This article by Rev. Birkmann and translated by Ray Martens first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, Giddings, Texas, on March 23, 1932.
In Memory of Former Pastor Hermann T. Kilian, in Serbin, Texas
Born 1859, Died 1920
It was a simple life, that of our Rev. Hermann T. Kilian and yet rich in inner value, for what a person accomplishes in his life through the grace of God and how he tries to carry out his assigned task make so much difference.
Herman T. Kilian was born in Serbin, Texas, on December 26, 1859. Just days earlier, the first church building of the Serbin congregation, which had previously held its services in the parsonage, had been dedicated to the service of the triune God. Finally after five years, the building, a simple little frame church, had been finished. The dedication took place on the first [three consecutive days were celebrated] Christmas Day of 1859, with the pastor of the church, Joh. Kilian, preaching three times, in Wendish, German, and English.
Hermann later attended the congregation’s school, first conducted by his father, then from 1868 forward by Teacher Ernst Leubner, and from 1872 on by Teacher Gerhard Kilian, Hermann’s older brother.
After his confirmation, Hermann attended Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This was in 1874, just when the first railroad headed northward from Texas had been completed. One can imagine that this trip to Fort Wayne and life in that institution made a powerful impression upon this boy who had formerly lived in Serbin. He studied in Fort Wayne for six years, learning Latin and other subjects well, and then in 1880 he entered our St. Louis Seminary, at which the well-known great teacher of our church, Dr. Walther, was still active at that time.
After completion of this theological studies, Hermann Kilian received a call to be pastor from St. Paul’s congregation in Serbin, while his father, already 72 years old and having served the congregation for a long time, was moved into retirement but would still serve as assistant pastor.
Only a few weeks after his arrival from the seminary in St. Louis, Hermann Kilian was ordained and installed. In his initial sermon he made a special impression in that he directed a heartfelt request to the congregation to pray for him often and urgently that God support and bless his ministry.
With him came two other candidates for church work from St. Louis to Texas, Theo. Kohn, who was called as pastor at Zion in Dallas and, at the same time, as missionary for North Texas, and, further, Candidate Schwoy, who was to be a missionary in West Texas. So these two had the assignment to travel and to live here and there in order to gather Lutherans, as opposed to our Kilian who came to a larger congregation already established for years and following a fixed, familiar order, in which he was to preach Sunday after Sunday in the Wendish and German languages. When I heard him speak Wendish from time to time, I was surprised that he had been able to retain such proficiency in Wendish, in spite of his having been far away from home for nine years. Wendish was his mother tongue, to be sure. His father was committed to the idea and had as his earnest wish that his children and his congregation should remain Wendish. But when one heard the young Rev. Kilian, who for years had no or very little practice in this language, speak so skillfully the long words and the difficult sounds of Wendish with such fluency, that certainly was something exceptional.
The Wendish service came first, and the German followed it every Sunday. It requires no little amount of stamina to hold two services in a row in this way, but our Kilian did this for years. He was not tall of stature, but was intellectual and physically fresh and active, full of energy and zest for life, and his voice was powerful as well, always seeming to take on a richness until his last days. He sometimes let his voice ring out so loud in the church that one could hear it in his house, as, for example, when all the doors and windows stood open in the summer. What he had so say he delivered in short sentences, clearly and in a way that everyone understood, direct and without beating about the bush. One knew immediately what he wanted or where he was headed. Because he also had a good, solid knowledge of the godly truths drawn from the Holy Scripture, it could not fail to happen that his sermons were quite useful and edifying in the correct understanding of the Word. So it was not his way to make a pretty speech or to dazzle the hearers with polish and [ ? ] form. Not a pretty speaker, but one whose only concern was the salvation of souls in accord with the Word of Scripture, that a servant of Christ should be mighty to admonish through wholesome speech and to oppose those who contradict [the “gainsayers”].
As a rule, he had two confirmation classes, one Wendish and one German. The former ordinarily was larger, and they were confirmed on Palm Sunday. The German group then after Easter. Because he had a mild and gentle nature, those confirmed by him at some time, having shared hours of instruction with him, still remember him fondly.
To be sure, the church in which he preached to his congregation was no longer the one about the dedication of which this article began. That is, in 1872 the congregation dedicated the stone building which still serves them. It is not altogether easy to preach in this church so as to be understood by all. But the register of the young pastor along with his power overcame all difficulties. But it is possible that the great strain over the years with the two services following upon one another had exerted an unfavorable influence on the function of the heart of the one fallen asleep.
That the function of his heart was damaged showed itself about 25 years ago at about the time that his 25th anniversary in the ministry was approaching. At that time he had to begin to spare his strength more than before, and he took more time out in the open for the sake of some exercise, as his doctor clearly advised him.
When he began his ministry, at first he still lived in the old parsonage built of logs with spaces filled in with mortar or clay. It consisted of a room on the west side in which the congregation had first held its services and which now served the pastor as study and bedroom. Then came a so-called hall, that is, an open passage into which one came happily on hot summer days. Farther east followed the room in which the family ate and in which a bed also stood, and then the kitchen.
The father, Johann Kilian, had lived with his son who followed him in ministry. The daughter, Miss Hulda, kept house for the two of them. During September of 1884 the father died altogether unexpectedly of a heart attack.
A troubled and difficult life came to an end. What all had the old Rev. Kilian not experienced and what a burden had been laid on him throughout the 29 years that he led St. Paul’s congregation. The emigration of the congregation from the old fatherland, the long sea journey which brought with it over seventy deaths from cholera, the first years of the founding of a new home in the Texas wilderness, then the four years of the Civil War, especially difficult for the South, then unrest in the congregation with separation as its outcome, etc. But he could also look back at various mercies and blessings, the happy completion of a large church building, additionally the fact that the larger portion of his congregation remained faithful to staying together, and, not least, the father would have rejoiced that two of his sons were in ministry in his congregation, Gerhard as teacher and Hermann as pastor.
But his hope in life as in death was that of the old, pious Simeon, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, etc.” The young pastor Hermann Kilian to some extent had more of a free hand to tend to his ministry as he had been taught by his teachers in St. Louis, especially Walther. His congregation brought him their full confidence and gladly allowed themselves to be taught and instructed by him. A new time, so to speak, a new confidence, came upon the congregation. Soon a second teacher was called and a new home built for him. Congregational and directors’ [Vorstand] meetings were held regularly, collections were made diligently and plentifully for the work of our Synod, and they even—jointly with St. Peter’s—invited the Southern District to gather in Serbin in 1886. This District convention was the first to take place in this part of the state, a big event to which a large number of visitors came from our congregations in order to take a look at this new thing, a convention.
Since that time two more conventions have been hosted in Serbin, one in 1904, at which the 50th anniversary of St. Paul’s was observed, and another in the war year 1918. But in this year, there were no longer two congregations of our Synod in Serbin, for already a few years earlier St. Peter’s congregation had been brought back into the mother church.
Rev. Herman Kilian almost always held some office in the Southern District and then in the Texas District of our Synod. From 1887 to 1900 he was vice-president of the Southern District. He served many terms as a member of the Mission Board, especially active in this role between 1891 and 1900. The writer of this article served with him on this Board at the time, and he can testify that a real burning enthusiasm for this subject lived within our brother Kilian. Ordinarily, we made our way to an appointment in Giddings, where Mr. Ernst Neitsch, who also belonged to our Board, took us into a room where the Knox Store, in which Mr. Neitsch worked, had a furniture warehouse. There we were undisturbed as we then took up the dozen reports which had come in and deliberated upon what more should happen. Letters to write, calls to extend with attendant correspondence—these were left over as matters for which Rev. Kilian was responsible. Such gatherings took place every two weeks, sometimes weekly.
The number of our missionaries at the time was still small, the conditions simpler than today, but the problems at the time already were essentially the same. Today one calculates whether the means to maintain an auto should be granted to the missionary; then it was horse and wagon and food for the horses about which the Board had to try to be clear. This is merely an example. Naturally, there were weightier matters to discuss than those mentioned.
In about the year 1890, Kilian was invited to preach in Austin. It had been discovered that there was a Lutheran pastor in Serbin. Kilian preached and was prevailed upon to come back, and he happily went back again and again, and so it is also thanks to him that we now for years have had a fine congregation of the Missouri Synod in the capital.
Since Kilian’s love for missions was known and people had occasion to hear his simple and heartfelt sermons, he was not lacking in invitations to serve at mission festivals. Already in his first year of ministry, Fedor invited him to preach for mission festival. Fedor had had such a festival already a number of times, but the collection which was gathered at that first appearance of Kilian exceeded expectations.
He was never absent from our conferences and conventions without a valid reason. With his open, sunny temperament and happy disposition, the contact with brothers in the faith and in the ministry was a pleasure, a necessity, for him. Everyone felt that from him immediately, and he certainly was one of the most beloved persons in our circles. “Where is Kilian?” one would ask if he did not see him. And then if he came, it would become, “There is Kilian.” Then friendly greetings and jokes were exchanged. He would like to sit in the midst of the cheerful company and take part in the conversation. The session and discussions, however, were not his favorite pastime, but he took a hearty interest in the serious discussions about the Word and teaching of God and about matters concerning the kingdom of God. He liked to produce quotations from Luther which he had found, and, at the same time, had paid attention to, in his enthusiastic study of the convention reports, so that for him something that he had read in the convention reports fell into place for virtually every point that was discussed.
A prominent trait of his character was generosity. Already as a college student he repeatedly asked his father to send him money for a certain needy fellow student, and he received it from his father and so helped the poor student throughout the year so that he could continue in school. I also had some knowledge of what he put in the collection—not by way of him himself. In this regard he was similar to our father Luther, who was always willing to hand out his last dollar to people suffering from need.
Not a few of Kilian’s brothers in the ministry saw in his [ ? ] and in his face and especially in the thick crown of hair over his high forehead a striking resemblance to our great Reformer. Our Kilian was often told, half jokingly, though meaning it, that he looked like Dr. Luther.
Now a few words about Kilian’s family life. In March of 1886 he entered into the state of holy matrimony with Miss Marie Moerbe, with whom he then lived happily for almost thirty-four years. God gave them two sons and two daughters. The older daughter, Lydia, is the wife of Rev. Arthur E. Moebus. The other, Hermine, residing in [ ? ], is married to Teacher Zieschang. One son died soon after birth. The other, Theodor, was educated for the ministry and served about eight years as a missionary, when he developed a serious illness in his lungs, which degenerated into consumption. On February 6, 1925, he was called away from the Lord’s vineyard. He was born on August 7, 1890, in Serbin and was taught in the truths of salvation by his uncle G. A. Kilian and his father, then confirmed by his father. Then he was sent to Fort Wayne and St. Louis for the study of theology, and there stood for his examination. His first sphere of activity as a missionary was in Saegerton, Texas. Then he served the congregation at Greenscreek and, at the same time, missionary in Oldenburg, near La Grange. After that, his strength failed, and he died in Giddings at the home of his mother. On December 28, 1919, he married Miss Martha Proske, the surviving widow, leaving behind three children: a daughter, Ruth, three years old, and twins. Hermann and Theodor, only five months old, and now living hale and hearty in the home of the grandparents.
Herman T. Kilian in his congregation had always worked with the goal that sons be given to preparation for the ministry of the church. A whole number of pastors and several teachers in the preaching and teaching ministries are from the congregation.
His end came unexpectedly. It was not expected that he would need to be called away from his blessed field of work so suddenly. While he was preaching his last sermon he suddenly fell unconscious and was immediately brought to bed. He seemed to be getting better again after he had suffered an aching and upset stomach, and his attending physician explained that his condition was not serious, one which could be traced back to excessive strain on the nerves and overwork, for which only rest from mental activity would be necessary. More extensive sleep was also prescribed. On Tuesday his condition was very hopeful because he felt so strong, able to get out of bed on his own and to get around in his surroundings. Yet, on Wednesday morning a reversal stepped in, a heart attack which bought his life to an end at 10:00 a.m. on January 21, 1920. The departure of their faithful pastor was a painful blow for the congregation.
Rev. G. Birkmann, em.
[Translator’s note: The original from which I translated is a clipping taken from the named issue of the Volksblatt in 1932, yellowed, brittle, and broken—especially along the folds—to the extent that a few words are entirely illegible and others need to be partially reconstructed from context. Happily, only minimal details have been lost.]