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. 2, July, 1943

(Part Four, continued from the April, 1943, issue)

Now came the struggle for possession of the church and its property. An effort had been made to take the school. In fact, the minority actually wanted to keep the entire property, and for a time it seemed that there would be a court battle; however the lawyers of the two factions settled out of court.136 The German element being the minority, it was resolved to give them a portion of the land, but they would have to build a new church and school of their own. Each congregation was to be responsible for its own burial place.137 In addition the minority got one thousand dollars. The separation formally took place on September 23 and 24, 1870.138 The new group formed the St. Peter’s Congregation. It is significant that this name was again chosen, since the spirit of the first St. Peter’s Church was also a strong factor in the second.

Up to this time the mother church had been called the Wendish Lutheran Church or simply Serbin. Rev. Kilian now made the suggestion that it be called St. Paul’s,139 which name was adopted January 8, 1871, and officially became the “First Wendish and German St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Unaltered Augsburg Confession, in Serbin, Lee County.140

It was hoped that peace would now come to the church, even though the Rev. Kilian was without a teacher and would have to re-enter the school. The parochial report showed that there were about one hundred voting members or approximately heads of families.141 Forty children were registered in the school.142

The long-delayed building of the new stone church could now be completed, progress thus far having been very slow. In a special meeting of May 10, 1868, a list had been prepared to see whether it was possible to continue. Those who refused to help or to contribute money were to be considered erring.143 By October 23, 1868, the tower was completed, and by April 13, 1869, the ball and weathervane were finished. From that spring until the separation, building had ceased, and the half-completed edifice was a monument of the factionalism that was raging. Finally on December 3, 1871, the dedication took place. Rev. Caspar Braun of Houston and the newly called pastor of Fedor, the Rev. J. A. Proft, were invited.144 Kilian preached the dedicatory sermon on the basis of Luke 19:1-16.145 The building was massive, with walls two feet thick and the floor paved with flagstones. The hopes of the builders that it might serve its purpose for many years have been realized, for it is still serving today (1940), only minor changes on the roof having been made in these seventy years. The windows had been designed by Rev. Proft, who was quite handy with the tools.

Though Kilian had much trouble in his own congregation, it did not hamper his zeal for organizing new congregations elsewhere. He was still serving various places when in 1871 he received a request from a number of people, chiefly Germans, in the so-called Latin district, an adjunct of the Lewis or Swiss Settlement between La Grange and Gonzales. These people desired a pastor of the Missouri Synod, although there were two Texas Synod churches nearby, one on either side of them. A church had already been built, and a German-English school was desired; and a parsonage would also be built when necessary.147 Kilian asked President Buenger to send a man to take charge of the field.148 He dedicated the church and suggested that Rev. Proft of Fedor be sent there to make English the important work. Kilian was not sympathetic with the work at Fedor and preferred to see it disbanded. He considered the number there too small and since the people in the past had sent their children to Serbin, though it was some twenty miles away, he felt they could still do it, even though it meant boarding them out. He asked, what must seem amusing, why the people wanted it so convenient.149 However Proft did not receive the call; instead Rev. Andreas Schmidt took charge of the newly organized congregation at Lewis Settlement.150

As was quite natural, there was a growing feeling among the people who lived south of Serbin, on Rabbs Creek and beyond the Fayette County line, that the distance was a serious hindrance to regular church attendance. Particularly difficult was it for the school children, as many of the families did not care to have their young ones board out in Serbin. Carl Teinert lived in this territory and was still very indignant over his feud with Leubner. Suddenly and without any authority, Teinert suggested in the meeting of November 12, 1871, that it was time to open a school in the Rabbs Creek section, south of the settlement. It was unfortunate that this matter was brought up in the same meeting in which the plans for the dedication of the new church were formulated, since there was still a great indebtedness in the congregation, particularly after one third of the congregation had gone over to St. Peter’s.151 It was apparently a move on the part of Teinert to embarrass Kilian. Nothing could be done, though the Fayette County group, as they called themselves, were quite insistent. In the meeting of January 21, 1872, the school matter was brought up again, however the Fayette County group did not appear.152 It was doubtful whether they could support a teacher; they therefore considered getting a public school man.

When meeting February 25, Kilian declared that two schools could not be maintained unless State aid was accepted. He felt no scruples in accepting State aid but had brought the discussion to the attention of Prof. John C. Lindemann, director of the synodical normal school at Addison, Ill.153 The Fayette County group voiced its dissatisfaction by withdrawing from the congregation. Again Kilian was facing a separation from his congregation, due in part to the school question, but certainly also because of Teinert, as subsequent events proved. When therefore on April 7, 1872, a call for a permanent teacher was drawn up for Gerhard Kilian, oldest son of the pastor, who was then graduating from the Addison school, the newly formed school congregation of New Start, as the Fayette County faction called itself, took no part.154

A happy occasion presented itself for the weary Kilian when on September 1, 1872, he could install his son as the teacher for the school. As the new teacher was also called to play the organ, old Teinert was again offended and renewed his feud with Kilian. Since the duties of teaching school were now taken out of the elder Kilian’s hands, he could devote more time to his growing and restive congregation. Events proved that the school was in most competent hands, since, like his father, Gerhard was a strong character.

As such matters have a tendency to do, the trouble with the Fayette County members seemed to adjust itself. In the joint meeting of September 25 the members of St. Paul’s informed the malcontents that the congregation had long ago realized the need of a school in the outlying section of the parish.155 There was doubt, however, whether the group could support its own teacher. Should the people in general be satisfied with this, Teinert was not, because he hoped to call Rev. Proft of Fedor as pastor of this faction. Proft would have been glad to come since he was having his own troubles on the West Yegua, but under the circumstances he could not accept the call. There were about twenty children with the Fayette group and forty with St. Paul’s.156 Probably because Teinert was not able to get a teacher, Kilian could write that the “Teinert trouble” had blown over, since even Teinert was sending his children to the school in Serbin.157

At St. Peter’s, signs of unrest again appeared. A part of Rev. Pallmer’s congregation was ready to return, evidently not having everything to their liking in their new alliance, Kilian was in a predicament, because he could not encourage them, since some were also dissatisfied with him at St. Paul’s. Writing to President Buenger of the Western District, Kilian expressed the desire to be called north, suggesting that if Pallmer be called also, the personalities of the controversy would thus be withdrawn, and the welfare of both congregations might prosper.158 However, nothing came of his suggestions, fortunately for the work in Texas, for there were still many years of good work for Kilian even though it meant heavy burdens. Also, with his son assisting him, the hardest years were past.

The truce with the Fayette County members was only temporary. Actually the dissatisfaction was quite deep. Some of the people argued that they wanted more than’ a school, which had already been voted them.159 They wanted a congregation to make it more convenient for Sunday worship. A few farmers argued that the mules did not get any rest even on Sundays since they had to draw the entire family great distances to church. They felt that this was unscriptural, for even the beasts should be given some rest.160

On March 17, 1873, the members of St. Paul’s and those of St. Peter’s who lived in that vicinity organized a new congregation. They applied to both older congregations for their release.161 The petition was given to Kilian on March 22 and referred to the congregation in a special meeting, but no action was taken, mainly because of the attitude of Teinert. In a meeting held April 20, 1873, the congregation again considered the matter but stated that they would neither release them nor keep them if they persisted in a transfer.162 A similar stand seems to have been taken at St. Peter’s.163 The separation took place without consent of either Serbin congregation and under the leadership of Teinert became the Holy Cross Congregation, later moved to Warda, Texas.

Kilian had for years been alone in Texas, without synodical connections. By 1872 there was no longer any need for such isolation, for in the last years a number of Missouri Synod men had come to Texas, and all of them were in the southern part of the State. This afforded an opportunity to hold a pastoral conference, the same being called for October 16, 1872, in Serbin, the first of the Missouri Synod in Texas.164 Those present were Rev. John Zimmermann (Rose Hill), Rev. John Pallmer (Serbin), Rev. A. Proft (West Yegua, Fedor), Rev. A. D. Greif (William Penn), Rev. P. Klindworth (Pleasant Hill, near Brenham), Rev. Andreas Schmidt (Lewis Settlement), and Rev. John Kilian. There were also two teachers present, Gerhard Kilian and Ernst Leubner, both of Serbin. Only one pastor who had been invited was absent, the Rev. Casper Braun of Houston.165 Unfortunately no record of the topics discussed is on hand, but had it been possible to have such meetings years before, some of the troubles of Kilian might have been averted. He still clung to Old World errors which the Lutheran Church in America did not have to be burdened with and with which the Missouri Synod certainly did not agree. His conception of church government and that of the supremacy of the congregation were a little off center, as well as his understanding of the separation of Church and State. Concerning the latter his son Gerhard was able to correct him, showing the wholesome effect of his son’s influence.

Freemasonry was finding its way even to the quiet village of Serbin by 1872. Not only were the Masons present, but one of them was conducting a public school in the village, having an enrollment of twenty children. Whether because the school was not quite up to expectations or whether the teacher’s membership in Masonry was not welcome, is not certain. At any rate a number of important persons proposed that Kilian’s school be converted into a public school. Because of his training, Gerhard could become a teacher without further examination. A few years before, Kilian might have considered accepting State aid, but now his understanding of the question had been corrected by his son. Though Kilian knew the correct attitude, the people, as might be expected, did not grasp the situation, and the question created unrest.166 In addition to the proposal to have Gerhard teach in a State-supported school, the issue was also confused by the fact that they not only had to support their own parish school, but they were assessed ten dollars for the State school tax. Kilian felt that Congress should be petitioned to exempt those who supported their own schools. The subject of State aid for parish schools troubled these communities sporadically until it was thoroughly discussed in the District Synod of 1866.

The Serbin situation, with two Lutheran churches practically adjoining, was certainly far from ideal. Under such conditions matters of dispute were bound to arise and to be exaggerated. At times Kilian evidenced a desire for the groups to reunite even at a personal disadvantage. As noted above, he once suggested that he be called out of the community. Later he suggested that the two congregations maintain a union school, with the hope of eventually reuniting the congregations as the children grew up. He felt that a two-teacher school could be supported, suggesting that Leubner be principal and that his son, Gerhard, be the assistant teacher since he was the younger.167 St. Paul’s was using the old frame church, and when the matter of a union school was abandoned, a part of the building was converted into a home for Gerhard in 1873.168

Two questions troubled the congregations above all others. The first was that St. Peter’s had a strong Wend constituency. These required the services of a pastor who could handle the Wendish. After Pallmer died in 1873, however, the succeeding pastors, who were all Germans, could not speak Wendish. The Wends therefore hoped that they might be served occasionally by someone else who could handle their language. Pallmer’s successor, the Rev. A. D. Greif, asked Kilian to give Holy Communion in Wendish every two months at St. Peter’s, as a guest pastor. Kilian seemed to be willing enough to do this, but St. Paul’s Congregation flatly refused to permit him.169 That Kilian was sincere in his willingness might be deduced from the fact that he suggested a frequent exchange of pulpits as a means of establishing harmony between the congregations.170 But the language question remained a sore spot for many years. Rev. Greif found the situation especially distasteful.171

Another problem that was very vexing, not only between the two Serbin congregations, but also with the neighboring Lutheran churches, was the matter of transfers, especially when there were intermarriages in the parishes. Such a situation became particularly troublous during the pastorate of Rev. Carl L. Geyer, the successor of Rev. Greif.

Not only was there friction between the Serbin congregations, but as the years went on, there was a growing coolness of St. Paul’s and its pastor toward Synod. The chief reason was the action of this body in recognizing some of the local congregations and supplying them with pastors. Especially when the Warda (Holy Cross) situation was settled to the satisfaction of Synod, but not to St. Paul’s, there was a bitter tone in the congregational meetings and in Kilian’s letters. Kilian felt that Synod was working against him personally, and through it he was not only losing prestige, but he was also becoming poorer financially. Originally Kilian had been promised $1,000.00 per year by the colony, but he barely ever got over $700.00. With the transfer of many of his members to St. Peter’s, Holy Cross, and Fedor (West Yegua), his own congregation could barely make ends meet.172

The congregation’s attitude became very evident when in a meeting of February 25, 1875, the question of a collection for the institutions of higher education in Synod was broached. Here was a splendid opportunity for the congregation to express its feelings. Before taking any action on the matter, St. Paul’s wanted to know how it stood in its relationship to Synod. It complained that since 1870 three congregations173 had been organized and supplied with pastors. All this was done without asking the local congregation’s permission. Surely this involved the rights of the congregation and was an interference by Synod. Therefore instead of taking part in the collection, Rev. Kilian was instructed to write President Walther to clarify the situation. For the present that was more important than the collection.174

This reaction was clearly a lack of understanding on the part of St. Paul’s, since whenever a new congregation was organized, a synodical representative was present. Visitor Brohm had been present when Fedor was organized, as well as at St. Peter’s, and in 1873 the Visitor Rev. Martin Tirmenstein had not sanctioned the break of the Fayette County faction in organizing Holy Cross, giving St. Paul’s full backing. The years that followed have proved that Synod’s course was the correct one, but naturally this fact did not salve the hurt feelings of St. Paul’s at the time.

In reference to Holy Cross of Fayette County, it should be said that they did see their mistake and straightened the matter out with Synod in 1874. They attempted to do the same with St. Paul’s, but for years no reconciliation was possible. Not until the meeting of January 13, 1878, did St. Paul’s, through the efforts of the Visitor, Rev. J. F. Koestering, fully recognize the status of Holy Cross.175

(To be continued)

  1. Draft of letter by Kilian to C. Braun, Houston, Oct. 4, 1870. A. M. C.
  2. Serbin Minutes, Sept. 25, 1870. Later it was agreed to maintain a joint cemetery.
  3. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Jan. 2, 1871. A. M. C.
  4. Serbin Minutes, Oct. 16, 1870.
  5. Heading of the 1877 constitution. Serbin archives.
  6. While this might be the usual inference, perhaps it is not quite true in the case of this congregation, for it had the unusual age limit of only eighteen years for its voting members.
  7. Synodical Report of the Western District, 1871. (For the year 1870.)
  8. Serbin Minutes.
  9. Serbin Minutes, Nov. 12, 1871. Rev, Pallmer was not invited by a vote of the congregation because of the strain still existing between the two congregations.
  10. Original in the Serbin archives.
  11. [not used]
  12. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Feb. 13, 1871. Serbin archives.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Draft of letter by Kilian to Dr. C. F. W. Walther, March 7, 187l. A. M. C.
  15. Synodical Report, Western District, 1871.
  16. Serbin Minutes.
  17. Serbin Minutes.
  18. Notes written to the congregation for the meeting of Feb. 25, 1872. A. M. C. It was a common practice in the Texas Synod, for instance, to accept State aid for the support of the parish schools. Even in the circles of the Missouri Synod in Texas, men like Rev. J. Proft (Fedor), Rev. G. Buchschacher (Warda), and Rev. John Kilian were not clear on the issue at first. It was not settled in Texas until the synod of 1886, held in Serbin.
  19. Serbin Minutes.
  20. Serbin Minutes.
  21. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Oct. 27, 1872 A. M. C.
  22. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Nov. 12, 1872. A. M. C.
  23. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Oct. 21, 1872, A. M. C.
  24. Serbin Minutes, Feb. 25, 1872
  25. Interview with Mr. Kuntze, Warda, Texas.
  26. Der Lutheraner, Vol. XXX, Nov. 1, 1874.
  27. Serbin Minutes.
  28. Der Lutheraner, Vol. XXX, Nov. 1, 1874.
  29. Serbin Minutes.
  30. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Oct. 21, 1872. A. M. C.
  31. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Nov. 12, 1872. A. M. C.
  32. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Dec. 5, 1872. A. M. C.
  33. Serbin Minutes, June 15, 1873.
  34. Serbin Minutes, Aug. 2, 1874
  35. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Dec. 5, 1872. A. M. C.
  36. Draft of letter by Kilian to C. Braun, Dec. 29, 1874, A. M. C.
  37. Draft of letter by Kilian to Hermann Kilian, Fort Wayne, May 7, 1875, A. M. C.
  38. This included St. Peter’s, Holy Cross, and Fedor
  39. Serbin Minutes.
  40. Serbin Minutes.