This article by Rev. G. Birkmann first appeared in the Texas Lutheran Messenger of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri S
THE SYNODICAL CONVENTION OF THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT IN HOUSTON
This our first synodical convention in Texas, met in April, 1883. The previous year the Southern District had assembled and organized in the congregation of Pastor Paul Roesener in New Orleans. Nine of the pastors of Texas and just as many congregational delegates of Texas were present; also G. W. Behnken, a student of theology, who did supply work at Cypress, Texas, and several teachers – Gerhard Kilian and Chr. Braun, both of Serbin, Nehrling of Fedor; Hennig of Rosehill was absent. An equal number of men came from the states east of Texas, for New Orleans had eight or ten Lutheran school teachers. It is not my intention to write of these or their pastors in this report.
Naturally, the number of representatives from Texas at the Synod held in Houston was not much larger than in the year before. It was accordingly, a small band of forty members or of fifty at most if we count the visitors who came. But this circumstance afforded advantages which one misses at the larger gatherings of the present time. The circle being smaller, all became acquainted and associated more intimately with one another. And in accordance with the easier tone prevailing, the speakers expressed themselves more freely, even such as were by nature somewhat reserved, and everybody was given ample time and opportunity to have his say.
We had with us Professor Pieper and Professor Hoppe, who was in charge of our little college in New Orleans. President Stiemke was chairman. The president of the general body, the ever memorable H. C. Schwan, represented Synod at large. Prof. (now Dr.) Pieper lectured on the doctrine of justification in that simple, clear, fascinating way of his. Pastor N. J. Bakke reported on our negro missions in New Orleans, where he had labored ably and with success for about a year. He was a tall young man in the prime of his life, a conspicuous figure, so that our delegates who did not know him asked, “Who is he? What is his name?” and told afterwards how glad they had listened to him. At this Synod we became acquainted with our first itinerant missionary in Texas, who had started work in the fall of the previous year, but already had so much to report of trips he had made, of Lutheran settlers whom he had visited. In those days the field was white unto harvest, and had we but known where to get the men and the means we would, as Synod, have done more for this cause. The “Synod,” however passed the important resolution to engage two more missionaries, one in Texas with his seat of activity in Dallas, the other in South Texas. The Mission Board then called Theo. Kohn for the first position, and J. Schwoy for the second, both of the St. Louis Seminary. Trinklein continued in Middle Texas.
Gotthold Kuehn was at that time pastor of our congregation in Houston. This congregation, in 1879, had withdrawn from the old congregation of Pastor Braun, who joined our Synod in 1876, but two years later severed his connection again. Discord arose, the details of which we cannot give here.
During these troublous days Pastor P. Roesener served the handful of people that remained with us, until they succeeded in calling Pastor Stiemke of Warda, in the latter part of 1879. Stiemke was their minister till 1882 when he accepted a call to St. John’s of New Orleans. During these years the congregation had no home of their own, neither for their school nor for public worship. In the spring of 1880, when we pastors and teachers had a conference in Houston, our services were conducted in the so-called Bering Church, a Methodist church. At that time Nehrling taught in Houston, but just when, I forgot. But before Stiemke left, a new church was built near Buffalo Bayou. In this church the Synod of 1883 met.
Not a few of those in attendance had their quarters on the other side of the Bayou; and there being no bridge in this neighborhood, only a footbridge not over four feet wide leading across at a dizzy height, without a guard or railing on either side, the members of Synod, among them also the writer, had several times daily to venture forth on this forbidding way. Houston in those days, in spite of its progressive spirit and its good railway connections, was not a city that seemed attractive or pleasant to strangers. The streets were muddy. There were mosquitoes, and on the vacant sites marshes and lagoons. For entire blocks along the Bayou front, tanners had laid out hides for drying. Nevertheless, the pine forest was beautiful, as yet almost untouched, pushing itself to the very edge of the city. Only a quarter of an hour’s walk and one was in the midst of the piney woods, under the fragrant, stately, high, yellow pines. At that season – it was April – the sunshine was agreeable, and wherever woods of foliaceous trees were found, as in Lee County, the tangle mass of juicy twigs took on a rich green. By the time we returned home, it was beautiful also in the sandy and the Post-Oak regions.
While in Houston I took a walk with the sainted father of the present president of the Texas District, with Pastor G. W. Behnken. Born in Germany, he came to Wisconsin in early youth. There he attended the college at Watertown, and later on the seminary of the Wisconsin Synod in Milwaukee. Being sick, he sought a cure in Texas. Pastor Roesener kept him for a while at Rosehill. He recovered to such an extent that he was able to fill the vacancy at Cypress by teaching school and by preaching occasionally. In 1882, he attended our first Synod in New Orleans. In the summer of that year, he submitted to a colloquium, passed with high honors, and was ordained and installed as pastor of the Cypress congregation. He was a man of choice gifts, a good preacher and pastor, popular, and unforgotten by those who knew him. By the inscrutable counsel and will of God, he was taken from his congregation and the District, and by a blessed death was transferred to his heavenly home in the spring of 1888. Among other services to the District, he wrote minutes which are models. He died at the age of 33 in the congregation at Klein, which he joined after his resignation. For at the close of 1886 he was obliged, much to his own and the congregation’s regret, to resign his pastorate on account of illness.
Honorable mention should be made also of the first treasurer of the Southern District, Mr. G. W. Frye of Zion Congregation, New Orleans. He was one of the old, sincere, loyal, single-minded Christians. In that day there were families even in New Orleans, in which at least the parents still preferred to speak German, and adhered to German Christian ways and customs in their homes. Of these was our treasurer, Frye. Without compensation, of course, the treasurers in our entire Synod lent their services to the brethren. And these services of theirs were very valuable and noteworthy, something all do not realize. Only persons who are wholly trustworthy are qualified for such an office. And they have a business of their own to which they must devote both industry and care. So it was with Mr. Frye, and yet, he gladly took the office of treasurer for the brethren’s sake, and conducted it faithfully till ten years later he had to retire from it because of his advanced age and physical infirmity.
Of those who attended the first Synodical Convention of the So. District, as far as I know, only the following are still living:
Dr. Franz Pieper, St. Louis, Mo.
Pastor G. Buchschacher, Warda, Texas.
Pastor J. Kaspar, em. age 86, Anderson, Texas.
Pastor G. Birkmann, em., Giddings, Texas.
Teacher H. Huettmann, New Orleans, La.
Teacher J. H. Schoenhardt, New Orleans, La.
Teacher G. 0. Hennig, Ft. Smith, Ark.
Teacher H. Nehrling, Gotha, Fla.
Teacher G. W. Sauer, Houston, Texas.
Teacher G. M. Schleier, La Grange, Texas.
Of the congregational delegates of the first two Synods only Mr. Henry Schkade of Lincoln, Texas is still alive. He attended the first Synod in New Orleans. Mr. Matth. Zoch, who represented St. Paul’s of Serbin in Houston at the second Synod, fell asleep in Jesus in the beginning of December 1928, at the age of 87 years. He was a faithful member and for many years deacon of his congregation, and in his life the words of the 128 Psalm found fulfillment: “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion . . . . thou shalt see thy children’s children.” He is survived by ten children, 80 grandchildren, 83 great-grandchildren, and a number of great-great-grandchildren.
G. BIRKMANN. Giddings, Nov. 14, 1928