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Author: Subject: Wends Celebrating 100th Anniversary
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[*] posted on 1-9-2016 at 09:06 PM
Wends Celebrating 100th Anniversary

This article appeared in the Austin American Statesman on July 4, 1954.

Wends Celebrating 100th Anniversary

SERBIN, Lee County, July 8 (SC) Almost 100 years ago, 500 Lutheran immigrants from Eastern Germany turned their plows into rocky Lee County soil to establish the first Wendish settlement in Texas

Their homes were not to be as pretentious as their German neighbors, crops were poor, and times bad, but a sturdy stand of scrub oak compensated for what the ground lacked, providing heat and shelter for man and beast.

Artisans and craftsmen by trade, their numbers decimated by disease and death, they looked with dampened spirits on acres of giant vegetation but thankful the cattle, hidden within it, would eat.

But, even as calloused hands split rails for fences, the land took on the singular pattern of fields, and prospects of a spring crop grew brighter. Brighter, too, were the hopes of this so called tribe of Lusatians to erect here a permanent haven of religious liberty.

It is this religious colony, called Serbin, six miles south of Giddings, which Sunday will observe the centennial celebration of its founding. Services will be conducted in its 86-year-old church, built of native field stone and rising tall over the countryside as a symbol of the struggle for happiness over material gain.

Actually, Serbin's brief but colorful history dates back centuries before the landing of the first pioneers. Ever since the barbarian invasions and movement of the Germanic tribes westward, Wends have been known to occupy the vacuum east of the Elbe River. In 1174, the entire region was in the possession of the Wends, but in 1180 it was taken over by the Duke of Saxony ad became known as Upper and Lower Lusatia.

The group kept its religious if not political entity until 1817, when the Prussian government's ruling of a United Church brought about considerable dissatisfaction in the ranks of Lutheranism.

It was not until 1854 that St Paul Lutheran church in Serbin was founded.

Not long after, a two room log cabin answered the need for a combined church and school on whose rough, portable tables Wendish Bible history and catechism were taught. In 1859 a second church was built. A frame building served as school, and German and English were added to the curriculum. This school, founded simultaneously with the Texas public school system, has existed since 1856.

Ox Wagon Transport

The early settlers had visions of a bigger, better church, but not, until certain physical as well as social barriers were overcome was that dream to materialize. With ox wagons the only means of transportation, materials were hauled in from the surrounding country side by individual members. Primitive axes sought out the mightiest post oaks and these logs were adzed and finished by hand. Large wooden pegs used in construction can still be seen in unfinished parts of the building.

Such resourcefulness would have, been futile, had it not been for a predominance of skilled laborers. Among them were Ernest Nitsche, carpenter, and Andreas Fritsche, stone mason. Cash on hand was less than $2,000, but with the help of volunteers, these men succeeded in building a church with walls no less than three feet thick, and in constructing all of its furnishings.

Original plans called for a three story structure, topped by a tower to house the bell that was brought over from Germany. This bell now stands in Kilian Hall of Concordia Lutheran College in Austin.

Before the church was completed, however, the group which had been so courageous in overcoming physical obstacles was to be torn by strife and tensions. Reason for this, as described by the Rev. A. Arndt, present pastor of the church, was that the Wends here, as in Europe were a minority group bordered by an increasing number of Germans all eager to maintain their national identity.

In addition, the fact that these same people were from various congregations in Germany, with diverse customs and dialects, was beginning to create a first class social problem. Result was the building of not one church, but two--one for the Germans, the other for Wends.

Wendish Church Built

Under the leadership of Pastor Johann Kilian, for 30 years minister, teacher and arbitrator in numerous "turkey squabbles," land and boundary disputes, the so-called Wendish church, minus one story, was completed in 1871. Meanwhile nearby St Peterís Church and School grew and flourished.

This situation continued until after the turn of the century, when the young lads at St Peter's Church found the young ladies at St. Paul's just as fair and beautiful as their own, and vice versa," observed Pastor Arndt.

Consequent intermarriage and a decreasing number of immigrants finally resulted in an amicable union of the two congregations, in 1914, during the pastorate of the Rev. Herman Kilian.

With the strength and stability of union came a contribution from which Lutheran churches throughout Texas were to benefit. Early in its history, the church had taken on the education and support of its own ministers and teachers. Now congregations all over the state were to experience membership gains from an almost mass farm-to-city exodus.

"Eighty per cent of the young people of the church in the past 25 years have left for such cities as Houston, Austin, Port Arthur, San Antonio, etc., and established congregations there," the pastor reports.

Speakers Named

He did not hesitate to add that, in spite of the fact that modern machinery has made possible the cultivation of its once small farms with less manpower, the church has managed to maintain its original membership of 500.

For these people, Sunday will mark the occasion of one more momentous "get-together," for which the gregarious Wends and Germans are famous. There will be the typical barbecue used to commemorate such events, as well as services in German, English and Wendish.

Chosen to speak at simultaneous services, morning and afternoon have been the Rev F. H. Stelzer, pastor of one of St. Paulís ďsister congregationsĒ in Thorndale; Dr. Oliver Harms, member of the Board of Directors of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; the Rev. G. A. Zoch of Taylor and the Rev. Louis Werner of Marlin, who hail from St. Paulís and St Peter's churches, respectively. Speaker for the 4 p. m. Wendish service will be the Rev. Theodore Schmidt of La Grange, grandson of Georg and Hannah Kovar [Schmidt], early settlers, and nephew of the Rev. Hermann Schmidt who served as pastor of St Paul's from 1921 until his death in 1947.

Additional features of the day-long program will be a display of early Wendish costumes and furnishings; a translation of the constitution and some of the early minutes of the church; and release of a book, The Wends of Texas, by the Naylor Company of San Antonio.

Authored by Mrs. Anne Blasig, daughter of the late Pastor Schmidt, the latter includes the Wends' ethnical and historical origin, reproduction of the original ship register of the Wendish colonists, and copy of the final plea of the Wends in Europe for a separate national existence to Winston Churchill in 1943.
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