This article by G Birkmann and translated by Ray Martens first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on 24 October 1935.
Visitations in Texas from 1863 to 1879
Recollections by G. Birkmann, Pastor Em.
[The article explains that the terms “visitation” and “Visitor,” are being used to describe an ecclesiastical role and function. In current practice, every circuit of the Missouri Synod (typically a group of six to ten congregations) has a properly elected Circuit Counselor, whose duties include, but are not limited to, a role something like that described here.]
Our Missouri Synod already at its founding in 1847 established the office of the Visitor. The Synod exercises control over its pastors and teachers and congregations through officials who are elected by the Synod, which means, as is well known, by the congregations of the Synod themselves. These Visitors are to visit the congregations and satisfy themselves that what is taught, lived, and practiced in them is in accord with God’s Word. They are to serve the pastor and the congregation in question with instruction and advice in difficult circumstances, with consolation in depressing circumstances, and encouragement, etc. This arrangement proved itself to be valuable and will continue to be agreeable and of worth to the congregations if carried out faithfully.
When our Synod was still small, the President himself, Friedrich Wyneken, visited one congregation after the other. Later, after the division into four districts, the District Presidents did the same, each in his area. But later these too could not do the job alone, and so individual Visitors were elected. We now have six Visitors in our Texas District.
In this article I am going to tell something about visitations which took place when we still belonged to the Western District. That was before 1882 (1855 to 1882). Obviously, my recollections do not reach that far back—I have been in Texas only 50 years—but I have what I report about earlier times from good sources, minutes and the like.
Teacher Leubner came to the school in Serbin (with Rev. Johann Kilian) in 1867. Kilian had formerly held school, but, because of all the work he had in that large congregation, he could not manage the school adequately. So it was that the congregation approached the teacher training school in Addison, Illinois, and asked for a teacher. Ernst Leubner, who at the time was about 21 years old, accepted the call. When he came to Serbin, he saw that a part of the congregation, even if relatively a small part, had separated themselves from the congregation. This group built a building and allowed themselves to be served by a pastor of the Texas Synod. The building is said to have been on Rabbs Creek, and the pastors of the Texas Synod who preached there were named Rudi and Jesse, in that order. It probably was in 1866 that this rift in the Serbin congregation arose. It was at Leubner’s time that the Visitor came to the only congregation we had in Texas at the time—Serbin.
Rev. Herman Fick Visits Serbin
He was pastor in Collinsville, Illinois, a gifted and able preacher who had published poems and a book about the martyrs. When he came to Texas he was also the editor of Abendschule [Night School], a publication appearing in St. Louis. Whether he chose the long way through New Orleans and Galveston [i.e., by ship] or came to Texas by mail coach I do not know. From Houston on he was able to use the train, which at that time (1868) went as far as Brenham. Mr. Karl Teinert met him in Brenham. They camped out one night, and Fick in his report knew to praise the Texas oak forest with stirring, poetic language. About the visitation he said nothing, and yet I suppose that his troubles were not altogether in vain.
Rev. Theodor Brohm Visits Texas in 1870
In this year, 1870, he came for the founding of St. Peter’s congregation in Serbin. Teacher Ernst Leubner went with this group as their teacher, and probably it happened through him that President Buenger of the Western District authorized the visit to Serbin to see to it that all of this was handled properly. Brohm was then . . . . . [one or more lines missing, presumably reporting the invitation for Brohm to come to Fedor] . . . . . to advise. The following came together for the formation of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church: Andreas Melde and Aug. Birnbaum (who at the time was surely still a minor), Andreas Pillack, August Polnick, Sr., Ernst Lehmann, Matth. Domann, Andr. Symank and sons Andreas and Peter, Gottlieb Schroeder, and, not to be forgotten, Geo Bobak, who gifted the land for the congregation. All of these signed the first constitution of the congregation, one that contained only a few paragraphs, to be sure, but one in which they subscribed to the Holy Scriptures as the only source of doctrine and practice and to the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church as the correct exposition of the Holy Scriptures, and the like.
It was of interest to me that Rev. Brohm told me at the seminary in St. Louis that he had been in Texas and even in precisely the congregation to which I was to go as newly called candidate. Brohm said that when you arrive there you will have entered deep, deep woods. That was still the impression he had of the place after six years.
But he did not tell me anything about the ride which he made over the almost twenty miles from Serbin to Fedor in the company of Teacher Leubner, who also made the trip. Picture this: two riders on Texas ponies, the older one in his middle sixties and one who doubtlessly had never ridden a horse before.
In the same year that Brohm visited in Serbin, Rev. Joh. Pallmer was called to the newly founded St. Peter’s. He was called because he knew Wendish, and so he preached for three years in Serbin in Wendish and German. With that, he also served the Fedor congregation, which then in 1871 received their own pastor, Rev. Joh. Proft. Palmer already in 1873, soon after the death of his wife, died of a high fever called “climate fever.” His successor was A. D. Greif (1874-75), then E. L. Geyer for 16 years, followed by Bernthal (until 1905) and then Pott (until 1912). In 1914 there followed the reuniting of St. Peter’s with the old St Paul’s.
Rev. Tirmenstein Visits in 1874
Tirmenstein was pastor of Zion in New Orleans. I believe that he also visited Serbin because the Synod at the time had two congregations there. It is certain that he convened a congregational meeting in Fedor because I have read this in the congregational minutes. Proft had attended the convention of the Synod in St. Louis in that year, the time at which the Fedor congregation was taken into the Synod, and then Visitor Tirmenstein was authorized to visit the congregation in order to give counsel in difficult circumstances.
Rev. J. Friedrich Koestering Visits in Texas
He came for the first time in January of 1878. First of all he headed to Serbin, St. Peter’s (Rev. Geyer) and St. Paul’s (Rev. Joh. Kilian). At the end of January, or perhaps at the beginning of February, he told me that he wished also to take a look around among us in Fedor.
I asked Mr. Peter Urban to get Rev. Koestering from Giddings on a certain day, and we rode there with Urban’s farm wagon and team of horses. In Giddings we came across not only Visitor Koestering, but also Rev. Paul Roesener, who had come to Giddings that day. I was happy to see him again, one with whom I had become well acquainted at the seminary and had not seen since then. I invited him to ride to Fedor with us and promised to bring him back to the train three days later.
So we went there on our wagon, Urban and Koesterling on the front seat and Roesener and I sitting on a board behind them. So it went for the twelve or thirteen miles of the journey. There were no bridges, and so we simply drove down to the creek and then back up. If water was there at the time, the animals were allowed to quench their thirst.
Koesterling and Urban had a lot to talk about, and the day was pleasant and agreeable. This was the first opportunity I had to learn to know Koesterling. He had been pastor in Altenburg, Mo., for more than twenty years and was known in the Synod as an enthusiastic preacher and one who often already had written articles for Der Lutheraner, biographies of famous Lutheran theologians, especially from the time of the Reformation. These biographies later appeared in four volumes under the title: Ehrendenkmal Treuer Zeugen, usw. Koesterling was a capable speaker, one who spoke very loudly, even though, as was said, he had only half of his lungs, because in earlier years he had much trouble with his chest and still, when he was with me, took homeopathic medicine, but only after he had smoked his couple of pipe-fulls at night, for, as he said, if he took the pills beforehand they would have no effect.
On the next day, the visitation took place. My people all turned up because such a thing as this was very interesting to them. There was . . . . . rode about a thousand miles . . . . . to visit, and they hoped . . . . . to profit from it. [Omissions in the text, but the thought is clear.]
At the visitation, Koesterling not only posed questions, but he also led the discussion about circumstances that had to do with the subject far and wide in fascinating ways. He spoke well prepared about Law and Gospel—each sentence like a sword—and he talked about the necessity of Christian education for our children, about faithfulness in visiting the sick and troubled, about congregational meetings, about reading church periodicals, and more.
I was enchanted and deeply moved by all these splendid presentations, as were also my parishioners. It was a day that remained in our memory for a long time. When we read the notice which came to us in the paper about thirty years later that this noble man, Koesterling, was taken by way of such a tragic ending, we mourned with the mourners. That is to say, as he became frail at an advanced age, Koesterling was with a married daughter in retirement in St. Louis. One evening he went for a walk, lost his way, and in the dark fell into a hollow, a quarry, and was found dead.
I wanted, further, to report briefly on a visitation which Koesterling conducted in 1879, that is one year later than the one written about earlier. In 1879, he had weighty negotiations especially in Houston, because there a number of families had separated themselves from the congregation of Rev. Kaspar Braun and had organized themselves under the name Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and had, for a time, secured the services of Rev. Paul Roesener. Koesterling probably came back to us already in 1979 especially because of this state of affairs. Subsequently, he reported the situation in this Houston congregation in Der Lutheraner.
Then he also visited Swiss Alp, along with our pastors’ conference in Rose Hill, where Rev. Roesener was pastor. This took place in April or May of 1879. Koesterling has much to present to us and preached at the conference worship service. He stayed up the greater part of the night to write his sermon, which was quite impressive. One noon he ate with a member of the congregation—his name was Krug—descendants of this man still live in Rose Hill. He had endured a lot, but had persevered and had preserved his happy disposition. He offered Rev. Koesterling a piece of land if he would move to Texas and settle here. Koesterling did not allow himself to be enticed, but was happy to talk about the man and his kindness, and about how alongside his earnest demeanor he had a humorous and cheerful spirit.
I wish to add here the note that I brought my dear friend Roesener, who visited with me during the time of Koesterling’s visitation, back to Giddings and report what happened to me that same day. I had a riding horse of my own but had to see to getting a second one for Roesener, and found one. Roesener then traveled on from Giddings, and I made my way toward home. But it rained hard the whole afternoon, and, in addition to the horse under me, I was leading a second one by the reins. It was starting to get dark as I neared the West Yegua, perhaps a half mile from it. A Mr. August Lehmann brought me in and said that I should stay with him overnight. I considered this but wanted to finish the trip and hoped to be able to cross the creek. But the creek was entirely full, and so I rode back to the Andreas Pillack place, hoping to be able to stay there. I called, and the dogs answered; I cried out, and the dogs made still more noise. No one opened the door, and I had to spend the night outdoors, a long winter’s night in the wet woods. I succeeded in lighting a fire, took the saddles off the animals and tied them tightly to a tree, and I took the saddle blankets and saddle bags and lay down on them. Yet, it was not a good bed, and most of the night I was on my feet near my very restless horses, because, like me, they were hungry and chilly. Everything comes to an end, and, this time too, another morning broke. Then I could ride through the Yegua, even though the water was still fairly deep. Why did I find no open door at the Pillacks? Upon my asking, that question was answered. Mr. Pillack was not at home, and, as his wife heard the vehement barking of the dogs, my own voice was drowned out completely. Mrs. Pillack had not heard me.
Another time I spent the night outdoors, camping out, as is said, but if I tell about that other one you would not feel sorry for me and admire me, for you have endured much more yourselves.