This article appeared in Worthy of Double Honor: The Rev G. Birkmnn, D. D. written by his grandson Ray Martens and published by Concordia University Press.
About the earliest beginnings of this congregation, the Minutes report:
“Today, Friday, March 11, 1870, we formed in the name of God an evangelical Lutheran congregation (Unaltered Augsburg Confession) as indicated by the following constitution, signed by all of us. Next we agreed on the location of the church, namely, on the long prairie, then on the name [of the congregation], and the attached constitution. Then directors [Vorsteher] were elected, namely, A. Lehmann (with 12 votes), G. Boback (with 6 votes), and G. Schroeter (with 6 votes), all three for a term of twelve months.”
The constitution contains an introduction and two paragraphs. The first paragraph states the name of the congregation as Trinity Church, a German Evangelical Lutheran congregation (Unaltered Augsburg Confession) on the West Yegua in Burleson County, Texas. The second paragraph ties the confession to the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Twenty-eight persons placed their signatures below these paragraphs, namely: G. Schroeter and wife, G. Boback and wife, Aug. Lehmann and wife, W.Wolf and wife, And. Melde and wife, Aug. Melde (Birnbaum), Aug. Polnick and wife and sons Andr. and Aug., Anna Wagner, M. Domann and wife, Chr. Jakob, And. Pillack and wife, Ernst Lehmann,]oh. E. Noack and wife, And. Noack and wife, And. Symmank and wife.
About the installation of the Rev. Joh. A. Proft, Rev. Pallmer wrote in Der Lutheraner of October 15, 1871, as follows: “After a congregation was formed from among the Germans and the Wends living on the West Yegua in Burleson County, Texas, about 14 miles [actually more than that] from Serbin, served by the undersigned since September , they shared in the joy of receiving a pastor of their own in the person of Candidate J.A. Proft, previously a student at the practical seminary in St. Louis. He was ordained and installed by the undersigned on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (September 3). God be with him and his congregation with His blessing. All readers of Der Lutheraner will surely rejoice to discover that also in the large state of Texas one door after another is opening for our dear Lutheran Church.”
So we see that eighteen months passed between the founding of the congregation and the installation of Rev. Proft. Rev. Pallmer served them from September, 1870, to September, 1871, as he himself said. Proft was also already here in that first year as a student and conducted school. From his time as a vicar came the following statements from the second set of Minutes:
On January 6, 1871, the congregation gathered at the home of Vorsteher Boback. The congregation’s constitution was read aloud, and thought was given to its expansion. Several paragraphs, which were evaluated one after the other, were suggested and approved without objection. This constitution was then signed by several newly received into membership. Their names are A. Handrick (who lived three miles east of the church), A. Symmank, Karl Dube, Peter Pahn, Augr. [sic] Sucky, and Aug. Bluemel. Thereafter, the construction of a house was discussed. The piece of land which is now church property was donated by G. Boback, who had purchased a large tract of land and sold it off a parcel at a time. A frame house (20′ x 24′) was to be built. At first it was to serve as church and school, and later, after the construction of a new church, as the pastor’s residence. Ernst Drosche, who was present, offered to carry out the construction without delay for $80. The congregation was to assist in the building process. Also six school benches (at $5 each) were to be made. After completion, the building cost $300.25, apart from another $87 for “expansion” and “necessities.” Twenty-two people contributed $344 toward the construction.
In 1871 the following communicant members joined those already named: Andr. Kunze, Andr. Noack and Maria, his wife, Peter and Andr. (Jr.) Symmank, Magdalene Wagner, Emilie Wolf, Dora Proft (the pastor’s wife), Geo. Iselt and wife, Joh. Iselt, and Christian Kunze. For the year 1872 the following new names are found on the list of communicant members: Joh. Boback (son of Geo. Boback), Ernst Kunze (son of Andr. Kunze), two persons named Marie Noack, both recently confirmed, Martin Fingler, Joh. Gruetzner and Magdalena, his wife, Ernestine Gruetzner, Marie Moerbe (daughter of Jakob Moerbe), Christiane Wagner, Joh. Schneider and his son, Andreas, Magd. Sobe, Aug. Winkler and Johanna, his wife. For 1873, the following were listed: August Dube and wife and daughter, Marie, Joh. Kunze, Ernst Drosche, John Drosche (probably the father of Ernst), E. Winkler and wife, Ernst Moerbe, Auguste Symmank, Karl Teinert, Emma Eicke (Hempfil), Marie Eicke, Ernestine Melde, Andr. Teinert, Heinr. Pahn, Johanne Schneider, Amalie Gersch, Aug. Patschke, Heinr. Meier, Mrs. Michalk, Mrs. Meier, Mrs. Patschke, Chr. Wuensche and wife, Andr. Falke, etc.
With regard to the school, the congregation at first decided that school be held only four days a week and eight months a year. Later that was changed to five days a week, but only in the mornings.
Those times were difficult for the school, partly because Rev. Proft often was sick and partly because the children were not diligent in attending. In 1874, fifteen went to school, fourteen did not. In fact, those early times were not as good as many old people picture them from memory. The people were mostly relatively poor and much illness prevailed. More often than now, young people died, and strong men in their best years were gone. In the first twenty-five years deaths were markedly more frequent than in the next twenty-five. A serious problem at the time was the shortage of good drinking water because there were only a few wells and cisterns. Water was brought in barrels (getting it from wherever one could find it). Rev. Proft, for example, was brought a barrel of water three times a week. That went on for two years before the first cistern was acquired. By that time, he had already moved into the house which was built for him at his expense several miles from the church, because, as he explained, he had been sick so often in the earlier place. What is more, very soon his wife died.
In 1875, Rev. Proft resigned his ministry in this congregation and accepted a call to the new Ebenezer congregation, which built a church at the edge of the San Antonio Prairie, where Rev. Kaspar served later. Already earlier, in 1874 and 1875, this congregation [West Yegua] was visited by Visitator Tirmenstein, who lived in New Orleans. Visitator Koestering also visited us several years later. Rev. Maisch and Rev. Klindworth also came at the specific request of the congregation during Proft’s time to advise them at a congregational meeting. During the time of vacancy when Proft was granted a leave by the congregation in order to recover, Rev. Greif (from Serbin) and Rev. Stiemke (from Holy Cross [Warda]) served the local people with Word and Sacrament. Later, when Proft resigned, and Greif was no longer in Serbin, the venerable old Rev. Geyer came from Serbin to help.
After Proft was peacefully released, this congregation extended calls repeatedly but in vain until, in 1876, the writer received the call on the occasion of the distribution of assignments in St. Louis, a call he recognized as divine and accepted it. I was ordained and installed by Rev. Geyer on October 1, 1876. This action, however, did not take place in the setting in which Rev. Proft had pursued his ministry, but in a new church, built in 1875 and dedicated in March, 1876.The acre of land on which it was built was purchased from Jak. Moerbe. The building project was discussed first in October, 1874. The money was to be raised through freewill commitments. Joh. Wuensche was to oversee the construction. In January, 1875, it was determined further that it should be 40′ long, 2 5′ wide, and 16′ high, with eight windows, together with a loft and a 48′ tower. Joh. Biar from Serbin was to carry out the construction. His contract amounted to $385. Mr. Biar later was commissioned to the do the interior (altar, chancel, etc.). Andr. Symmank and Aug. Polnick were to arrange for the purchase of a bell. On Invocavit Sunday (and on the following days), the church was dedicated. Klindworth preached in German and Stiemke in English. The cost of construction came to $957.
In 1875, Joh. Zschech, Peter Urban, and, near the end of the year, Joh. Krautschick arrived. The names of Traug. Patschke, Carl Michalk, Joh. Urban, and Wagner appeared on the list in 1874.
When the writer of this material first took up his ministry here in the fall of 1876, there was plenty of work for him with preaching [in the mornings] and Christenlehre in the afternoons and the task of teaching school. Pupils numbered twenty-five, perhaps several more. We used our church, where several long school benches with folding tops (which one could raise and lower) were up front. We did in fact have a stove, but, because the building was not sealed tightly, it was often quite cold. Confirmation instruction was after school, for ten confirmands the first year, then only two the next, but five again in the following year. Congregational meetings were held monthly, and the members back then anticipated that the pastor each time, unless impossible, have a presentation on any of a variety of weighty matters. We amended our constitution. For example, we adopted a paragraph which said that no member could belong to a secret society. Already back then, the constitution as we have it today was adopted. To be sure, our practice lagged far behind the rules of the constitution, just as, sadly, continues to be true today. Rather regularly, assemblies were missed by almost half the membership, and so it happened that giving and the like experienced shortages. Yet, attendance at worship was better proportionately than now. And those who came to the services participated enthusiastically for the most part in everything presented. Christenlehre at first was held at separate afternoon services, but then became a part of the morning service, like now. At the time, I also preached in Lexington for Danes who lived there and baptized their children.
In August of 1879, with the approval of the congregation, who left the decision to me, I accepted a call to Dallas. Rev. Maisch was then called here. He was a dynamic worker and especially an enthusiastic missionary. He also preached in Lexington and even conducted school there three days a week for a time after the congregation here secured a teacher (Nehrling) to work with him in the local school. Maisch also baptized many adults, or older children at least (as identified in church records), both in and around Lexington and in the area which lies between here and McDade. In individual homes, three and sometimes four or more were baptized by him at one time. He was granted permission to do mission work also in Williamson County, and he had hardly returned when he received a call to go there (Walburg, at that time called Corn Hill).
Maisch accepted that call in August of 1879 [actually 1882], and then it was decided to call the undersigned back from Dallas. On the same Sunday that this decision was made, Teacher Nehrling announced that, for his health’s sake, he needed to accept a call to Pierce City, Missouri. When I was installed here in the fall of 1882 for the second time (by Rev. Buchschacher), Nehrling was already gone, and I had to conduct school until Teacher Schleier came, one of whom the congregation became aware and called at the end of 1882. He was installed at the beginning of 1883 and skillfully led our school for almost four years until, at the end of 1886, he went to Warda, where he worked for a long time. Schleier, like his predecessors, used the church as the location for school, but in 1884 the congregation built its first schoolhouse on the same site occupied by our present school. The construction was so plain that it cost, as far as I can determine, only about $600. Yet, it brought great joy to the congregation to be able to dedicate a separate school building. And that building lasted for twenty-seven years of service. Not until 1911 was the first half of the new school built, and it was thought that then we would have room enough for twenty years. Lo, we had to expand only five years later by obtaining a second room.
In the summer of 1916, the school was completed like it still stands. The dedication of the first construction occurred on October, 1911 (combined with Mission Festival). Rev. Bewie delivered a fine school sermon. The dedication of the addition took place at the end of September, 1916.
We have extended ourselves forward, and, yet, we must now go back. How did it happen that the church building in its present form was erected? Many wanted an entirely new building to be built inasmuch as for a long time there had been too little room for the growing congregation. The others, and they the majority, decided in favor of building wings on the structure, and that is what happened. Mr. J. Wuensche was the so-called construction boss, and Ernst Drosche carried out the actual building. That was in June, 1889. As I recall, the cost came to about $1,400. In the fall of that year, on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, it was dedicated. Rev. Buchschacher and Rev. Ernst preached. In June of 1913 the pews were remade, and many other things were done to decorate the interior. Rev. Obenhaus at that time preached a sermon about Christians’ love for the house of their God.
As far as the other buildings are concerned, the parsonage was built in June of 1893 for $920 and located not exactly where the former one had stood, but a little closer to the church. In its twenty-eight-year history never has it been enlarged or altered, except that it was newly painted seventeen years ago.
The first teacherage was built for Teacher Nehrling and cost a little more than $300. Then Teacher Schleier lived in the house, as well as Teachers Doepke and Daenzer. At Doepke’s time, two rooms were added and, when Teacher Leubner came, the original structure was torn down and two new rooms added to those built for Doepke. The result is the present teacherage. Sadly, the congregation had changes of teachers quite often: Nehrling, [Schleier,] Rohde, Doepke, Daenzer, Redeker, Leubner, Schweder, and Roesel, nine predecessors all told before our dear present Teacher Wieting. But one must consider that it has been fifty years since the beginning and forty since Nehrling [the first called teacher] came here. And, almost without exception, our children were under the supervision and training of diligent and loyal men. Our school was not neglected, nor were your children ever neglected in school. To the extent that the school did not achieve its mission, that is the fault of parents who did not insist on diligent study and regular attendance.
We wish to express our gratitude to God here a hundred times over for the teachers of righteousness he gave us and our children out of great mercy. What would have become of our congregation if you who celebrate today would not have been able to go to school for Christian instruction? May we all recognize the kindness of God and not send our children to the non-religious public schools, but rather to where they learn of Christ and his Word.
GROWTH OF THE CONGREGATION
In the first fifteen years the congregation grew from without, that is, it experienced an influx of people from Germany, Serbin, and elsewhere. It is self-evident that, at the same time, there was growth from within, for from then until now many children were born and baptized (thirty a year was not rare). Since 1885, the number of immigrants decreased and finally stopped altogether. So it happened that, in spite of the fact that the congregation numbered 273 communicants already in 1884, twelve years later (1896) there were only 250. And then a number made their way to Thorndale near the end of the century (1898 and following). The congregation released not fewer than fifty voting members within a few years, about half of them to Thorndale and the rest to Lexington, Lincoln, Manheim, etc. But in the last twenty years the congregation has been growing from within, slowly but steadily. Now it numbers 325 communicants, probably over 125 children required to attend school, and 100 younger than that, about 560 in all.
[Here appears a list of forty-four names listed as additional communicants.] All of these came at the beginning of the 1880’s, mostly from Germany, different from my first three years here, when no one arrived directly from Germany. As a result, within a few years the membership more than doubled, so that there were already in 1884, as said above, 275 communicants. Many of those named above are at rest in our cemetery.
In 1874 the congregation was admitted into membership in the Synod. Rev. Proft attended this gathering of the Synod in St. Louis. So, this congregation has been a member of the Synod for forty-seven years and took part voluntarily again and again in its work, as the evidence rightly suggests of you. More and more as time went by, you gathered funds for the work of the Synod, that is, for the work of the kingdom of God, as also for charity, in accord with the word of the Apostle, “Let us do good to everyone, but especially to those of the household of faith.” Last year, something more than $1,300 was gathered, $500 of that for Europe (for social aid.)
The church’s publications, like Der Lutheraner, Missionstaube, etc., were read happily. Distriktsbote and Synodalbericht were distributed free and found willing recipients.
Finally, another summary of all ministerial acts:
- 1,138 were baptized in the fifty years, 623 in the first twenty-five (but one can identify about 100 of those who were baptized elsewhere and then entered into the congregation’s records) and another 515 in the last twenty-five years;
- 247 were confirmed in the first twenty-five years, 308 in the last twenty-five, for a total of 555;
- 213 couples were married over the fifty years;
- Nearly 25,000 communed;
- 176 were buried in the first half of the fifty years, 155 in the latter half, a total of 331.
For service in church and school, our congregation produced as pastors Moerbe, Dube, Behnken, and Paul Birkmann and as teachers K. Dube and Paul Moerbe. Oh, that it were more! May more of our Christians recognize always better as a godly privilege that they commit their gifted and willing boys to church and school work.
The undersigned need not say anything more about his activity in this congregation. Everyone is already aware of it. In conclusion, may I not at least dedicate to our situation the word of the Apostle (II Corinthians 3 :2-3)? “You are our letter, written on our hearts ….You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” To God alone be glory! [signed] G. Birkmann