This article written by Rev. G. Birkmann and translated by Ray Martens first appeared in the Texas Lutheran Messenger of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church Missouri – Synod on November 22, 1934.
The Assignment of Candidates for the Preaching and Teaching Ministries at the Seminary of the Missouri Synod in St. Louis 45 Years Ago
By Rev. (em.) G. Birkmann
The assignment of candidates to calling congregations takes place every year near the end of the school year.
In 1889 Texas needed four pastoral candidates and one teacher candidate, which means that these call documents had reached my hands. As president at the time, I was to represent the Southern District, which encompassed Texas and the other eastward Gulf states. I do not believe that any other requests had come to me from the states other than Texas.
At the time forty-five years ago, one could travel from Texas to St. Louis just as cheaply by way of New Orleans as through Texarkana or Denison. I took the former route and in New Orleans visited my friend, Rev. Roesener, who had been in Texas for a number of years. He had much to do and so took me along on his ventures, and I had to marvel at the punctuality with which he took care of his business and at his hurried pace—I was not used to that.
I arrived in St. Louis Saturday night before the week of the observance of the Ascension of Christ. I found lodging with a Mr. Uhde, who in earlier years had been a leatherworker and now operated a guest house (without a bar) not far from the river.
I had often seen Mr. Uhde when he served as chairman (this was in my student days, 15 years earlier) of the meetings of the “joint” congregation. The “joint” congregation consisted of four congregations in the city, each of which had its own pastor, but jointly had only one pastor whom they shared, the venerable Dr. Walther. Each of the congregations had its own administration and also separate meetings, but once each month came the meeting of the so-called “joint” congregation, which embraced all four. Cases of church discipline and other weighty matters were dealt with here, and especially also discussions of doctrine were discussed under the guidance of Walther, next to whom Chairman Uhde had his place, and behind those two sat the pastors of the individual congregations. These were very stimulating and instructive meetings, and the students of our seminary liked to visit them.
On Sunday I visited the congregation named Trinity, whose pastor was my former teacher at college in Fort Wayne, the widely loved Rev. Otto Hanser. In the morning he delivered the sermon and the confessional address with communion, and in the afternoon Christenlehre [weekly instruction in vogue before the days of Sunday School and Bible Class]. In the latter he went over the Ninth Commandment, certainly in a most interesting way. Christenlehre at the time was still very well attended by parents and children, though one could already notice a lessening of interest. Now one has Bible Class and the like.
On Tuesday the assignment of candidates was to get underway, so I had another day for myself. So I visited Shaw’s Garden, where I had looked around already in earlier years, but a place which one likes to inspect again and again, especially if one, as was true of me at the time, was devoted to some plant study and had an interest in flowers.
As then on Tuesday morning as I climbed aboard the streetcar to ride to the seminary, whom should I first meet there by an old friend, Rev. Phillip Studt, president of the Iowa District at the time? He came from the congregation of my sainted father in Waterloo, Illinois, and already in 1866 had enrolled at the “practical” seminary, which at the time was tied to the “theoretical” seminary, and ever since served as pastor in Luzerne, Iowa. He was a real honest citizen [perhaps in the sense of “regular Joe”], of powerful build. He wore a thick beard, as was for the most part usual at the time, and had a powerful voice. He greeted me heartily, and immediately I was happy to have found him, for I had never before attended a meeting like that of the Board of Assignments.
We arrived early and first of all sought out Professors Graebner and Pieper, who lived next to the institution. Both invited us in to take lodging with them, for the assignment of calls lasted two to three days, and the participants who came from elsewhere were taken in as guests by the St. Louis professors. President Studt wanted to stay with Graebner and I wanted to stay with my friend Studt, so we both accepted Graebner’s invitation. Then we went into the seminary. Some presidents were already in the hall downstairs, and their happy voices were heard, Sprengeler’s, for example, who was making fun of the thoughtless [or frivolous or careless] southerners. I was somewhat disconcerted at first because I thought he was directing his remarks at our Southern District, but soon learned that he meant the people of St. Louis. President Sprengeler was pastor in Milwaukee and president of the Wisconsin District. Then I encountered Rev. Wunder, whom I visited a year earlier in Chicago, a man who had been one of the fathers of our synod, a founder of a number of congregations in and around Chicago.
Around nine o’clock in the morning we got to work. All presidents except three had appeared. These three were Buehler from California, Bente from Canada, and Joseph Schmidt from Michigan. Present were ten presidents, five professors from the St. Louis Seminary, one (Craemer) from the Springfield Seminary, and Krauss from the teachers’ college in Addison. 45 years ago the Synod counted only thirteen districts, now thirty. It might be in place to make some statements about the individual presidents and districts as they were then.
1) The Eastern District incorporated New York and Pennsylvania and, beyond that, also the other eastern states which now form the Atlantic District. The president was Rev. Peter Brand, the father of the man who serves as our Secretary of Foreign Missions. President Brand made a very positive impression on me back then. He stood up in full vigor, his spirit was very lively, his speech testified to a love for the subject, and he was at the same time friendly and appealing.
2) The Central District. President Niemann, who lived in Cleveland, was for a long time president of the current Central District, which back then included Indiana and Ohio. One heard his bass voice not altogether rarely, and he was wise and thoughtful in his opinions, and that with a sense of humor.
3) Illinois District, President H. Wunder in Chicago.
4) Wisconsin District, President Sprengeler.
5) Minnesota District, Fr. Sievers, President. Dakota and Montana belonged to this district back then, as well as all of western Canada. This territory at that time and later required annually a dozen or more preachers from our institutions.
6) Nebraska, President J. Hilgendorf. The Nebraska District has existed since 1882, and Hilgendorf was president from its founding for 18 years.
7) Kansas District, President Pennekamp. This district was created out of the Western District in 1888, and Pennekamp was its first president.
8) Western District. President F. J. Blitz, one of the fathers of the Synod, belonged to the first students to be educated in our seminary. He had studied already in the college in Altenburg, Mo., with a Rev. J. A. F. W. Mueller, M. Guenther, and others.
9) Iowa District, President Studt.
10) Southern District, President G. Birkmann.
Three districts, as mentioned above, were not represented at this assignment meeting (1889), namely California, Ontario (Canada), and Michigan.
We held our meetings in a room which had space enough for one long table at which about twenty persons could find a place. The St. Louis institution then had the following five professors present: Guenther, Rud. Lange, F. Pieper, Geo. Stoeckhardt, and A. L. Graebner. Representing the seminary at Springfield was Fr. Craemer, who only two years later died at the age of 79. The Addison Teachers’ College was represented by Prof. Krauss, who had been in charge there for ten years. So it was that there were seventeen present, seven professors in addition to ten presidents. President of the Synod Schwann was not there, and also no other office holders in the synod at large. Those in attendance back then now all have gone on before, except the writer of these liners, and my interest in the history of our Synod and its arrangements is the basis on which I write these lines—as little meaning as they may otherwise have.
Later as president of the Texas District I had more frequent opportunities to attend meetings to assign candidates. The number of districts had become much larger, and accordingly also the number of those who requested an assignment. At that time one had printed reports in hand about congregations, the desired care, their conditions and needs, and printed lists of the candidates suited for assignment.
Different 45 years earlier. Then there was nothing printed to distribute. The individual presidents brought along their notes about what candidates for the preaching and teaching ministries they wanted for their district. One after the other was called on in turn and made known what he needed. And the professors then told what they had available as candidates and how they might be suited for this or that place—in short, the candidates were characterized, and afterward the presidents selected the people that they wanted In every single case it was voted on. How many preachers or teachers could be expected by each individual district was established in advance according to the count of the existing candidates, for the candidates were never enough. We had to be satisfied back then (1889) with about fifty percent of the desired preachers and about 75 percent of the desired teachers.
We had meetings not only on Tuesday and Wednesday, but yet another on Thursday, after we took part in an Ascension Day service in the morning. The service took place in the assembly hall of the seminary, because Holy Cross church at that very time was being rebuilt or for some other reason.
In order to affix here some additional observations and impressions, be advised that Prof. Guenther as the senior member of the St. Louis faculty (with the exception of Prof. R. Lange, who was older in years but had been called to St. Louis later) chaired the meeting; he also made some motions, but did not always see them through.
The ruling spirit, to the extent that one may talk about “ruling,” was at that time already Prof. F. Pieper, the president of the institution. He spoke often, but always rather quietly and modestly. It was especially impressive to me to note how he took care of the old, deserving Prof. Craemer, who caught a severe head cold, and how courteously and respectfully he treated him.
Blitz, president of the Western District, examined us with his sharp eyes as we individual participants took the floor, at least I found that he stared at me constantly.
Prof. Graebner wrote for Der Lutheraner [of which he was the editor] while he sat at the table with us, and yet took part in what was going on, at least in part. Some did not sit at the table, but stood aside. Others walked slowly back and forth, Lange, for example, who did not have much to say. Stoeckhardt too was rather silent.
I have already reported that Studt and I were lodged with Prof. Graebner. His study was on the second floor, as was our guest room. So we had opportunity to take a look into the sanctum of the learned professor. That was worth the look. I have never seen the like. Everything was tidy and orderly throughout, and yet it looked greatly confused at first glance. The floor lay full of books, but they were laid out in the form of a semicircle. The professor would sit or lie on the floor when he studied and consulted the folios and quarto volumes bound in pigskin. Like an oriental wise man, he gathered information from these sources. Also present were works about pharmacy and jurisprudence. On the walls stood shelves with books, as is usual with scholars.
In our room we saw (Studt and I) a printing device. Our room was otherwise open, giving access to the older boys of the house, who then must have been about 13 and 11. This was no child’s plaything, but the kind of outfit with which regular printed copy could be made, even if only in small quantities. So Graebner was placing in the hands of his children a means to reach their vocation.
Visit to Prof. Stoeckhardt
He had invited President Fr. Sievers and me, and we went. He certainly took note of our arrival and greeted us and invited us to be seated, but he found himself right in the middle of a conversation with Prof. Krauss, and both were in a very enthusiastic discussion about a theological problem or an exegetical hard nut—in short, Sievers and I, who sat somewhat to the side, henceforth remained entirely unnoticed. We, Sievers and I, turned our gaze to the considerable library, and Sievers, who himself was fairly well acquainted with the old theological works, used the time to give me all kinds of instruction and information about Calov’s Biblia Illustrata [an immense whole-Bible commentary from the 1670’s], which was there, and other books. About a half-hour elapsed in this way. Krause and Stoeckhardt had not yet finished their discussion, and so we, Sievers and I, finally got up and took our leave, that is, we said goodbye. After all, we had been with our dear, esteemed Prof. Stoeckhardt.