I liked my time in Fedor, and I liked my people and my church, and I much regretted that I could not spend the last days with my beloved Fedor people. May God bless them forever.— Rev. Gotthilf Birkmann (Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Fedor, Texas 1876-1879 and 1882-1922)
It was September of 1876 when the Rev. Gotthilf Birkmann, a twenty-two-year-old, newly-minted graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri arrived in Fedor, Texas (which was known as West Yegua at the time). Texas was a strange new land to Birkmann, who was born and raised in rural Illinois, yet he would come to love the people there, and outside of a brief three-year stint in Dallas, he spent the entirety of his forty-six years in ministry at that congregation.
Holy Trinity Fedor is one of the two active daughter congregations of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Serbin (the other is Holy Cross Warda – which I posted a photo of twice in the last few weeks, but y’all seemed to appreciate it all the same). It’s also one of the few churches in Texas with Wendish heritage that held Divine Services in the Wendish language on a regular basis (besides St Paul Serbin, the other would be Ebenezer Manheim [located on the San Antonio Prairie at the time] and possibly Holy Cross in Warda [where Rev. Timotheus Stiemke, though not a native Wendish speaker, went to great lengths to learn the language] to the best of my knowledge). The second version of St. Peter’s Serbin also had Wendish services, but that congregation no longer exists, having reunited with St. Paul’s in 1905.
While serving at his beloved Fedor, Birkmann, who had loved nature as a child, began to collect butterflies and beetles before moving to bees and wasps (they were easier to store, though perhaps a bit more exciting to capture). A number of species he collected turned out to be previously unknown, and a number were given the scientific name “birkmanni.”
After his failing eyesight forced him to retire, Birkmann eventually relocated to nearby Giddings where he produced a large number articles for the local papers (and sometimes the national publications of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod) on his typewriter. These articles are an excellent source of information on the early history of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in Texas as well as Wendish customs and traditions.
Pictured is Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Fedor. The core of the present building was completed in 1876, the same year that Birkmann arrived to shepherd the flock there. The wings were added later in the nineteenth century. The pulpit from which Birkmann preached was removed in the twentieth century, but it’s still neat to visit the church and know that I’m inside the same building he served in for so many years.
Rev. Birkmann’s grandson, Dr. Ray Martens (president of Concordia Austin for twenty years beginning in 1973) wrote an excellent book about Birkmann, complete with translations of many of the articles mentioned above:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1881848159/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=lonestarbackr-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=1881848159&linkId=e7d05094032ee3ed74f76671bc9b88cf [affiliate link]
I was able to read a good chunk of the above book during my trip to South Carolina from March 9-17, and really enjoyed learning more about Rev. Birkmann!
Quite a few of Birkmann’s articles are available on the Wendish Research Exchange web site (I also serve as the webmaster for the site, and am in the process of migrating content from an older platform to the link below, so more articles will appear in the coming days):
Also, here’s a photo of Agenioideus birkmanni, a wasp named for Rev. Birkmann: