November 8, 1934 – Memories of Earlier Conferences

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, em., and translated by Ray Martens, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on 8 November 1934.

For a change, allow several more humorous episodes (happenings) to follow here.

Conference days certainly are days filled with work, and those in attendance extend themselves seriously to gain value and blessing from their time together. But, in the midst of that, there are also free hours when they rest from their work, entertain themselves with conversation, tell each other about their experiences, and seek advice for different situations that have presented themselves. For the most part, the talk is of a happier and more humorous variety, just as it should be in accord with the word, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

It has already been said, “Nowhere are there happier assemblies than those among brothers who gather at a conference or convention with their brothers in unity.” Altogether naturally than, not missing are also harmless jokes and teasing, for, as the saying goes, “You tease those you love.” If sometimes a more pointed joke occurs, you do not take that badly, but allow love, which knows how to put the best construction on everything, prevail.

Let me report such a joke which has remained in my memory and in that of many others. It comes from a conference in Perry (now Riesel) with Rev. Wunderlich in August of 1895. Both Rev. Gans and Rev. Schaaf [the name Gans means “goose, and the name Schaaf sounds like the word Schaff, the German for sheep] had their lodging with a member of the congregation who allowed them daily to drive to the church where the conference gathered in a small cart harnessed to a small donkey. So now on a beautiful day when the vehicle turned toward the gate and someone saw the donkey with the brothers Gans and Schaaf behind it in the cart, the idea struck him and he said, “Look at that, a goose, a sheep, and a donkey, the three representatives of intelligence [actually, lack of it].” The word quickly got around, and there was general laughter.

Brother Gans understood a joke and laughed along, but it was said that Schaaf at first was unpleasantly affected by the joke and asked who told it and wanted to call him to account, but he did allow himself to calm down again.

Some Pastors Were Surprised While Playing Dominoes

The pastors at a conference entertain themselves during free time not only with conversation, as stated, but they also play together in a number of ways. The younger ones—and some stay young—play some baseball, which they enjoyed playing so much as college students, or at least they use the ball and exercise by playing catch, sometimes also using a bat. Others walk or ride some distance into the woods or into some other interesting area nearby. Still others sit in the parsonage and smoke, and, if they get tired of talking, they say, “Let’s play a little game, maybe dominoes.” That is what happened on a Sunday afternoon at this conference. After a long conversation, we came upon the idea to try dominoes, and the “rocks” were soon in our hands, for the pastor had children, and everyone knows how happy they are to play dominoes or checkers or the like. The fathers themselves find few opportunities to play along, as I know from experience.

Now there are people who are opposed to certain games, many even not only against playing cards, but also against dominoes. On this occasion, one such was a man who surprised us while playing. The pastor with whom were staying saw the man first as he was already quite near the house and about to enter. In the next moment, he came in and saw us playing and said to us very sternly, “Gentlemen, I regret very much that I find you, worthy gentlemen that you are, in this way. You are sitting there and playing dominoes, and, on top of that, on a Sunday.”

That was an awkward situation for everyone involved. We were aware of no wrongdoing on our part, but, if I may say so, amazed that he had taken such offense and made it necessary for us to justify our pastime.

Then we received some entirely unexpected help, and, indeed, of the best kind. Our dear Rev. Kaspar, who was sitting on the side and, therefore, not involved at all, and so in position to make a judgment and speak in an unbiased way, stepped into the situation, opened his mouth bravely for us and said to the man who had surprised us something like the following: “Dear sir, you have exercised bad judgement, in the first place, in that you immediately began to cast blame and to reproach. Besides, playing dominoes certainly is also something entirely without fault, and you can quote from nowhere in God’s Word a place in which this or anything similar is forbidden. On the contrary, God’s Word says, ’Everything is yours; I have made it all,” and “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.’ Just as one can eat or drink to the glory of God, so also can one play to the glory of God. Only the misuse is forbidden, if one wants to kill [and so waste] time with playing, as many perhaps express themselves, or if playing is engaged in passionately [incessantly?], or even for money. Here with these men obviously it is only a matter of wishing to amuse themselves a little by playing.”

Probably our dear Kaspar argued better and more emphatically than I am here able to reproduce. The situation was put to rest, and the man withdrew with some words of apology and conciliation. Whether he was convinced by the speech I do not know, yet, he had been offered something on which to reflect.

Hufsmith, Texas