from that time he was no longer in the employ of synod. But he often went from Houston to preach at these southerly places found by him. In 1889 he removed to the North.
The synod of the Southern District resolved in 1883 to call a missionary also for North Texas, that is, the region that had Dallas for its center, to which the Dallas congregation belonged. This congregation previously had not been without a minister, but finding itself unable alone to support a minister of its own, it applied for a subsidy from Synod at that time. Later, however, it became self-supporting. Pastor Theodore Kohn was called for North Texas by the Texas mission board. About his activity extending over more than two years more will be reported later. In the year 1883 likewise Candidate Schwoy was called as missionary and that for West Texas, as it is called in the Synodical report. However, nothing more was meant than the country west of Trinklein’s charges in the southern part of the State. Schwoy’s address was Weimar, Texas. About half a year he visited several places, and then left us with unexpected suddenness. Afterwards he was professor in Bronxville, N. Y. Which places he had charge of is unknown to me.
In the year 1884 Pastor Leimer was called by Synod to “West Texas.” He dwelt at Swiss Alp, supplied the congregation of that place, and from there did mission work diligently. He gathered the congregation at Shiner and at Halletsville. Whole days he spent in the saddle, the means of locomotion for our pastors in those days, whenever there was no railroad available. Talk about hardships when someone, say from six to eight hours had to ride on horseback in the heat or cold or in a pouring rain, and then on his arrival in the country of his quest had to search about for a place where he might lodge. G. BIRKMAN