The Wendish Research Exchange

Warda, Fayette County, Texas: Holy Cross Lutheran Church

mersiowsky - 10-9-2015 at 04:03 PM

This article by Margie Kasper, Robin Giese, David Weishuhn, and Jo Ann Biehle first appeared in Fayette County: Past and Present.

Note: The Wends originally settled in Fayette and Bastrop county because Lee county was not created until 1874.

The preamble to the Constitution of Holy Cross Lutheran Church of Warda states:
Whereas, according to the Word of God (l Cor. 14:40, Col. 2:5) In every Christian congregation all things shall be done decently and in order, to which effect our forefathers, by constituting Christian church disciplines have set us a good example, we, a number of Germans and Lusatian (Wenden) Lutherans, residing on Rabb's Creek, Boon 's Creek and vicinity, on finding to be concordant in the Lutheran faith and confession, have united to form a parish, and do by this present document which is specially signed by us, constitute the rules and regulations, by which our congregational connection is to be regulated, and by which we fix the administration of the interior and exterior affairs of our congregation.

Who were these German and Wendish people? What were their motivations? What happened to this church after it was established? And what is the present church like?

The Wends, who are also referred to as Serbo-Lusatians or Sorbs, are one of the Slavic minorities still in existence in Germany that trace their history back beyond the Christian era. They lived in the Elbe and Spree Rivers region in Germany. These Wends emigrated from Germany because of religious, social, and economic upheavals. For years the Wendish suffered political oppression. Attempting to unite Lutheran and Reformed churches added religious oppression to all their other burdens.

In 1854 Rev. Johann Kilian led a group of approximately six hundred Wendish Lutherans to Serbin in Lee County, Texas. They arrived in Galveston in 1854 and made their way overland to Lee and Fayette counties. They set up a church and school there, hoping to keep the Lutheran faith and their Wendish culture and language intact. It was not long, however, before Germans also settled in the area and caused conflicts.

This conflict between the Germans and the Wends was to last a number of years, and finally result in a division of the original congregation. Some Germans lived at Rabb's Creek and northern Fayette County and attended the Serbin church.

Preaching was therefore held in both Wendish and German. The language question caused friction, and the congregation split. St. Peter's Church of Rabbsville was located on one side of the cemetery apart from the other from June 5, 1859 until May, 1867 when it was reunited with the Wendish mother church.

In the meantime, some members of the two congregations lived in the extreme northern corner of Fayette County. The distance to the Serbin churches made regular attendance difficult for them, and the school children had to board in Serbin to attend school. Members living in this area asked their respective congregations for their release in order to organize a new church in Warda. Neither the St. Paul's nor the St. Peter's congregations would release or keep them. They were told that if they ever wished to return, they were welcome to do so. Under Carl Teinert's leadership, the separation took place without the consent of either of the congregations.

The families from the Rabb's Creek area who joined in the move included those of: Andrew Buttner, Matheaus Kubitz, Georg Krakosky, Ernst Kunze, Matheaus Domaschke, Johann Warnash, and B. Herbrig. On Sunday, March 17, 1873, they organized as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession (Evangelische Lutherische Kreuz Gemeinde) on Rabb's Creek, Fayette County, Texas.

A call was then sent to Reverend Andrew Schmidt, pastor of a congregation organized by Pastor Kilian. On May 6, 1873, Pastor Kilian wrote to President Buenger of the Western District, stating that Reverend Schmidt had accepted the call and was to be at Rabb's Creek by July 1. By this time the building of the church had already begun. Before Pastor Schmidt was installed, word came that the congregation could not be recognized because of its problem with the Serbin congregations. When it became apparent that the new congregation could not get a pastor from the Missouri Synod, Carl Teinert took the lead and went to Rutersville, where the Texas Synod had recently established a seminary for theological students. Johann Christian Eduard Zapf, a young man who had just come over from Switzerland as a graduate of the mission school at St. Chrischona, was assigned to the Warda parish. On August 24, 1873, the installation of the pastor and the dedication of the church were held. The first church was very simple, a frame building measuring about twenty by thirty feet with a small tower. It was located on Rabb's Creek about two miles from the present church site.

Pastor Zapf reported a flock of sixty communicant members in April of 1874. During his service in Warda, Pastor Zapf confirmed six children. He died on June 23, 1874, at the age of thirty-one, of typhus fever. He was buried by Pastor Mertz, and in 1972, the congregation purchased a tombstone for him.

After Pastor Zapf's death, another member of the Texas Synod, Mr. F. Jesse, who had just been recently licensed, was asked to serve the Warda congregation as a vacancy pastor. The congregation asked that Mr. Jesse join the Missouri Synod, but he refused. The congregation then ended their connection with the Texas Synod and asked Pastor A. D. Greif of Serbin (of the St. Peter's congregation) to serve as the vacancy pastor for Warda.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, 1874, Reverend A. L. Timotheus Stiemke (age twenty-seven, from Wisconsin) was ordained and installed by Pastor Greif. Since Reverend Stiemke was unable to speak Wendish and some of the members could not understand German, the elders of the church taught him how to speak the Wendish language. Soon he was able to administer the Lord's Supper in Wendish. He was extremely well-liked as both a pastor and a teacher, and later became the first president of the newly organized Southern District. After Reverend Greif was called away from Serbin, the Synod felt that Pastor Stiemke should go to Serbin, and that Holy Cross should call Pastor Proft, who had recently resigned from Fedor. But Holy Cross refused to release Pastor Stiemke.

Serbin then suggested that the churches unite to form one parish, with the pastor living in Serbin. This also was not acceptable to the Holy Cross congregation. During the time Pastor Stiemke served at Holy Cross, a large group of people from Serbin transferred there. Holy Cross officially joined the Missouri Synod in 1879.

After Stiemke had served at Holy Cross for five years (1874-1879), he received two calls to other parishes. He finally persuaded the congregation to allow him to accept the call to Houston. The congregation then asked Pastor C. F. Geyer of Serbin to serve as vacancy pastor.

Pastor C. F. Geyer served in that capacity from 1879 to 1881. In 1881, on Sexagesima Sunday, Pastor Geyer installed Pastor Gottfried Buchschacher of Algiers, Louisiana, as the new pastor at Warda. Pastor Buchschacher was born in Switzerland. As a baby, his father, David Buchschacher, left his country to build himself a new life in the United States. He sent all his savings to his family in Switzerland; however, he was informed that his wife and son had died. David Buchschacher then moved from New York to New Orleans, where he opened a floral shop. The information that his son had died was false, and young Gottfried was raised in an orphanage and educated in a seminary. Gottfried spoke to the Swiss Consul of the United States about trying to find his father, who had come to America. The Consul encouraged his search, so in 1872 he came to Washington. He stayed in Washington two years and became active in church work. He moved to Fredericksburg, Texas, and he was there ordained as a Methodist minister in about 1875 or 1876. He served the Methodist church at Fredericksburg and Yorktown. In Fredericksburg, he met and married Amanda Thonssen in 1877. His attention was called to the work of the Missouri Synod and he was won over by the Lutheran church in 1879. He served the Lutheran Church in Algiers, Louisiana, and from there he came to Holy Cross in Warda. In 1892 he served as a delegate to the Southern District of the Missouri Synod convention in New Orleans. After a few years in America, he decided to try and find his father by placing an ad in a newspaper. A druggist, who had heard of his father's name in a florist shop fire, gave Pastor Buchschacher's father his son's address. The father wrote to Pastor Buchschacher and then came to Warda to live with his son until he died at the age of eighty-three.

Pastor Buchschacher was interested in mission work, and as early as 1881 received permission to preach in Giddings, Winchester, Green's Creek, and Corn Hill. Due to his mission work, a special service was held at Warda during the Pastorial Conference of September, 1883. During the service, two Texas missionaries, Theodore Kuhn for Dallas and vicinity, and J. Schway for Colorado County, were ordained. Pastor Buchschacher died on August 17, 1930. He had served the congregation of Holy Cross for forty-nine years.

During the years of Buchschacher's service, the congregation began to grow rapidly, and the church was soon too small. It was decided to move the location of the church to its present site in Fayette County. Elaborate plans for a new church were drawn: it was to be seventy by thirty four by twenty The church was built in 1881, according to the new plans. Pastor Proft (retired pastor of Fedor) designed the pulpit and even carved some of the intricate designs. The new church was dedicated on the Sunday after Easter in 1882. A schoolhouse, a parsonage, and a teacherage were all built at the same time.

In March, 1920, all church minutes written in German were changed and rewritten in the German language with English letters. After Pastor Buchschacher's death in 1930, Pastor H. Schmidt served as vacancy pastor until Pastor Paul Eifert of Port Arthur, Texas, was installed on January 11, 1931.

In July of 1933 plans were made to build a new parsonage and an engine house. These plans resulted in tragedy for the Eifert family, as their young son Paul fell from the rafters of the building. He died shortly after this fall.

In 1943 a motion was passed to have English services every fourth Sunday of the month. After a little discussion, the motion was put into action. The Walther League was organized about the same time for the teenagers of the church. In 1947 it was decided to have the pipe organ rebuilt. And on August 17, 1947 it was resolved to change the name of the congregation from Evangelische Kreuz Gemeinde - Ungeaendeter Augsburgischer to Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church - Unaltered Augsburg Confession. In the same year plans for the present church building were made, and the building was completed on May 31, 1948. The church was dedicated on July 25, 1948, in a joint dedication service and diamond jubilee of the church. The building is of gothic design with a high beamed ceiling.

In November of 1948 Pastor Eifert was instrumental in getting the Ladies' Aid organized; and in 1950, the Ladies' Aid bought the old public school and gave it to the congregation as a parish house. After serving Holy Cross for twenty-one years, Pastor Eifert accepted a call to Tomball in 1952. During his years at Holy Cross he had also taught school most of the time. In September of 1964, Pastor Eifert and his wife were involved in a traffic accident in which they both were killed.

Pastor Walter Streicher of Winchester served as vacancy pastor for Holy Cross until Pastor John L. Herzog was installed in 1953. In 1957 Pastor Herzog accepted a call to Mercedes. Pastor Gruetzner of Lincoln served as vacancy pastor until his death, when Pastor Streicher of Winchester was once again asked to serve Warda. In May 1957 Pastor H. O. Hartfield of Lincoln was called to serve as the new pastor of Holy Cross. It was at this time that it was decided to have English services on the first, second, and fourth Sundays. In July of 1958 it was suggested that English services be held every Sunday in addition to German services twice a month.

Pastor Hartfield left the congregation in August, 1969, and Pastor Recks of Serbin was asked to serve as the vacancy pastor till the present pastor came. Pastor Marcus Wolfram and his family came to Warda from Chester, California, on August 30, 1970. The parsonage was remodeled prior to his arrival, and in April, 1971, a carport was added. Mr. John Kunze tutored Pastor Wolfram in the German language, so that he would be able to administer the Lord's Supper. Pastor Wolfram encouraged the youth league to refinish the old parish hall for a recreation hall. He also started a junior youth league. Confirmation classes are held usually once a week and sometimes twice a week. The pastor also organized a Men's Club in 1971, which is still under his guidance. Mrs. Wolfram is serving as the choir director and organist. Pastor Wolfram holds English services every Sunday, and in addition, he holds a German service after his English service on the second Sunday in every month.

The church today is governed by its charter, which was drawn up by members of the congregation, reflecting the many beliefs and ideals of the people. This charter was signed on August 22, 1884, by Johann Schreider, George Krakosky, August Forster, Traugott Zoch, M. Kasperick, and Carl Teinert.

The congregation was to base its beliefs on the Holy Bible and the book of Concord. To be a member of the congregation, a person has to be baptized, to profess the canonical books, to maintain Christian conduct, to frequently partake of the Lord's Supper, if he be an adult, to sign the constitution and submit to all its rules, and further, he may not belong to a secret society or be a member of a lodge. The right of suffrage is given to males at least twenty-one years of age who have signed the constitution and have no just accusations against them. The congregation serves as a type of court for its own affairs, with final decision being made (on all church matters) by themselves. The right to elect the minister belongs to the congregation acting as a whole. The minister must accept the Holy Bible and the canonical books as well. Officers of the congregation are elected by the voting members of the congregation. They are entrusted with specific duties but are limited in their powers. In its public worship, the congregation is to use only pure Lutheran hymns, the Holy Bible, and the liturgy must be of pure Lutheran form. The congregation belongs to the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

The people of Warda (like their Wendish forefathers) have always been concerned about education for their children, both in religious and secular fields. Even before the congregation had been formed, individuals in the community of New Start (Warda) had established a school for their children. Since the congregation was founded in 1873, classes had been conducted by the church, with the exception of 1880. The constitution of the charter provides for an elementary school to be connected to the congregation. In addition, minors of the congregation are required to attend catechetical instructions.

In the early 1890's, there were so many children in the Warda school that a public school was established to help lighten the load at the parish school. Gradually over the years, enrollment in the school declined as more people moved from the community to the city for better employment. After 1972-1973, school classes at Warda were discontinued. The pupils went to one of three schools: St. Paul's in Serbin, Immanuel in Giddings, or the La Grange Public School. The church still pays tuition for those attending the church schools in Serbin and Giddings. The pastor of the congregation has always instructed the cathechism classes in preparation for confirmation.

In March of 1973 the congregation observed its centennial with an all-day celebration. Former pastors and their sons who have entered the ministry delivered the sermons. A Texas State Historical Marker was dedicated. Only the early cemetery remains at that first church site. The tombstones have been restored, and a fence placed around the cemetery.

Approximately fifteen hundred persons enjoyed the centennial noon meal of chicken barbeque and all the trimmings, served in the Warda traditional style. Today the church has approximately two hundred and forty members. It has several organizations to meet the needs of the congregation: the Lutheran Women's Missionary League, the Walther League (now called Youth League), and the Men's Club. There is also a choir which sings for special occasions.

The church picnic is held annually on the Sunday before Labor Day. Members of the congregation work together to provide barbeque, refreshments (including lots of beer), a baseball game, and amusements, such as bingo and a dunking machine. The Ladies' Aid has a country store to sell baked goods. Also there is a brass band providing music throughout the day. People come from far and wide to visit old friends and to make new ones at this annual affair.

The Holy Cross Lutheran Church has been a part of Fayette County for more than a hundred years now and will be for many more. People from Warda, Texas, where the church is located, and others from other parts of Fayette County and some from Lee County, are members of Holy Cross.

In 1948, at the dedication of the present church building, the Reverend Paul Eifert made the following statement, which expresses the feelings of the Warda people:
May the good and gracious Lord, who has been with us and has helped us in the past, be with us and help us also in the future. May He bless us and cause us to be a blessing.