Strieter Autobiography: Newburgh

[Continued from Part 19. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Newburgh

The first St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newburgh, Ohio, with parsonage in the background (today St. John's Lutheran, Garfield Heights)

The first St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newburgh, Ohio, with parsonage in the background (today St. John Lutheran, Garfield Heights)

In 1854 a small portion of Zion’s Church in Cleveland, Mr. Pastor Schwan’s congregation, branched off and formed an independent congregation in Independence, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, near Newburgh, two miles south, and named it St. John Church.1 Twenty or so families combined to form it. They built a little frame church and a small parsonage behind it. They called me to be their pastor. In October 1854 I moved there with my young wife, Mother-in-law Ernst, and her five younger little daughters.2 On the 18th Sunday after Trinity I was installed by Pastor Schwan, with Pastor Kühn from Euclid and Pastor Steinbach from Liverpool assisting. The church was dedicated at the same time. Pastor Kühn delivered the sermon. Pastor Steinbach presided at the rite of dedication.3 On the 19th Sunday after Trinity I delivered my inaugural sermon.

I preached and taught school during the week to twenty or so children. With the exception of one family and a widow Z. they were all Hanoverians. Father H. H. Böhning was the senior member. When we met to elect our Board of Elders and determine the salary (I was to be paid two hundred dollars per year), Father Böhning said, “I will give this much.” And he went through the ranks this way, and asked at the end if they were happy with that. “Yes,” they said, cheerfully and unanimously. Besides the two hundred dollars they also gave wood for fuel and a lot of other stuff. They took very good care of us. There I had it very nice for a change. The people loved me and bore with my weakness4 very patiently. They also loved my wife very much. The girls M. B. and M. B. gave her a new dress every year. They also liked Mother-in-law Ernst and the girls. The dear people came to church very regularly, and the same was true for Catechism instruction and the men’s attendance at congregational meetings. There was a very brotherly spirit among us.

My church attendees [Kirchkinder] enjoyed listening to God’s Word. It also had its fruit. One time Widow Z. came to me and said that her neighborlady had brought her an entire basketful of goodies, and when she asked why she was doing this, she had answered, “On Sunday the pastor preached about love, and it went to my heart.”

One time H. B.5 spoke his mind to me rather quite freely and definitely said more than he should have. The next day he came: “Mr. Pastor, I am sorry. I have as many regrets about what I said as I have hairs on my head.”

One time I noticed that a certain man had peered into the glass a little too deeply. The next morning there was a knock at the door. I said, “In here [Herein]!” which is what we said back then. In comes my man So-and-so. I say, “Have a seat, sir!” He sits down. I say, “Now, my dear man, what brings you to me this early?”

He says, “Oh, sir, you know that already!” and he started to cry and pleaded with me to forgive him anyway.

One time I stayed overnight at Father Böhning’s. Before going to bed he read from the Bible, prayed, and sang with his family the entire hymn, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow,”6 and my, how lovely! My Newburgers, as they called us, were good singers overall. We would also sing in four parts. My Ernst Böhning sang a splendid bass, and my Friedrich Tönsing a fine tenor. Mary Böhning and Mary Borges and several others sang the first part and W[ilhel]m and John Böhning sang alto.

Almost every Sunday we were taken along as guests after the service. Often we ended up at Father Böhning’s. The good old mother boiled us pea beans [Vicebauna] with a long sausage in there and meat. Beforehand there would be a milk soup with these tiny little dumplings. My, that was delicious! The Borges family also invited us often and took us along, and many others did too.

I received a call from the vicinity of Baltimore, but the Newburgers would not release me. Another one from the vicinity of Columbus, Ohio, but again I was not released, and yet another from old Frankentrost, but they would not release me then either.

Now my Jüngel7 came to me one day. I say, “What brings you to me so unexpectedly?”

He says, “Tomorrow morning I will tell you.” In the morning he took a letter from Dr. Sihler out of his pocket with an enclosed call and accompanying note from W[ilhel]m Stelter, from Crystal Lake, Marquette County, Wisconsin. In it was stated that over 300 families had been deserted by their preacher and had been left for the fanatics and Albright Brethren there. Help had to be provided immediately. Dr. Sihler had thought of us both.

Jüngel said, “I cannot and I dare not leave. I have recently received a United congregation in Amherst, which I dare not abandon. You must go.”

I presented it to my congregation. Fritz Tönsing was chairman. It was discussed back and forth, all of it in favor of my staying. Finally the chairman says, “I will call the question now, so that we know where we stand. All in favor of letting our pastor move, say Yes!”

Everybody was silent.

“All opposed, No.”

“No,” everybody called out.

Tönsing smiled and said, “I am going to ask again, but a bit differently: All who are convinced in their conscience that we should let our pastor move, say Yes.”

“Yes,” they said, though very meekly. That was in November 1859.

With my neighboring ministers [Amtsnachbarn] I was on good terms. I visited them and they me. Held conferences with each other regularly. In Cleveland was Schwan. He was our senior. In Ohio City, now West Cleveland, my dear Lindemann. Already at the seminary we had gotten along very well.8 In Euclid was Kühn. In Liverpool first Steinbach, then Jüngel. He was also at the seminary with me and we were always close friends.

I know that one time Schwan and Lindemann marched the five miles out to me. I walked to Schwan after school almost every Monday. We also went to take baths together in Lake Erie and often went for walks. After these recreations we would set about on our sermon for the next Sunday. Schwan had the Latin Harmony9 and I had Luther. He would read, then I would read. At this point he would ask, “Strieter, what should we use?” I would then have to start outlining, and he would laugh sometimes, but he also often commended me. One time he said, “Your outline is absolutely excellent. If Walther had it, he would turn it into a sensational sermon, but you, sir, are too stiff.”

I said, “Yeah, how does one go about becoming more smooth?”

He said, “Copy someone else’s sermons, so that you get into a different channel. Take Fresenius.10” I buy myself Fresenius right away11 and start copying, word for word in fact, and I commit it to memory. Sunday I mount the pulpit and repeat everything beautifully up through half of the first part; at this point I lose my line of thought. My Tönsing was sitting close to the front and looking me right in the eye. As I was losing it, he looked down at his feet. I didn’t get back on track; everything got jumbled together. Finally in my anxiety I say, “Amen!” Before everyone left, I signal my Tönsing: “Did you notice something today, sir?”

He says, “Yes sir, I did. You lost your spot.”

I put my Fresenius in the corner though and went back to making my own sermon, after I had made my usual study of Luther, especially his House Postil.12 This was my method: When I was finished with Luther, I started thinking and prepared the whole thing in my mind right up to the Amen, and then I wrote it and delivered it that way.

One time conference was held by me. Jüngel brought his neighboring United minister along. He already had all sorts of United ideas during the conference. Theology was also discussed during dinner. After Lindemann had spoken, the United gentleman said, “That all depends on how you look at it.”

Lindemann lifted his plate into the air: “How you look at it!? This is a plate, no matter how I might look at it.”

The gentleman was silent, but after the meal he took his hat and left.

One time Lindemann and I had to go to Holmes County, Ohio, where I had been together with B[esel], in order to dedicate a church. Engelbert was there now.13 Lindemann preached in the morning and I in the afternoon. Because of the sermon I gave, I continued to get quite a bit of razzing. That’s because I was betrayed.14 I had my dear old Pennslyvania Dutchmen in front of me and was going right along in my sermon and said that on the Last Day our dear Lord would call out, “Jack, John, George, come out!” and just like that they would be standing there with glorified bodies. To my Pennsylvania-Dutchmen it wasn’t funny at all; they all had on completely serious faces. The dear old Arnold had already told me earlier, “I think you are a pretty smart guy [Ich denk, du bist a ziemlich smarter Kerl].”

Endnotes

1 Today this is St. John Lutheran Church of Garfield Heights.

2 Henry F. Rahe, Johannes and Elizabeth’s eventual nephew (a son of Elizabeth’s next oldest sister Martha), in his previously cited “Sketch of the Parents of the Ernst Girls” (rf. endnote 21 here), writes: “When they got to Newburgh, Rev. Strieter could not support the Widow Ernst and her five daughters, and besides the parsonage was too small. Aunt Martha worked out and they farmed out three of the girls to other pastors. Aunt Sophie, Aunt Sarah and my mother, Anna, all of them under eleven years of age were the ones placed in pastors’ families and they had a hard life of it. Aunt Sophie, who resembled her mother in stature, temperament and will power more than any of the other girls, would not put up with this farming out proposition and they had to take her home and keep her there until after her confirmation. She then went to work for Rev. H. C. Schwan. It no doubt was a hard thing for Grandmother Ernst to send her young girls, eight, nine, and ten years old, to other people even if they were ministers. It was her own doing, and Uncle Strieter was to blame for much of it. All relatives, both from the Ernst and Wittig sides, opposed her determination to go with Strieters, and promised her all the help she would need to raise her family. This act estranged her from all her relatives, especially her brother. She never corresponded with any of them or visited them. She was the one who was estranged and not the relatives. In later years and especially in her last illness (Uncle Leutner in whose home she died told me this), conscience pangs bothered her, on account of her conduct toward her relatives, especially her brother and the separation from her husband. I once spoke to Uncle John Strieter about this moving of the family from Vermilion and he admitted that it probably would have kept the family together had they remained in Vermilion and would have been ‘better according to human reason, but what was to be, was to be.’”

3 From the “Church News [Kirchliche Nachricht]” section of the November 21, 1854, issue of Der Lutheraner: “After a number of members of the Cleveland congregation formed their own parish with our consent, St. John’s Congregation in Independence, and issued an orderly call to Mr. Pastor J. Strieter, who had been in Elyria and Vermillion [sic], he was committed by me to his new office, at the behest of the Most Reverend President of the Middle District of our synod, Mr. Dr. and Prof. Sihler, on the 18th Sunday after Trinity, with Mr. Pastors Kühn and Steinbach assisting, and the newly erected church was dedicated at the same time. — Now may our dear fellow believers include also this congregation in their prayers. — H. C. Schwan. Address: Revd. J. Strieter, Newburgh P. O., Cuyahoga Co., O[hio]” (p. 56).

4 Strieter more than once mentions “his weakness,” and he seems to be referring to something in particular. Later in this chapter he specifies this weakness by referring to the delivery of his sermons.

5 This is perhaps the “Father H. H. Böhning” he mentions earlier, but since Johannes always uses his last name elsewhere, it is more likely someone else.

6 The original hymn has nine stanzas.

7 Heinrich Jüngel, originally from Hesse-Darmstadt, was pastor in Valley City, town of Liverpool, Medina County, Ohio.

8 Wilhelm Lindemann, originally from Hanover, had enrolled at Fort Wayne during the 1851-1852 school year.

9 This refers to the Harmonia Quatuor Evangelistarum or Harmony of the Four Evangelists, a harmonizing of and commentary on the four Gospels begun by Martin Chemnitz, continued by Polycarp Leyser, and completed by Johann Gerhard in 1627.

10 Johann Philipp Fresenius (1705-1761) was a pietistic Lutheran pastor at Nieder-Wiesen, Giessen, Darmstadt, and Frankfurt am Main, who remained loyal to the Lutheran Confessions and opposed the Moravians.

11 Since it appears that Schwan and Strieter studied and preached on the Gospels together, the book Strieter bought was probably Heilsame Betrachtungen über die Sonn- und Festtags-Evangelia (Beneficial Reflections on the Sunday and Festival Gospels), first published in 1750. Fresenius also had a book of sermons on Epistle texts published in 1754.

12 There were two editions of Luther’s House Postil (a postil is a book of sermons). The first was published in 1544 by Veit Dietrich, formerly Luther’s personal secretary. The second was published in 1559 by Andreas Poach, a former student of Luther, on the basis of the notebooks of Georg Rörer, a deacon at the Wittenberg parish church and tireless transcriber and copier of Luther’s sermons. (Thus Poach’s edition is sometimes also called Rörer’s edition.) From the next chapter we know that Strieter possessed the German volumes of the first Erlangen edition of Luther’s works (1826-1857). Volumes 1-6 of that edition (1826) contained Luther’s House Postil, interspersing the sermons found in both Dietrich’s and Poach’s original editions.

13 Wilhelm Engelbert, originally from Nassau, had enrolled at Fort Wayne during the 1852-1853 school year and had graduated in 1855.

14 Namely, Pastor Lindemann told the other pastors about Strieter’s sermon when they got back. Pastor Engelbert’s account of this dedication was published in the February 18, 1859, issue of Der Lutheraner (vol. 15, no. 13): “This past 17th Sunday after Trinity [September 26, 1858] was a day of celebration for St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Holmes County, Ohio, for they had the great joy of consecrating their newly erected frame church. In the morning Pastor Lindemann preached on Galatians 2:16 and presented on that basis: What the true adornment of an evangelical Lutheran church is, namely 1. the pure message about justification, and 2. the listeners who make this message their own in true faith. In the afternoon Pastor Strieter preached on Luke 19:1-10 and showed from that text: 1. how Christ has moved into this church, and 2. how we should serve as his hosts” (p. 103).

[Read the next part here.]

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Strieter Autobiography: The Accident

[Continued from Part 15. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Into the Ministry

In 1852 synod convention was in Fort Wayne at the end of June and beginning of July. A pastor came from Holmes County, Ohio, B[esel],1 a Basel student who colloquized and was taken up as a member of the synod. B[esel] came to Crämer and requested a preacher for a congregation by Coshocton which he had taken from a United preacher.2 Crämer sent for me and told me that I had to take my examination and go with B[esel]. Röder3 and I were actually slated to be missionaries to the Indians. Crämer even gave us private instruction. That was delightful! He had the book of Matthew in the Chippewa language. There Röder would sit on one side and I on the other, each with his Testament open. Crämer would read to us in Indian and we would repeat it. Then we would copy down the dreadful words in order to memorize them for homework. Chippewa had long, difficult [welsche] words. But the reason for that was because the language had so few words and everything had to be paraphrased. Miessler, subsequently a doctor in Chicago, who became Baierlein’s successor in Bethany, told me when he left us (much to our chagrin) that Chippewa had its roots in Hebrew.4 I asked Crämer not to send me away yet, but my pleading was in vain.

At eight o’clock I had to take my seat in front of my Crämer and Dr. Sihler. My schoolmates sat behind me. Crämer examined me until ten o’clock; then, after a short break, the doctor tackled me. His first question was, “Strieter, what’s in Matthew 13?” Fortunately I knew. But now I was also supposed to say what was taught in those parables. How that went I don’t remember any more, but I received a certificate saying I was sufficiently qualified for the preaching ministry [Predigtamt].5

On July 4 we headed out from Fort Wayne on the canal amid fanfare [mit Musik]. In Toledo we boarded the steamer to Sandusky; from there to Monroe; from there to Detroit; from there to Cleveland. At midday there was bloody beefsteak etc. Schaller and others did not want to eat the steak, but Schwan6 and I dug in. In the evening Schaller thought that if the steak was served again, he would eat it, but it did not return. In Cleveland B[esel] and I went with Schwan, who lived in a small little frame house; his son Paul was a small boy.

Soon we traveled a stretch on the railroad, then continued on the canal. We got off in Massillon. On shore stood an old, respectable Pennsylvania Dutch7 farmer by the name of Arnold. He received us joyfully and led us down the street to a small inn. A young man from the east, a baker, was with us, who was going to visit his mother. Arnold had a fourteen-year-old fellow with him who worked for him. Now the horses were retrieved – four splendid animals, the oldest eight years old – and harnessed to a wagon. The old father had brought a load of wheat to market. His wagon did not have a box, but planks on the side, with a small board across them on which B[esel] took his seat with Arnold. The baker positioned his trunk behind those two and he and I sat on that. Behind us stood a plow and a sack of salt. The back horse on the left had a saddle on his back, the front horse on the left had the reins, and the young fellow took his seat in the saddle.8 I ask, “Can the boy even drive?”

“Oh sure! He drove the whole way here.”

We start out; the horses are in a walk. When we went a little downhill, they trotted a little and then continued at a walk. Arnold had a lot of questions about the synod convention and B[esel] told him about it. Now we went uphill, probably for a mile or more. The path went up in snake turns. At the top it was level again, then downhill. It didn’t take long before the back left horse whinnied and fired out, and now we were off and running, all four as fast as they could.

B[esel] cried, “Hoh!”

Arnold cried, “Hoh!”

But the horses did not want to hoh!

Arnold called to the boy, “Hang on tight!” Arnold grabbed the pieces of wood in front of him and hung on and let the horses run as they wished.

At first I thought, “You go to the end and drop yourself down; it’s not too high.” But then another thought came to me right away: “You are the only one who can still maybe provide help. If the horse stops kicking out, then make your way out on tongue and get on the horse behind the boy and draw the front horses to the side.” But the animal wouldn’t stop kicking. You could always see the shiny horseshoes on the bottom of his feet flashing in the air. On the right the water had torn a deep ditch, in places at least six feet deep or so. The wagon often came so close to going in this ditch that I thought, “Now it’s going to tip over,” but it always kept going past.

Finally we came to the climax. There was just one man who wanted to get up the hill with his load. “Now,” I thought, “something’s going to happen!” I was right. He quickly got off to the side when he saw us coming, but his back wheel was still on the rut. Our back axle met with his, and just like that I was lying in the distance, not far from the fence. A small sandbank was there, runoff from the hill; I shoot like an arrow headfirst into the sand, making a hole in it as big as a hen’s nest. Right next to this hole, a handbreadth or so away, a stone is lying in the ground as large as a plate and protruding from the ground. I sit up and rub the sand out of my ears and think, “Well, our dear God has sure protected you from a sudden death.” For if I had landed on that stone, I would have bashed my brains out. My baker slid down fairly close to me without injury, ran to me right away and said, “Are you hurt?” and marveled with me at my good fortune that I had not hit the stone.

On the path stood the baker’s trunk, planks were lying there, and behind me, over there along the fence, were the back wheels, the plow, and the big sack of salt, with half of it spilled out from the bottom. The others were gone. We looked around, and here comes my B[esel]. He had hung on tight to the crosspiece on which the shaft sits that holds the front and back parts of the wagon together, thinking that the back wheels were still on and would run him over and kill him, and he let himself be dragged over the stones of the washed-out path. Finally he could not take it any more and let go. There he lay, untouched. He pulls himself together and runs toward us screaming, “O my head! O my shoulders! O my hips! O my legs!” The blood was already running into his shoes.

In the distance stood a house; from there the residents saw everything. The man of the house came over and took B[esel] with him, hitched up his buggy, loaded B[esel] up, and went home with him.

My baker and I bring the trunk and planks to the side and go wandering after our cart. Below ran a small brook with a little bridge. On the other side the bank went straight up at a steep angle. At the top it’s dug out and the path bends off to the left a bit. There the wheel ran up and flings the old father over the side,9 so hard that his shoulder turns yellow and black, and he had to carry his arm in a sling. But he still went after his horses.

The path went through the valley and back up the hill in the distance. There the saddlehorse tumbled and the boy fell, right between the horses, who dragged him by the saddle strap over the stones up the hill. When they reached the top, the strap ripped, and my boy lay there. A house stood close to the path. The people come out and carry the boy inside. The man hitches a horse to a stone drag; they lay the boy on it and bring him to the inn, several miles or so further.

In front of the inn, where the horses usually stopped for a midday rest, stood a post and a water trough. The horses ran through between the post and the corner of the building. They still had the axle and one wheel on the tongue and they ran against the corner of the building with such force that they tore out a large stone at the bottom. The inn shook so much that the ladies inside thought that there was an earthquake and ran outside, but they soon saw what had happened. The one lady ran to the field to get the men; it was harvest time. The other one ran around the stall and grabbed the front horses by the head so that they would not run any further. They had run from the watering hole across the street alongside the stall towards the fence.

When my baker and I also arrived, the boy was lying on the floor. His mother was with him, a widow who didn’t live too far from there. The doctor was next to him. The others were standing around him, including old man Arnold, and were holding his arm. The poor boy! His back looked like a piece of raw flesh, his arm was crushed, his shoulder was dislocated, his leg was broken, and several ribs were cracked.

When the doctor was finished, he said he did not know what he looked like on the inside, but everything seemed to be all right, and the external injuries would heal quickly. I comforted the wailing mother as well as I could. —

After six to eight weeks the young man was all right again. —

B[esel] brought the bad news home and now all the sons of the old father – I believe there were four of them – went together on horseback to see what had happened to “Dad.” They gathered up the parts of the wagon and loaded everything back up. The old father said to me, “Jack will stay here” – his youngest, a handsome young man, eighteen years old – “and I will too, and you take Jack’s horse and ride home with the others.”

I said, “No, Father Arnold, you take the horse and ride home, and I will stay with the wagon.”

Arnold got on and off he went. My Jack took his four horses out of the stall and hitches them up, takes his seat in the saddle, but brings along his blacksnake. My baker and I sit on the trunk again. Jack heads out. Right away the path goes somewhat downhill and my horse on the right whinnies again and starts to cut loose, but my Jack lashes him around his body, so that it whistles. The horse jumps forward. Jack turns his whip around and whacks the animal on the forehead with the thick, yellow10 knob so hard that I expected the animal to collapse. If the horse jumped forward, it gets one one the forehead; if it jumped backwards, it gets one around the body. “Just wait, I’ll run off on you! [Wart, ich will dir weglofen!]” Jack said. He put them into a strong trot, called out, “Hoh!” and bump, they stopped, and he repeated that a number of times. It didn’t take long and the horses were like lambs.

Endnotes

1 Here we encounter the first of Strieter’s many name abbreviations. The 1852 convention proceedings for the Missouri Synod list among the voting preachers a Friedrich Besel in Holmes County, Ohio. Besel left for the Iowa Synod in 1881.

2 “United” refers to the Prussion Union, which merged the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Prussia.

3 Ernst Gustav Hermann Miessler (1826-1916) worked with Baierlein at the Bethany mission station from 1851 to 1853, when he succeeded him. He left the preaching ministry in 1871 to study and practice medicine in Chicago, which he did from 1874-1899.

4 Strieter received a “satis” diploma. This is a classic sentence in Strieter’s autobiography, and many pastors can doubtless relate to it when recalling their seminary education.

5 Heinrich Christian Schwan (1819-1905) had been taken up as a member of the Missouri Synod in 1850. He served as pastor of Zion in Cleveland, today the second oldest church in the synod, from 1851-1899. He helped to popularize the use of the Christmas tree in American churches by placing one in Zion in 1851. He was known as a staunch, tactful, sharp, wise, modest, and refined Lutheran pastor.

6 The Pennsylvania Dutch were early German immigrants to America in the 17th and 18th centuries from what is today western and southwestern Germany. Many were refugees of war. Usually Dutch refers to the people of the Netherlands and their language, but in the label Pennsylvania Dutch it is an Americanization of Deutsch, meaning German. Since they also had their own dialect, the label was also used to refer to their descendants.

7 I.e., on the front left horse. The saddle on the back left horse remained empty, as will be made clear.

8 If I’m imagining this correctly, the horses turned left with the path on the other side of the bridge, but were going so fast that the wagon ran up partially onto the bank, thus tipping to the left, with the right front wheel higher than the left front wheel, and knocking old man Arnold out onto the path on the left side of the wagon.

9 Carl Strieter translates gelben as brass.

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