Strieter Autobiography: Preface
July 29, 2015 4 Comments
By Heinrich Louis Hoelter
I feel that any attempt on my part to capture the enormous significance of this autobiography for all the various branches of history that it touches, especially Lutheran church history, can only fail miserably in comparison to the original preface and the autobiography itself. To attempt to do so would be akin to attempting to describe all the grandeur of the Grand Canyon or one of the great European cathedrals in such a way that no one reading my description would ever gain any advantage by gazing upon it with his own eyes – an utterly useless endeavor. So permit me simply to share how I came to undertake a translation of this remarkable work.
Pastor Johannes Strieter (1829-1920), a Lutheran pastor of the Missouri Synod, was the first pastor to serve those who would become the founding members of my two current congregations. I have been working to compile a thorough history of these two congregations for several years now, and so I had necessarily become well acquainted with Pastor Strieter. I had even visited his hometown in Germany and the area in Michigan where he grew up. But I had no intention whatsoever of translating his autobiography.
It seems that everything in connection with Strieter’s autobiography has taken place against someone’s will. Strieter himself wrote it against his will, as he relates in his Preliminary Remarks. The preface for it, presented below, was written against the writer’s will. And now I have undertaken to translate it against my will. At least three men had already attempted translations of it. The most worthy attempt was by his son, Carl Strieter (d. 1952), who actually made it through the entire work. But in June of this year I had checked out an original German copy from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Library, and a few nights later I was reading through portions of it, just to get a sense of the German. As I was reading the first several pages, I thought, “I don’t remember reading some of this stuff before.” So I checked it against Carl Strieter’s translation and, sure enough, there were, here and there, phrases or even entire sentences that he inexplicably omitted. Upon further investigation I discovered no end of lamentable omissions of choice details.
I plan to present the various parts of Strieter’s autobiography in successive, manageable portions. If any reader even merely stumbles across these posts and fails to read them, I can only say that I will not be able to help feeling deeply sorry for such a person, and neither will anyone else who has tasted and savored these exquisite morsels from Strieter’s memory.
This translation and all those that follow are taken from the Lebenslauf des Johannes Strieter, Pastor Emeritus, von ihm selbst erzählt und geschrieben (Life Story of Johannes Strieter, Pastor Emeritus, as Told and Written by Himself) (Cleveland: F. M. F. Leutner, 1904).
I am indebted to Winfried Strieter of Ohio, Johannes’ great-great-grandson, for contacting me, being the first to put me in touch with the original German autobiography, and for all his other manifold help and encouragement.
Johannes would have refused to write his autobiography if it would not have glorified God. But his relatives assured him that it would, and it has, and it will continue to do so. My prayer therefore is simply that as many people as possible would read and digest this autobiography. Thus the triune God will be glorified.
The venerable author of this autobiography relates within it that in his youth the idea of becoming a pastor had been awakened in his heart. Feeling his unworthiness, he had chosen an ash tree in the vicinity of his homestead as an altar and at that ash had repeatedly implored God on his knees to please take this idea away from him, since he was unfit for the ministry. But the One who governs the heart does lead him into the preaching ministry. After he has been active in God’s vineyard for a half century, and the same God has put him into retirement, he is asked to compose an account of his life’s story. In humility he earnestly resists this request. But the reasons given – namely that in this way he could promote the glory of God and the building up of his kingdom even now, since his Lord had deprived him of the work he was accustomed to, and that he should not bury his talent in the handkerchief like that [cf. Matthew 25:14-30], and so on – have pressed the quill into his hand. “Thus the Lord governs hearts” [cf. Psalm 33:15], will be the judgment of the Christian readers of this book.
The undersigned, who was once confirmed and won over to the work in God’s vineyard by this venerable spiritual father, has let himself be persuaded to write a preface only after much resisting, and for this purpose he has read through the manuscript repeatedly. The cliff which threatens to ruin a work like this has thankfully been avoided. This self-authored biography is not a self-trumpeting. It is rather a work praising the One who entered the author’s name in the Book of Life with the precious blood of Christ at his baptism, just as the author’s father wrote in the family Bible. Consequently the entire work is not a narrative laboriously pieced together and forced into a desired format. If you had the pleasure of hearing the author especially on the occasion of the various conferences and synod conventions, or of simply interacting with him otherwise, and if you now got the chance to read this book, you will immediately acknowledge: This is Pastor Strieter as he lives and breathes, in his seriousness and humor, as he talks, jokes, thinks, reports, and admonishes. And what a string of instructive, gripping, delightful, encouraging experiences, events, and anecdotes! You have to laugh; right after that you would like to cry! A preface should be short, but this one would get very long if we were only to pick out pieces here and there from the full work.
Biographies like this are wells for church historians. From this mine many a building stone can be taken for a history of our precious synod. Here an eyewitness tells the story of the colonies of the Franconians in Michigan, established in the backwoods, and the story of the Indian mission there, and the story of our institution in Fort Wayne from the years when the initial passion was still burning. Here we see the young laborer, pressed into the ministry prematurely by the church’s need, in hopeless and in productive mission stations, also ministering to a wide and broad field where he never preached less than four or more than nine times a week and covered some 6000 miles during the year with his horse. Here we find the spiritual shepherd relaxing at home, even though seldom ministering to just one congregation. As we watch, he leads many well-known figures past our eyes, e.g. Walther, Crämer, Wyneken, Fürbringer, Schwan, Lindemann, Sihler, Sievers, Hattstädt, Ruhland, Jox, Brauer, Wunder, Wagner – some he leads past quickly, others leisurely. He tells the story of conflicts with sects, lodges, and false brothers, of cross and distress within and without, but also of enjoyable experiences in an extremely happy marriage, in the genuine love of penitent Christians, and in the fruit harvested already on earth from seed that had been scattered years earlier. And all of this is done in the original, unique style of the straightforward and steady evangelical Missourian warhorse, who has cleared, dug, plowed, planted, and watered for more than fifty years exactly where God placed him, and now presents here both old and new from the treasure of his rich experience [cf. Matthew 13:52].
Many a preacher, teacher, or listener still living among us like a pillar from ancient times will read the memories from the author’s youth shared here and will live in them for hours at a time, and they will also evoke his own such memories. Many a person will be refreshed by these recollections in the quiet hours after exhausting work. Many a person will take away helpful tips and ready weapons from the author’s pastoral activity and will utilize and apply them according to his own gifts. For every reader there is some benefit inside.
Dear, beloved fellow believer, take and read. You will not regret it!
God has taken the pastoral ministry in a congregation away from the beloved Father Strieter through the deafness imposed on him. May God let him experience in these years that, at God’s direction, he has taken his hands out of his lap in order to strengthen his fellow pilgrims on the way to the city of eternal rest through this autobiography. Finally, up to the present Father Strieter has as a matter of fact belonged, along with the apostle Paul, to those who are poor, but who make many rich, to those who have nothing, yet possess everything [cf. 2 Corinthians 6:10]. So for him and his life’s companion, may God also partially use the proceeds from the sale of this little book to answer the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread”!
Chicago, December 4, 1904
[Read the next part here.]