September 22, 1938 – Something About a Congregation’s Constitution and Meetings

This article by G. Birkmann, pastor emeritus, first appeared in German in Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on September 22, 1938. It was translated by Ray Martens.

When I came to Fedor, Texas, and was ordained and installed as pastor there sixty-two years ago, a number of documents and books which belonged to the congregation and which Rev. J. A. Proft, the first pastor there, had left behind were brought to me: a book of minutes which reported the earlier congregational meetings, a church record, as it is called, in which births, marriages, etc. were listed, and then a constitution in two parts, the first contained in a little booklet which dated back to when the congregation was founded. Rev. Brohm from St. Louis came to Serbin as Visitator in the fall of 1870, and people from Fedor prevailed upon him there to come to Fedor to help them and others there who wanted to form a congregation with his advice and effort. Brohm did this, and the result was that the congregation’s first constitution came into being and was signed by about ten persons.

I remember reading the following names under the document, though probably more than these were there: G. Bobeck, Andr. Melde, Andr. Pillack, August Polnick, M. Domann, Andr. Symmank, Gottlieb Schroeter, Ernst Lehmann, and August Birnbaum (who, admittedly, was not yet an adult).

The congregation at that time named itself, “Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on the West Yegua, Burleson County.” (There was no Lee County back then.)

This first constitution of the congregation had only two articles. In the first article, the founders of the congregation bound themselves to the Holy Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God, from which alone all godly truths are to be obtained, and in accord with which all matters of faith and life are to be regulated and judged.

The second article dealt with the stipulations for membership in a Christian congregation: whoever wishes to be a member must first be baptized, know and accept Christian doctrine as it is expressed in Luther’s Small Catechism, in the Augsburg Confession, and in the other confessional writings of our Lutheran church. Furthermore, he obligated himself to engage in Christian conduct and to hold to his confirmation vows in general.

It was wisely managed by Rev. Brohm that at that time he did not present more articles for the subscription of the people. But he did go on to instruct them about how they should proceed in the calling of a pastor, that, for example, they were not allowed to bind him to a fixed term, as one perhaps might set a certain time for a laborer or an employee in a worldly setting.

Rev. Proft then came to Fedor in the next year, and the congregation, which had grown in membership, wished for an expanded constitution with more articles. Ref. Proft placed before them a number which he had taken from other sources and which were excellent, for the most part. This new constitution then was adopted and subscribed to anew, this time perhaps by nearly thirty who signed it. But I saw that my congregation in Fedor was called a “joint congregation” in this constitution, from which I recognized that our proposed constitution was a copy of the one belonging the congregation in St. Louis, for at that place there certainly was a joint congregation under Walther’s leadership, and this joint congregation consisted of four congregations, each with its own pastor and each taking care of its own unique affairs, but every month all four congregations gathered as a joint congregation under their Pastor Walther. I am saying simply that there were excellent articles in the St. Louis set of regulations, and that these were copied and accepted by many congregations, also in Texas, even though with necessary changes to fit local needs. Excellent, for example, is the article which covers the congregation’s school, in which parents promise to send their children to the Christian school. Beyond that, it is good that it is said that we shall contribute generously to the support of the pastor and teacher and to the other expenditures of our congregation as well, and also help to build the kingdom of Christ with our means. We do not intend to miss a meeting of the congregation unless necessary and do wish to promote the welfare of the congregation.

Many things were found in our Fedor constitution, to be sure, which no longer apply today and which would no longer find approval even in Fedor, for example that all preaching in the church must be in German, and only in exceptional cases may preaching be in English, but not by the local pastor, only by a guest speaker and only with the express permission of the congregation. That came from the old St. Louis constitution, but I believe this article was removed there long ago.

One article said that meetings of the congregation should be held monthly. We did this in Fedor too in the early years of my time there. I cannot say that such monthly meetings were too frequent to suit me. Back then, of course, I had to conduct school and Christenlehre [catechetical instruction as a part of the Sunday service] in addition to preaching every Sunday, and, yet, I enjoyed seeing my members often gathered before me and talking with them about matters of the congregation and about affairs of the Synod. After all, that gave me opportunity to acquaint the congregation with the Synod and its activities. More than a few had come into our country only recently and knew nothing about the administration of a congregation or about synodical matters. Many of them knew barely anything about sound doctrine and preaching of the Word of God. People told me a number of times that they had not such instruction previously.

But I do wish to confess that the motion of a member that we meet every other month instead of every month seemed entirely correct to me, for what we had to discuss and to decide in our little congregation back then could well be dealt with, even if we did not meet so often. Because this article belonged to those subject to amendment, we amended our constitution in this regard.

In order to provide a copy of our constitution for every household, we had it printed and distributed to the members, and everyone who wished to be taken in received a copy. Yet, it is not enough merely to print and distribute the constitution, for, because the little booklet is easily misplaced or forgotten in some other way, the articles should be read from time to time in a meeting. This can provide opportunity for important and necessary discussions at the same time. On such occasions, one speaks about how well grounded the provisions found in the constitution are, and that one is guided by them, not chiefly because they are in the constitution, but because the Word of God tells us, for example, that we should raise our children in a Christian manner and that we must prove to be worthy stewards, and the like.