This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, emeritus, and transalted by Ray Martens, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on 11 June 1936.
Shortly, the Texas District of the Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States will gather in Serbin. Such conventions have been held there already three times, and I would like to note here some recollections of them.
Fifty years ago, during February of 1886, the fourth gathering of the Southern District met in Serbin the first convention in this part of the state. The Southern District met in Houston already three years earlier in April of 1883. The gathering in Serbin was something new for our congregations in Lee County and surroundings, an important event, and it was visited by members of these congregations, including entire families, and people came also from the surrounding counties, Fayette, etc., especially on Sunday, but also during the week, and the church in which the sessions were held was always crowded.
At the time, Texas belonged to the Southern District, which also included the Gulf states to the east of Texas. Most congregations in these eastern Gulf states were located in New Orleans, one in Mobile, Alabama, and two others in northern Alabama. Nineteen congregations were served by us in Texas, in addition to a number of mission stations, but there were only thirteen pastors of our synod in the state. It may be of interest to list their names and their places of work. There were three of our pastors in Fayette County, Suess in Freiburg (now the congregation at Engel), Leimer from Swiss Alp, and Buchschacher in Warda. The following were in Lee County: Hermann Kilian in Serbin (St. Paul), the Rev. C. L. Geyer (St. Peter), Jakob Kaspar in the old Ebenezer on the San Antonio Prairie, and the writer of this account in Fedor. The congregation in Giddings was served by Buchschacher. Then, in Washington County was the congregation of the Rev. P. Klindworth at Wm Penn, and in Harris County were four of our pastors, namely, Trinklein in Houston, Wilder in Klein, G. W. Behnken in Cypress, and H. Wischmeyer in Rose Hill.
The congregation of the Rev. Clarence Siercks was in Anderson, but at the time he was very ill and died soon thereafter. In Williamson County, the Rev. Louis Ernst worked in Corn Hill (now Walburg). Ernst also served the congregation in The Grove. The Rev. Fr. Wunderlich was in Falls County, but was not present at the convention, probably due to illness. In north Texas was the mission field of the former missionary Trinklein, but he was now pastor in Houston, and the mission was vacant. So also the congregations in Dallas (Zion) and in Honey Grove. The Rev. Theo. Kohn had gone up north shortly before.
Both congregations in Serbin, whose buildings stood very near each other, had invited the convention and together provided the hospitality. Yet, each wanted the sessions to alternate between the two houses of worship. The arrangement was that the sessions from Wednesday to Saturday be held in Rev. Geyer’s church, and those in the following week in Kilian’s church. On Sunday, services were to be held in both churches.
The opening service on Wednesday, February 3, 1886, took place in the larger church of Rev. Kilian. President [of the synod] Schwann preached with Psalm 84 as his text, the psalm which closes with these words, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.”
At the time, we had five teachers educated for their calling in Texas: Ernst Leubner at St. Peter in Serbin, Gerhard Kilian and L. Werner at St. Paul, A. M. Schleier in Fedor, and Fr. Doepke in Houston. I do not remember whether or not Teacher Regener was still teaching in Warda at the time. Along with these, lay representatives, so-called delegates, came from ten to twelve congregations which were members of the synod in our state.
If you also count those from outside the state, from New Orleans and elsewhere, then there may have been about forty-five persons who were present as members of that first convention in Serbin. About another forty or fifty people may have come from congregations other than Serbin, people who were registered as guests. The Swiss Alp congregation especially participated, Plackes, Knippas, Ritters, Kieslings, and Niemeyers. It was of little concern to them that they let their work at home rest for a week, or that they had to drive a long distance repeatedly. Attendance at a district convention was rich reward for all of that.
A number of papers were presented. I presented the first of them, covering the Introduction and First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. The Rev. Paul Roesener of New Orleans (Zion) presented another, covering the Second Petition, but time did not allow him to complete it. Two years later at the convention in New Orleans, he covered the Second Petition thoroughly.
President Schwann presented us a very important lecture about the blessing of Christian parochial schools, as opposed to the godless state schools. At that very time, a so-called public school had appeared in Warda not far from the parochial school, and, since the congregation was now concerned that children might be removed from their school in order to be sent to the other, President Schwann had been asked to deliver a lecture about the difference between these two types of schools. This lecture was very interesting and instructive to us and was printed in the convention proceedings of 1886.
At this convention, we also discussed our missions. A result of this was that missionary John Barthel came to Hamilton in the fall of the same year, where he served the organized congregation and, from there, the large territory along the Texas-Pacific Railway. At about the same time, Rev. Ruhland came to Dallas, from where he also served Honey Grove and, beyond that, not a few, mission stations. Anderson received Candidate Imm. Eckhardt as their pastor. At that first convention [in Serbin] were present also August Burgdorf, missionary to the Negroes in New Orleans, who reported to us on the mission—new for us at the time—among the Negroes there, and Prof. A. F. Hoppe, from the same city, who at the time led a so-called progymnasium [preparatory school consisting of high school years] at which a number of students from Texas also studied for a while, for example, Rev. Moerbe and Rev. Forester and Rev. Zoch and, from the congregation in Klein, Adam Klein, who later worked with such good results (as did also our deserving Rev. Emil Moerbe, who served for many years as chairman of our Texas mission board.)
About Prof. Hoppe I also wish to mention that soon after his visit to Serbin, he was called to St. Louis to be editor of the extensive St. Louis Edition of Luther’s Works.
I shall share something later about both other conventions in Serbin, namely the one in 1904 and the one in 1918.