Centennial Moments

Researched & Written by David Goeke


WAR, WORSHIP, EDUCATION AND THE LANGUAGE

The Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, started out in the Wendish and German languages. By the early 1900's, the Wendish language had virtually died in Texas. The German language prevailed in both worship services and in the Christian day school in many Texas District congregations until World Wars I and II. The wars against Germany, however, caused negative sentiment against those who spoke German - and even more so, those who worshiped and educated children in that language. The heart of the Texas District, the Lee County area, was not nearly as affected as other parts of Texas. Why? One can only surmise. Perhaps because of the heavy concentration of Germans (Lutherans and otherwise) who settled there in the mid to late 1800's, who were rural in life style, "die Muttersprache" (the mother tongue) could not and would not be easily extinguished. Indeed, German worship services and education in the German tongue continued well into the 1940's and 1950's.

In other areas, however, where German immigrants were significant, but not "substantial in number", the matter of language was quite another matter. Rev. August Birnbaum , of Vernon, Texas, related as to how that on one morning in 1918, he went to his church and noticed that the windows were broken. There was a note attached to the front door of the school. It stated, "If you are wise, you will leave Vernon". Why? Because Rev. Birnbaum preached and taught in the German language. Rev. Birnbaum took the note to the sheriff, who, in turn, accompanied Rev. Birnbaum to the editor of the local newspaper. The editor of the newspaper, wrote an article in the local newspaper the next day with the statement, "The act of yesterday, destroying church property, making threats, is in the highest degree un-American". City officials, bankers, doctors, clergymen and much of the citizenry came to Rev. Birnbaum's defense. They told him to "stay right where he was". The threats ceased - and he did stay. Indeed, he remained the pastor of St. Paul, Vernon, for more than 50 years.