October 5, 1939 – From the First Years of the Congregation in Fedor, Texas, 1870-1875

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, Pastor Emeritus, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on October 5, 1939. It is translated from German by Ray Martens.

            Sixty-three years ago on October 1, I was ordained and installed in the named congregation. Yet, I do not wish to report about this nor about the early years of my ministry, but about the ecclesiastical care of the congregation in its earliest years, 1870 to 1875. It was founded already in March of 1870 by the Visitator [an office of the church in many respects like that of a current circuit counselor, except that the man served the whole district] of the Western District of the Missouri Synod at the time, the Rev. Theo. Brohm of St. Louis, who had come from up north to visit the congregation of the Rev. Johann Kilian in Serbin. There he was asked to come to West Yegua because the people there wanted to put together a little congregation. Before that, they had driven to Serbin for services, although the distance was too great for them to drive there often. Rev, Brohm then rode to West Yegua in the company of Teacher Leubner and helped the families gathered there with the organization of their congregation.

            At first, then, Rev. Palmer, who had been called to St. Peter’s [of Serbin] shortly before, preached and conducted other ministerial functions in Fedor. Palmer had been called to St. Peter because he knew Wendish, and at first he ministered there in Wendish and German. Whether Palmer then preached in private homes in Fedor at first or whether he did not start until the building which the congregation wished to build was finished, I do not know. It is probable that it was built already in 1870 so that the people had a place to gather. Palmer then served Fedor until the installation of the Rev. J. A. Proft in 1871. About him I wish to report something more. Here in Giddings father Birke, a member of Immanuel who got to be more than ninety years old, died on September 21. This Mr. Birke told me years ago that, as a young fellow, he had worked with Proft in the same cabinet making shop in Bautzen, Saxony. Proft was only about three years older than Birke. So Proft originally was in a secular calling, but then made his way to Hermannsburg, Hannover, where Theo. Harms conducted a school for missionaries. Proft wanted to be a missionary. Then he came to St. Louis to the practical seminary [the one which did not require the typical preparatory school background nor the study of the classical languages] of the Missouri Synod. From the winter of 1870 and on into 1871, he had already conducted school in Fedor, Texas, and taught the children of the congregation. Proft had a married sister [the motivation for his coming to Fedor] in the area, the wife of a man named Gruetzner, who then as a widow married a Mr. Wm. Wolf on Bluff Creek. Proft was ordained and installed as pastor by Rev. Pallmer in 1871.

            He remained in this ministry until 1875, when he resigned. Like all of us, he surely experienced both sorrow and joy. He was happily married to a daughter of a landowner from Hannover, Germany. He served the congregation in its hope-filled first years, being well and vigorous at first. In the beginning, he also preached in Wendish, or, at least, he had Wendish confessional services and celebrations of Holy Communion. Soon, however, he did not use Wendish in the services anymore because the Fedor church was becoming more largely German and because German was spoken in virtually every family [including those of the Wends]. Proft also conducted the church school, as did most of our pastors, and that in his residence, where a special room had been prepared for that, and where the church services also took place, not only on Sundays, but also on all the many other festivals and days of celebration, for all the days celebrated in Serbin were also observed in all the congregations where the Wends lived.

            To live in a house, and a simple on with limited room at that, like the parsonage in Fedor back then, where school and church were held, as said, that probably would seem to many of us today quite difficult and undesirable. But those were times of beginnings, and not only the pastors faced such hardships, but the people in the congregation at that time also had to manage by getting along with little. On top of that came the bad situation that much malaria and other disease broke out, caused mostly in these cases by bad drinking water and through the lack of necessary nourishment and care of the body. Especially the little children had to suffer much. There were notably many deaths in those years and for a long time thereafter.

             Rev. Proft also fell ill, as did his wife, and she died soon after she bore him a child, and the child died as well. Proft had these two bodies buried on a place which he bought on the right bank of the West Yegua, about three miles eastward from what had until then been his home, the parsonage, in which he had preached previously.

            He then built a two-storied home near the graves of his wife and child, one that is still standing and is occupied, although I do not know by whom. A conference of our pastors in Texas took place in this house in 1875. Just as the pastors were gathered, the great storm of 1875 struck and kept the brethren together for a number of days because they could not go home. All of them, about nine or ten, under one roof.

            In 1875, Proft resigned his ministry in Fedor because of illness, but did, later in that same year, gather into a new congregation the people that lived in the neighborhood where he had built his house and those eastward and southward on the San Antonio Prairie. Perhaps it was others who did the gathering and then called him to be pastor of Ebenezer congregation on the San Antonio Prairie, in the vicinity of the Kieschnick home. Ebenezer’s church was dedicated during the first [part of 1876, and Proft served there until 1877, when he moved to Sherman, Texas. Ebenezer then received Jakob Kaspar as their pastor and clergyman [Seelsorger].

            The church in Fedor was built in 1875, with John Biar of Serbin as the building supervisor. The church was then enlarged in 1889 into the shape that it still has fifty years later.