This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, emeritus, and translated by Ray Martens, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on 2 April 1936.
Conference with Rev. L. Ernst, Lincoln, 1901
This was the last of the conferences that was held during the time of Rev. Ernst in Lincoln, Texas. The first took place during the fall of 1889, combined with a mission festival at which Rev. Gotthold Mueller of Rose Hill preached. In the morning, I had a wedding to conduct in Fedor, and, as a result, I do not know who preached in the afternoon. This conference still had its sessions in the first church, built in 1886. Student Cholcher was the first to serve the congregation as a vicar, and in 1887 Theo. Wolfram came as their first called pastor, but he moved up north after a year. Cholcher later went to Nebraska and was president of the Nebraska District for years. And Wolfram had the same position in the Iowa District of our Missouri Synod. Louis Ernst was called to St. John in Lincoln, Texas, at the beginning of 1889 and served them faithfully for almost fifteen years. At first, he also taught school until Herman Schroeder entered as teacher in 1890.
At another time, we gathered with Rev. Ernst in the spring of 1892, this time in the new church, dedicated in the fall of 1891. The first church was now used as the school, and a new parsonage was built, while the former parsonage was now occupied by the teacher. I still remember about the conference in 1892 that we had with us Rev. Suess, who rode forty miles from what is now called Engel (or, rather, near Engel). He was healthy and all tidied up and had much to report to us.
The third conference with Rev. L. Ernst gathered in the fall of 1896. I shared something about this in earlier correspondence. Rev. Waechter and Rev. Osthoff were there with us for the first time, along with Heinemeier as a student, who, at the time, wished to make himself useful to our Texas congregations through the sale of pictures.
The fourth conference with Rev. L. Ernst gathered in the fall of 1901. About this one I know only two things. The first is that Bernthal, pastor of St. Peter in Serbin, delivered a paper which raised much opposition from several members of the conference, but that Bernthal defended himself vehemently and did not permit himself to be corrected. His opponents called out to him, “Do not keep riding the same horse,” which means, bring on other and better reasons. Another memory is the observance of my twenty-fifth year in the ministry, which was recognized by the conference in a way that the entire conference participated on Sunday evening, when the congregation in Fedor intended to celebrate, by allowing themselves to be brought there by their hosts in the Lincoln congregation. This was indeed no small undertaking, for one had to drive the seven miles and more there at night and then, on top of that, be brought back late at night.
This was the first such celebration that I had ever witnessed, although I had read descriptions of them. Most young pastors did not stay in Texas long enough to celebrate twenty-five years, much less fifty years. So, I was the first for whom such an attempt was made. Celebrating an anniversary of ministry was also something new for the congregation, whether for a pastor or a teacher, although nowadays this is widely known and altogether ordinary.
On such occasions, all honor should be given to God alone, who gives and upholds shepherds and teachers for this church. A congregation brings honor to itself if it praises God for the gift, and a conference which jointly recognizes the jubilee of its member is doing what is good and proper.
Only for these reasons do I dare to write something about this. The congregation in Lincoln held its service on the Sunday of the conference, then ate together, and then I thought I would converse for a while with the pastors in attendance. Then my dear wife came up to me and said, “Papa, should we not go home?” I was somewhat surprised by this request and stated some objections, but finally gave in, and we rode away. I drove as usual, but it was not fast enough for my wife. We arrived home before dark, but, as night began to fall, wagons were to be seen and heard driving to the church and stopping there. More and more. I said to my wife, “What is going on? There is no service tonight.” She responded that there probably would be, for the church was already lit up. I had a premonition, not altogether happy. I prepared a little for what might happen. Before long, council members came and disclosed to me that I must go to the church with them. “You do not have to preach, just sit on a chair in front of the altar, and all the rest will be taken care of.”
Then I went with them. They wanted to hold me by the arm, but I said that I would go along without being held. They went to the left and right as though they were still concerned that I would escape from them. We went into the church, and sitting in the front rows, were a number of pastors and teachers, in short, the entire Lincoln conference, and my congregation, too, appeared in large number. This was something one could not miss. Then, as usual, songs and a sermon followed. Rev. Gresens preached in a very edifying way about the significance of the pastoral ministry. Then council member Herman Urban stepped forward and delivered a brief address in the name of the congregation, and Rev. Wenzel read a poem which he had composed. The congregation, Mr. Urban said, had bought me a new buggy. Obviously, I had to say something as well, knowing only that it was not easy for me.
Then the conference members betook themselves to the parsonage, where coffee and cake had been prepared for them, while they sat together talking happily. The congregation also came to the yard of the parsonage, at least in part, and observed as much as possible the conference guests eating and smoking. Then it came to an end, and the usual quiet prevailed again.
Conference in Austin with Rev. Tegeler, Easter, 1902
A major drought prevailed in Texas at that time because we had almost no rain during the fall and winter, and feed for the livestock was all gone, and the existing pastures were very sparse. That was the case also in Fedor. The pastor and teacher both had cows and horses, but no feed, or at least not enough grass in the pasture to feed the cattle properly. A cow repeatedly fell over for the teacher because of weakness, and he had trouble getting it upright again.
Teacher Daenzer soon took a call to the north—certainly not because of the lack of feed in Texas, but for other reasons. That then presented the problem to the writer of this material that he had to conduct school again after Easter, something he had not been required to do for a long time. Before that, however, came a respite, the Easter conference, which this time was held in the capital, Austin.
In Paige, I met with Rev. Rische, who likewise wished to go to the conference. Also Rev. Ernst, whose wife had died a few months earlier and who was a friend of Rev. Tegeler, came with us, and we hoped that his visit to the conference and his association with friends would strengthen and refresh him again.
Several years earlier, Rev. Tegeler was first called to Taylor as a missionary, but then had relocated his place of ministry to Austin at about the end of 1898, soon after Deffner’s departure. His congregation’s church was located on Red River Street, the same one in which we already had a conference in 1896.
About the papers at the conference, I only know now that Tegeler himself presented a study about the place in I Peter 1 where it says that we are born again to a living home through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, etc. One night we also held a service with confession and celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and I recall that about forty or fifty members of the congregation were present, among them some young people, including Margareta Schleier, the oldest daughter of Teacher Schleier, who resided in Austin at the time. She greeted me after the service and told me that I had baptized here in Fedor, where her father had been teacher at the time.
One often notices matters of less importance than the main things. That is what is happening to me now. I still know that our worthy chairman, who was generally loved because of his friendliness and gentleness, and, apart from that, maintained good order, nodded off one afternoon, dropping his head, and falling asleep. We watched for a while, not begrudging him the ordinary noontime nap, and, yet, that could not go on. Our caretaker had to be awakened, and, then, after a somewhat embarrassed smile, he called us back to order and the discussions proceeded.
There is always much to see in Austin. I was back in the capitol, also way up on top, more than 300 feet high, and all the way down on the ground floor [basement?], where I saw two things that interested me. First was a Mr. Winkler, whose father, Carl, I had learned to know many years before in The Grove. The son was custodian of the holdings of the state, managing the state’s archives. Now he is the librarian of the university in Austin. Second, on the ground floor [basement?] was a collection of shells (snails and mussels) and a collection of minerals. Both were purchased from a Mr. J. A. Singley in Giddings by Mr. Brackenridge in San Antonio for a thousand dollars. Beyond that, I saw back then a woman on the street who struck a man with a large whip that she had in her hand. Out of fear and shame, he did not know how to recover. Many may laugh about this spectacle, but for me it was no laughing matter.
I had never seen anything like that—yet, Austin provides also many friendly sights in what is a city like Rome, built on hills, with so many beauties of nature.