This article by Rev. G. Birkmann first appeared in German in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on 24 Dec 1931. It is presented here translated by his grandson, Ray Martens.
The more elderly readers of the Volksblatt will remember the pious and faithful preacher in Serbin forty years ago, and those who knew him more closely, especially the now elderly members of his congregation, will be pleased to read something about his life and work, not just in our state, but from the beginning.
During 1893, Der Lutheraner, in the February 28 and March 7, editions, provided a biography of the sainted Rev. Geyer, from which many of the following statements were drawn. But, because the writer of this was also in ministry nearby by for sixteen years, he can add observations from his own experience.
Geyer was born in Zwickau, Saxony, on March 16, 1812. He, as a small child, already lost his father through death, and his mother, a sister of Dr. Walther’s mother [i.e., he and C. F. W. Walther were cousins and approximately of the same age], now needed to care for her children. She saved in every way she could to send her son to the Gymnasium [an institution in which pastoral training began] in Zwickau, and he was a diligent student, one who loved to study the ancient languages and who distinguished himself especially in the study of Greek, good evidence of which is that he received as gifts a number of books in Latin and Greek from his professors and friends.
He then wished to study theology in Leipzig and to become a pastor, but from where was the cost of this to be taken? Thereupon, his uncle, Rev. Walther (the father of our well-known Dr. Walther) promised to help, and, therefore, his mother dared to send her son to Leipzig, and she also agreed on her part to send some money now and then so that he could finish his studies at the university in 1834. He was not one of those who wasted his time in higher education, but he studied diligently, and, inasmuch as he was studying in Leipzig at the same time as Walther and other noted theologians (also with Rev. John Kilian), he certainly had an association with these young men and took part in their endeavors. At that time nationalism prevailed, and the professors at the university, one and all, were rationalists, which is to say that they put their faith in reason. But among the students there was a circle of pious young men who gathered and sought to be edified in godly writings. Luther’s writings too were valued and studied by them, and Geyer belonged to this group. He gained possession of the Walch edition [Luther’s Works as published 1740-53 in 22 volumes] in a peculiar way. During the course of a hiking tour, Geyer bought some cheese for himself at a guest house, and, as he had it wrapped, he noticed that the paper in which the innkeeper was wrapping the cheese was a page which contained words from Luther. He inquired about this, and the innkeeper told him that he had a whole group of volumes, and, as he examined them, they turned out to be the Walch edition of Luther’s Works in which the innkeeper was wrapping his goods. Thus Geyer was able to obtain them for a very small amount.
Geyer emigrates to America
Candidate Geyer affiliated himself with the Saxon group of emigrants in 1838 consisting of 700 persons who were leaving for this country on five sailing vessels. One of these ships went missing, and nothing more was learned about it. The other four arrived in New Orleans, and the group them traveled up the Mississippi on river boats to St. Louis, where they arrived in February of 1939. A part of the people stayed there, but the majority established a settlement in Perry County, Missouri.
The Rev. Herman Walther, the brother of C. F. W. Walther, became the first pastor of the St. Louis congregation, and our Candidate Geyer conducted the congregation’s school until 1840. With that he became the first parochial school teacher in the western part of our country. In the following years, he taught in [ ? ] in Perry County, Mo., until 1844.
But in that same year he was called to Wisconsin as pastor of the congregation at Town Lebanon, near Watertown. He was the first of our pastors in Wisconsin, although not before 1850 did he, along with his congregation, affiliate himself as a member of the Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States.
The congregation consisted of people who came from Prussia with Rev. Kindermann. Kindermann, who served a congregation in Kirchhayn and lived there, prevailed upon the congregation at Town Lebanon, which he had served previously, to call the Saxon candidate because he could no longer serve them from his congregation, forty miles distant from the Watertown area. (Kindermann belonged to the Grabau Synod, with headquarters in Buffalo.)
When Geyer arrived at his congregation, he found neither a parsonage nor a church building. He, still single at the time, had to live with a member of the congregation, and the services also had to be held in private homes. The first settlers had come only one year earlier, and now one can hardly picture accurately how meager the conditions were at the time.
With time things got better, and Geyer, who in 1845 married Miss Johanne Schwefel of his congregation, then obtained a modest residence, and a church was built.
The congregation had to endure inner struggles—even a split erupted—but, nevertheless, they kept gaining members. The original sixty families became over one hundred, and they became always more firmly grounded in the Lutheran faith and confession under the faithful care and instruction of their pastor.
Geyer also did diligent mission work in Wisconsin
Certainly lacking at the time, as was true everywhere among recent settlers, were good roads and opportunities for travel. One had to travel in farm wagons and probably also with teams of oxen if there were no mail carriages [an alternate way of getting around], and at times a trip was made on foot. Wisconsin has abundant snow and ice in the winter, and the preacher on such occasions had to see how he would get through, and more than once an acquaintance who had hosted him had to bring him to the place where he wished to preach and perform other ministerial duties. It got dark, and they would lose their way. On one occasion the horse in front of the wagon would not go any farther. There was a slope there, and at its bottom a stream flowed. On hands and knees, they had to find the right road again. At first Geyer cared for the people around Watertown in a pastoral way, and he also preached at other places.
The climate is milder here, and, because the colder Wisconsin was no longer wholesome for our Rev, Geyer, and surely for other reasons as well, he took a call to Carlinville after due consideration. Here he worked from 1860 to 1876. So he was there during the difficult time of the Civil War, which also brought privations to our congregations and demanded sacrifices. The Carlinville congregation remembers its former pastor Geyer fondly, as, George Beiderwieden, the current pastor, has written me. A good foundation for them was laid through Geyer as they profited greatly from his instruction. The pastor not only conducted a service on Sunday and on Wednesday evening, but in addition took them through good writings, books by Walther and other theologians of our church, by which the members were greatly benefitted.
Geyer was held in high esteem also by people who were not members of his church. Rev. Lochner in his biography of Geyer tells of an Irishman, a shop keeper, who often spoke to Geyer’s children if they wished to buy something from him in approximately this way: “You have an excellent father. You grow up to be as honest as he is. I have never seen a more honorable man than your father.” This sounds somewhat peculiar, but his remarkable conscientiousness, which characterized everything that Rev. Geyer undertook, without doubt had impressed the Irishman.
Geyer is called to Serbin, Texas
During the spring of 1876 he accepted a call to St. Peter congregation in Serbin [and immediately became vacancy pastor in Fedor, before Birkmann came there in October of the same year]. He had been in Wisconsin for sixteen years, sixteen more in Collinsville, and now again he was to be at his third and last place for sixteen years. He was already sixty-four years old when he came to Texas. But also in this last period of his life he did his work well and successfully. To the end, he wrote his sermons and committed them to memory. During his delivery, he probably did not look directly at his listeners, instead looked straight ahead from his high pulpit, but his message was simple, instructive, drawn from the Holy Scriptures, directed to the heart, and his speech fluent, noble, and impressive. He considered the text on the basis of which he would deliver his next sermon already on Sunday evening and probably carried with him the whole week through the thoughts that he wished to deliver.
In personal contacts he was humble and modest, creating the impression of a quiet and meek character. But in everything which concerned the Word of God, he was firm and resolute, as he was also in the practice and conduct of his ministry. He put a lot of stock in old usage and order, and this impressed itself also on his appearance, behavior, and wardrobe, which always had to be proper and faultless. He was that way also in his home, at table and when you were with him in his study. One honored and esteemed the venerable dear old man, and his congregation knew what a good pastor they had in him. The elderly people in Serbin will surely not only remember this portrayal, however inadequate it may be, but a number of them will also remember anew the character traits mentioned here and will agree with me. Geyer’s congregation, according to the Synodical Yearbook in 1877 had 279 souls and 52 voting members.
When I came to know him in Texas, Geyer had the following children: three sons and one daughter, along with an already married foster daughter. One son was a member of congregation in New Orleans, the second became a pastor, who died in 1897, and the third a physician. Helen, the daughter, became the wife of the Rev. G. Buchschacher, and she is the only surviving child of the sainted Rev. Geyer.
During February of 1892, only a few weeks before his death, he attended the District convention in Warda. On March 6, Holy Communion was scheduled to be celebrated in his congregation. Geyer had conducted the confession and was at the point of distributing the sacrament when he was heard to call out, “I hurt so badly!” and his strength deserted him and he would have collapsed had not some rushed up to him to support him. Then he was taken into his home and put in bed. He lived only five more hours. For the most part, he lay unconscious, but, when he woke up, he tried to sit up and with that called out the name of the Lord and, it is said, reached out his arms to Him as though with full desire, taking the position, as the hymn says:
Ich fahre hin zu Jesu Christ,
Mein Arm tu ich aus strechen,
So schlaf ich ein und ruhe fein,
Kein Mensch kann mich aufwecken,
Denn Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn,
Der wird die Himmeltuer auf tun,
Mich fuehr’n zum ewgen Leben.
[The translator could not find this hymn stanza in the German hymnal in his possession, a circumstance which makes finding an English counterpart virtually impossible. Though totally lacking in the poetic beauty of the original, the meaning of the stanza for those who do not read German is:
I am going to Jesus Christ,
I am reaching out my arm,
Thus I am falling asleep and resting well,
No man can awaken me,
For Jesus Christ, God’s Son,
Will open the heavenly gate for me.
Take me to eternal life.]
The burial took place on the following Wednesday. Rev. Buchschacher spoke at the house, and Rev. Herman Kilian delivered the burial sermon. On the following Sunday, Rev. Gresens delivered the sermon of commemoration in Serbin at the request of the congregation. The tired body was put to rest in the Serbin cemetery, and his wife, who died later in Giddings, lies beside him, along with his son, the former Rev. Adolf Geyer.
“Those who walk upright before you enter into peace and find rest as they lie in death.” [Isaiah 57:2]
G. Birkmann, pastor Emeritus