St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s Lutheran Churches, Serbin, Texas, 1855-1905

By Arthur C. Repp, San Antonio, Texas. Article originally published by Concordia Historical Institute Quaterly, Vol. XVI, No. 1, April, 1943

(Part Three, continued from the January, 1943, issue)

During this time the neighboring St. Peter’s Church of the Texas Synod was also having difficulties in obtaining a pastor. A brief story of St. Peter’s during these years is here inserted to lead up to these events.

Soon after St. Peter’s had been accepted into the membership of the Texas Synod in 1860, Rev, J. George Lieb of Round Top became pastor. There were at this time fifteen voting members and forty-five communicants.84 Rev, Lieb also taught school for fifteen children.85 There was evidently little or no growth for the next years. Newcomers into the neighborhood were attracted to the larger church even though German was supplementary there and St. Peter’s was entirely German. Rev. Lieb left Serbin at the end of April, 1864, for a charge in Austin. Now C. Chr. Rudi came to Serbin from Buckhornpoint, though not yet an ordained minister, but merely a catechist.

From May 1 to 4, 1866, the Texas Synod met in St. Peter’s, and ten pastors and two lay delegates attended.86 It was the first synodical meeting of any kind in this vicinity. Not for many years would the Wendish church be able to care for a synodical meeting, because its affiliated congregations were too widely scattered, even to beyond the State of Missouri.

There were natural difficulties between the two congregations, and Kilian frequently complains.87 St. Peter’s was quite small but nonetheless a constant irritation to the mother church. In 1865 Rudi reported seven voting members and forty-five communicants, showing that there had been no growth during the war period.88 Perhaps because there was so little prospect for growth, two preaching stations were added to the charge of Rudi in 1866. He was also advanced from catechist to a licensed candidate.89 However, toward the end of that year Rudi accepted a call to East Navidad to the Philadelphia church,90 Since the Texas Synod could not supply a pastor for St. Peter’s the situation appeared ripe for a union with the mother church.

This was the condition when Lehnigk began teaching school. On January 15, 1867, a special deputation came from St. Peter’s Congregation requesting reunion to the mother church. This resolution had been adopted in their meeting of January 13. The request was most welcome to both the German and the Wendish members of Kilian’s church, and immediate steps were taken to make the reconciliation complete. Kilian was accorded the right to give Communion to the members of St. Peter’s the following Sunday, and they were to be considered guests until such time that the congregation might be able to make a definite proposal. Permission was given for an occasional service in St. Peter’s Church, but all church rites were to be performed in the mother church lest a separate congregation be maintained.91

Since officially St. Peter’s was still a member of the Texas Synod, a letter of resignation was sent to President Roehm February 3, 1867. The letter stated that the congregation had become convinced that the Texas Synod was not in spirit an Evangelical Lutheran Synod. As proof they stated that it was a branch of the General Synod, which was unionistic in doctrine and practice, and for this reason St. Peter’s officially withdrew from synodical membership.92 The reasons were certainly valid, but the same reasons had been true when St. Peter’s joined the Texas Synod; hence had they been careful and conscientious in the first place, they never would have become affiliated with this group. Personal considerations, here as often, were a decisive factor for joining the synod and now for leaving it. The request to withdraw was granted by the Texas Synod at a meeting in May, 1867, at Meyersville.93

Everything seemed to point to an early union, but Rev. Lehnigk now opposed it on the ground that Kilian was too lenient. Not satisfied with making trouble in Serbin, he appeared personally at the synodical convention of the Missouri Synod at Chicago.94 As a tribute to the character and tolerance of Kilian it should be mentioned that up to this time, even though Lehnigk was stirring up trouble, the pastor permitted him to live in the parsonage. The work was quite a burden to Mrs. Kilian, and her health was in danger of breaking.95 Kilian therefore urged Walther to come to Texas for an official visitation to help him straighten out the difficulties. He urged him to come down in March and spend a few weeks discussing theological questions and problems. Kilian offered to pay all expenses, having a few hundred dollars in gold on hand. If this was not possible, Kilian offered to meet him in St. Louis after Easter.96 Before events could shape themselves, Lehnigk had gone to Chicago. As a result an official visitation was made in Serbin. Instead of Dr. Walther, the Rev. C. Fick of Collinsville, Ill., the official Visitor of this circuit, came to help in a reconciliation with St. Peter’s and also to straighten out the matter with Rev. Lehnigk. Rev. Fick was quite successful, so that in a meeting of November 17, 1867, the property of St. Peter’s was formally given over to Kilian’s church.97 Lehnigk never did return from Chicago to meet with the Visitor, and so Kilian was cleared of all charges.98 In a letter dated from Frohna, Mo., September 18, 1867, Lehnigk apologized to the congregation and to Kilian all his acts. He also stated his regrets that St. Peter’s Congregation had not yet been united and felt it to be a sign that they were not sincere and filled with crass chiliasm.99 The affiliation was effected, and in the meeting of October 6 Lehnigk’s apology was accepted.100

An interlude to this strife might be a relief. There were besides Germans and Wends also a number of Americans in the neighborhood. Evidently these did not know the proper decorum in a house of worship or deemed the worship of these colonists as something ludicrous, not being able to understand their language. At any rate Kilian suggested the following rules to be posted in the two stores of Serbin and in the church:

  1. It is forbidden that men should wear their hats during the worship.
  2. It is not permitted for anyone to smoke a pipe or chew tobacco in the church.
  3. It is forbidden that anyone should carry six-shooters or any other weapon into the church.
  4. It is not permitted that anyone leave the church during the worship.
  5. It is not permitted in coming in or leaving the church to walk noisily or to make a disturbance [Gepolter].
  6. It is not permitted that anyone speak aloud in the church or near the church during the services.
  7. It is not permitted that anyone should laugh in the church.
  8. It is not permitted to laugh as though in sport in front of the windows or the church doors.
  9. It is not permitted to comb or arrange the hair during the worship.
  10. It is also forbidden to enter into the parsonage without permission, while the pastor is in the church.101

There is much contained in these ten rules which reflect the social conditions and the culture of the American people in that vicinity. Small wonder that a .university man of the type of Kilian found it extremely difficult to think well of the future should his children have to grow up in this frontier country. Though the building of the new church had been postponed, a contract for its erection was signed January 24, 1867.102 By March 5 the cornerstone was laid.103 Such progress seemed to indicate that a peaceful future might be expected. When in the beginning of August, 1867, the Germans and the Wends resolved to hold joint meetings under one president for both groups,104 there seemed even greater assurance for such harmony.

But the racial difference between the Germans and the Wends persisted. The proud German spirit would not take a supplementary position to the Wends; and anyone knowing the Wends will realize the difficulty in trying to change their opinions. Thus Kilian soon found himself under fire. The group that had followed Lehnigk was enraged that he had not come back and was now more determined than ever to get Kilian out of the school. Some even remarked that in Lehnigk’s time they found out what it meant to have a good school; therefore they decided that Kilian was not capable.105 It is easy to understand that those who would, could find fault with the teaching of Kilian, if it is remembered that he had a growing congregation with many demands and in addition was still making his trips to New Ulm and Industry, occasionally even exploring other places. Besides, his efforts were not always appreciated. During the year 1866 he had reminded the congregation that though school might be discontinued during the hot months and when the children were needed with the crops, he did expect the parents to send them when there was school106 Kilian welcomed relief from the school and certainly was in accord with the congregation. He had applied to the normal school at Addison, Ill., for a well-trained man.107 Those were the days when calls were coming from all over the country, but the supply was very deficient. It is not surprising therefore that the congregation was informed that no such man was available. With this, the congregation immediately applied for a teacher for 1868, Kilian agreeing to teach another year. He requested that rules and regulations be drawn up to govern the school situation.108

Instead of making the best of the situation, the factionalism against Kilian began to create greater unrest. Finally the furor became so great that it was necessary to bring it to the attention of the congregation for definite action, and in a meeting of December 26, 1867, Kilian presented his case. He told them that he certainly was in hearty agreement with calling a teacher; he did not claim to be a teacher. He did not even have regular desks for the children so that they could write on paper. In order to improve the situation, were they not now building a new church so that the older building could be converted into a good school? The trouble being stirred against him by the congregation he regarded as an attack upon his honor. He also reminded them that he had never had a special call to teach, but that he had done it of his own accord for these ten years. Certainly there was little money in it for him. Only thirty-three and one-third cents per month per child. He was ready to give up teaching and grateful to all who had helped him in the past. It was now up to the congregation to supply the teacher, though he reserved the right to teach all the religion. Personally he would conduct a private school for his family and for anyone who would contract with him; and he asked the congregation if it would allow him the use of the church building for that purpose when the congregational school was not using it.109

The explanation to the congregation was well stated, and though certain remarks seemed harsh, it is easy to sympathize with this pioneer and his turbulent congregation if the cross-current of factionalism is borne in mind. His opponents were disarmed, for they could get no one to teach. The congregation gave him a vote of confidence and temporarily the disturbance was quelled.110

As already stated, the congregation had written for a teacher in 1868. Since the details of the call came into question later, we might well consider what was expected of the new teacher. He was to teach not only in German but also in English; and he was to take over the duties of organist and cantor. As cantor he would have the duty of leading the congregational singing, and as it was a Wendish congregation, he was expected to learn the Wendish hymns and versicles. The children’s religious instructions were to be in Wendish, but a German teacher could not be expected to do this; so it would devolve upon the pastor. The teacher would receive one hundred dollars in specie per annum, as well as lodging.111

Today it might seem that the duties were many and the salary meager, but they conformed to the standard that then prevailed. The teacher would be expected to do a little farming on the side, and no doubt he received some produce from the congregation, as was customary. Since no Wendish teacher was available, it was natural that a difficulty would be in store for any teacher working in a community already stirred up by language factionalism. Before accepting the charge, the new teacher was apprised of the dangers and advised not to take part in the factions.112 On August 30, 1868, Ernst Leubner, who had accepted the call, was installed in the church, and the school was formally committed to his care.113

The arrangement seemed satisfactory. During the first year an additional influx of Germans came into the neighborhood, applying for membership.114 Though the congregation was growing steadily, the added German element set the stage for a more serious strife. Though the call stipulated that Leubner was to be organist, there was some question about it when he actually began his duties because he was not acquainted with the versicles and the liturgy in the Wendish. Therefore in the meeting of November 7, 1868, it was decided by a vote of fifty to forty-two that he be actually made organist.115 It was the German element that won, because they were united, while the Wends were becoming indifferent.116 Kilian wisely abstained from taking sides.117

Up to this time Carl Teinert had been both organist and cantor. He had held this office in Germany and naturally continued in Texas. Now there was a regularly called man for this post. Custom and language favored Teinert, the Wend, but the call favored Leubner, the German. As a compromise Kilian suggested that Teinert act as cantor until Leubner could fulfill his duties in the Wendish to the satisfaction of all. Leubner had been called as organist and cantor, but since he was installed only as organist, a puerile technicality arose.118 As a matter of diplomacy young Leubner should have conceded and permitted the aged and more capable Teinert the honor. However, the German in Leubner was too strong, and, backed by the German faction, he refused to compromise. Kilian later remarked that from the very outset Leubner seemed intent on getting rid of the Wendish and substituting German in the congregation.119 In addition there was a clash in personalities as well as a question as to who should rule, Teinert or Leubner.120

The school regulations, which had been voted upon some time back, were finally drawn up and accepted by the congregation July 11, 1869.121 They stipulated that the Wendish children were to learn German. However, until such time when they would be able to understand German, the pastor was to instruct them twice a week in Wendish. The school inspection was left to the pastor and a board of three. The week before Palm Sunday was set aside for public examination, at which time the congregation was invited to be present. Graduation and confirmation were to be at the same time. No child younger than fourteen at Michaelmas (September 29) was to be confirmed. From Christmas to Epiphany, from Palm Sunday to Easter, Pentecost week, and the month of August were vacation times. Children who had attained the age of eight were expected to attend school, but it was advisable to have them attend earlier. The tuition was six dollars per year in specie for each child, and since the school and church were one, the church treasury was also to be the school treasury.122

The congregation evidently realized that Wendish soon would be a supplementary language and German would supplant it. It was thought that the change would be gradual, but the German element was too restive, and soon the storm broke out in full. The crux of the matter appeared to be the cantorship and the position of organist between Teinert and Leubner. Actually, of course, the matter was more deep-seated. Teinert, because his position was uncertain, had stepped back, and Leubner played at all the services. This was done even before Leubner had been formally appointed organist in the meeting of June 1, because it had been included in his call. Kilian agreed to this without bringing it to the congregation. This was not necessary, but had he presented it to the congregation, he would not have antagonized Teinert, who was fretting at his lost prestige. While Leubner played the organ, a layman was cantor. Later when Leubner was stricken with sickness, Teinert was asked to play, but Leubner objected. This stubbornness on the part of Leubner led to further difficulties and hard words. The congregation took sides, the Germans against the Wends. So great was the disagreement that in the meeting of August 8, 1869, no delegate to Synod could be chosen.123

Besides the conflict for leadership there were two deep-seated causes for the strife. Both have already been mentioned: one was the struggle between pure Lutheranism and pietism; the other a struggle between Germanism and Wendism. The German party was not made up entirely of pure Germans, but strangely enough chiefly of Wends who wanted to be Germans. It was not merely a language question, therefore, but also a question of nationalism. German had been introduced into the congregational meetings in 1866, and when the two groups united in 1867, the Germans had the majority. The debates were mostly in German, and since many of the older Wends could not understand the language, they remained silent. Though Kilian translated the business for this group, the Germans distinctly dominated. Now, with Leubner insisting on the cantorship, the Wends felt that their cause was lost.124 Concerning the struggle between pietism and Lutheranism enough has already been said above.125

Matters became so serious that Kilian wondered whether a division would not be for the best. He therefore wrote to President Buenger to find out whether a German pastor could be supplied. It would have to be a separate congregation, because he knew that the German spirit was too proud to be satisfied with a simple filial congregation.126

Instead of realizing the trouble his uncompromising attitude was bringing on the pastor and the congregation, Leubner continued to force the German upon the people. He even insisted that the Wends who knew no German at all must learn it. The controversy grew so serious that it was again taken to the congregation, Leubner finally receiving permission to teach German only when the parents had given their consent.127

Although not directly involved in the affair, Kilian resigned from office in the meeting of May 22, 1870. In this way he felt the controversy might adjust itself to the ultimate welfare of the entire congregation. An actual split occurred, and those having confidence in Kilian called him to be their pastor on June 12, and he accepted.128 Not to be outmaneuvered, Leubner, as teacher, claimed the school for his faction, denying Kilian the use thereof. As a result Kilian’s party found itself without a schoo1.129 However, in the meeting of September 11, 1870, the congregation forbade Leubner to teach in the school of the mother church. Kilian was asked to take over the school, and he began to teach that week.130

While the controversy was still raging, Visitor Theodore Brohm came down as a representative of the Missouri Synod, hoping to straighten out the difficulties. Just when he came the records do not show, although he was at Fedor, Texas, with Leubner March 10, 1870, when the congregation was organized there. Apparently he was not entirely sympathetic with Kilian, for three years later, in a letter to President Buenger, Kilian still expressed resentment at what he considered an interference. In perhaps too optimistic a way, in view of the heat of the argument, Kilian wrote that if Brohm had not come, there might have been a reconciliation. In any case, he could have gotten a Texas Synod man, given him instructions, and perhaps placed him there as a filial pastor131 This certainly was not consistent with what Kilian had asked Buenger in a letter already quoted, asking whether a German pastor could be sent to establish a separate congregation132 In fact, Kilian realized that a part of the opposing faction must go, since it was also a matter of doctrine.133 According to Kilian, Brohm remarked that only one of the parties could be a member of Synod, the other to be regarded as faction, “Rotte.” Since Synod eventually recognized the new group, Kilian felt that his part was now a faction in the eyes of the Synod134. This created resentment against Synod, especially when two or more congregations were organized in the vicinity during the next few years.

While Kilian had accepted the call of the Wend group, the other faction had also been busy. They sent a call to Rev. John Pallmer, pastor in the outskirts of St. Louis (Baden). Pallmer was a Wend, perhaps one of the few in the country, and thus seemed well suited for the peculiar situation. The call was accepted in August, 1870, but some months elapsed before he arrived. With this act the Kilian group resolved that henceforth those who had called another pastor could not use the old church for any divine services.135

(To be continued)

  1. Minutes of the Texas Synod, 1861. Seguin archives.
  2. Minutes of the Texas Synod, April 9, 10, 1862, Seguin archives.
  3. Minutes of the Texas Synod, 1866. Seguin archives.
  4. Draft of letter by Kilian to Kirchenrath, Wildenhahn, Bautzen, Dec. 22, 1865. A. M. C.
  5. Report found in Minutes of the Texas Synod, Aug. 25, 1865. Seguin archives.
  6. Minutes of the Texas Synod, May, 1866. Seguin archives.
  7. Minutes of the Texas Synod, May, 1867, Seguin archives.
  8. Private minutes kept by Kilian of the special meeting of Jan. 20, 1867. A. M. C.
  9. A. M. C.
  10. Minutes of the Texas Synod of 1867. Seguin archives.
  11. Draft of letter by Kilian to Albert Ebert, Saxony, March 11, 1868. A. M. C.
  12. Draft of letter by Kilian to Walther, Jan. 13, 1867. A. M. C.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Serbin minutes. Serbin archives.
  15. On Rev. Fick’s return, Gerhard Kilian went along to begin his studies at the normal school at Addison, Ill.
  16. A. M. C.
  17. Serbin minutes.
  18. Suggested to the congregation in its meeting of April 8, 1866. A. M. C. Some of the flavor is lost in the translation, but the first one is offered as it is found in the original: “1. Es ist keinen Mann erlaubt, during the worship, den Hut auf dem Kopfe zu haben.”
  19. A. M. C.
  20. Dedication sermon by Kilian of Dec. 3, 1871. Serbin archives.
  21. Serbin minutes.
  22. Kilian’s explanation to the congregation delivered Jan. 10, 1870. A. M. C.
  23. Private minutes of Kilian for Oct. 21, 1866. A. M. C.
  24. Draft of letter by Kilian to Professor Lindemann, Feb. 28, 1867. A. M. C.
  25. Serbin minutes, June 16, 1867
  26. “Erklaerung Vorgetragen” by Kilian in the meeting of December 26, 1867. A. M. C.
  27. Serbin minutes, Dec. 26, 1867.
  28. Copy of the call requirements. A. M, C.
  29. Letter of Buenger to Kilian, July 17, 1868. A. M. C.
  30. “Rede des Pastor Kilian. ” Serbin archives.
  31. Serbin minutes, Nov. 7, 1868.
  32. Serbin minutes.
  33. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Nov. 9, 1869. A. M. C.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Overtures by Kilian to the congregation, June 1, 1869. A. M. C.
  36. In the “Verzeichniss der von Pastor Kilian,” etc., the following is written: “A new schoolteacher has arrived, who immediately tried to make the school a German school. The colony, however, is Wendisch. 1868.”
  37. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Nov. 9, 1869. A. M. C.
  38. Original in the Serbin archives.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Aug. 13, 1869. A. M. C.
  41. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Nov. 2, 1869. A. M. C.
  42. Supra, p. 11 f.
  43. Draft of letter, Dec. 1, 1869. A. M. C.
  44. Serbin minutes, Feb. 6, 1870.
  45. Announcements of Kilian, Aug. 28, 1870. A. M. C.
  46. Announcements of Kilian, Sept. 3, 1870. A. M. C.
  47. Serbin minutes.
  48. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Aug. 11, 1873. A.M.C.
  49. Supra, p. 50.
  50. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Aug. 11, 1873. A.M.C.
  51. Ibid.
  52. Serbin minutes, Sept. 11, 1870.