Telling the stories of Texas with photographs (and words too...)
Yesterday reader David Ernst asked (in the comments of my Facebook post about the brief history of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Rabbsville, Texas) what happened to the Texas Synod, and if any congregations that belonged to the Texas Synod are still in existence.
The short version of the story is that the Texas Synod is now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, via a number of different mergers.
The longer story is that in 1868, the Texas Synod left the General Synod for the newer and more conservative General Council (so St. Peter’s stated reason for withdrawing from the Texas Synod was no longer true the year after their withdrawal was accepted).
The Texas Synod then merged with the Iowa Synod in 1896 (most Texas Synod congregations then became a part of its Texas District). The Iowa Synod then merged with the Ohio and Buffalo Synods to form the first American Lutheran Church in 1930, which then merged with Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1960 to form the second American Lutheran Church, which then, along with the Lutheran Church in America and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, merged to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The successors to the General Synod were also part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America merger– it was merged into the United Lutheran Church in America in 1916, which in turn was merged into the Lutheran Church in America in 1962.
Many congregations that once belonged to the Texa Synod still exist. St. John’s Lutheran Church of Meyersville, where the Texas Synod met in 1867 and approved the withdrawal of St. Peter’s, is still an active congregation, though it is now associated with the North American Lutheran Church.
The church founded by Pr. Caspar Braun (who also founded the Texas Synod) in Houston still exists, though for some time it was no longer associated with a Lutheran denomination at all. Around 2002, First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Houston joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and then in 2010 joined the North American Lutheran Church (see the “History” section here for more information).
There is also the interesting case of Salem Lutheran Church of Rose Hill, which was initially affiliated with the Texas Synod. After that congregation’s second pastor took a call elsewhere around 1866, Pr. Braun recommended they seek a pastor from the Missouri Synod instead (perhaps due to the same shortage of Texas Synod pastors that left St. Peter’s of Rabbsville without a pastor), which they did. The call was accepted by Candidate John Zimmermann, who was ordained by Pr. Johann Kilian from Serbin– the first Missouri Synod ordination in Texas.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church of William Penn was also initially a Texas Synod congregation, but affiliated with the Missouri Synod after Fritz Sommer, a member of Bethlehem that was in Saint Louis during the War Between the States married a woman who was a member of a Missouri Synod congregation there. After their return to William Penn, the congregation learned about the Missouri Synod from Mr. & Mrs. Sommer and later requested a pastor from that body.
And then there is the church pictured here– the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dessau. It’s no longer active (the original congregation disbanded in 1973, though a mission congregation started by the American Lutheran Church used the building from 1987 through 1994).
It seems to have been associated with the Texas Synod (its origins lie in a disagreement within a congregation that existed from around 1871-1872. The other parties in that disagreement founded Immanuel Lutheran Church of Pflugerville, and by 1909 this congregation was, ironically, in a dual-parish arrangement with Immanuel. That dual-parish arrangement continued until the congregation disbanded in 1973.
It’s possible that this congregation was also served by Pr. August Hofius of the Missouri Synod from 1875-76. Pr. Gotthilf Birkmann of Fedor wrote several times about Hofius’ brief service in Dessau, where he served a congregation that wanted a pastor to preach every other week and also teach at the school (see “My First Trip to Austin“). Birkmann also traveled out and met with these folks in 1878.
If this is the same congregation, it also appears in the history of St. Paul Lutheran Church of Austin. In 1887, Mr. & Mrs. John Heiermann relocated to Austin from Ohio. Having been members of a Missouri Synod congregation there, they initially went to Dessau, where they had been told Rev. Hofius was serving a congregation. By this time, though, Hofius was of course no longer at that congregation. Eventually the Heiermanns made contact with Pr. Hermann Kilian in Serbin (son of Pr. Johann Kilian), with the result being the founding of St. Paul Austin.
So, was the congregation that Hofius briefly served the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dessau? It seems unlikely that two congregations would have existed in Dessau at the same time, but I don’t have definite proof either way. Just another mystery I’d like to solve…
While doing the research for this article this morning, I discovered that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dessau building will be moved to Pioneer Farms, where it will be preserved! I’m not sure when that will happen, but I’d sure like to see it being moved!
You can see some photos of the cemetery, plus some of the inside of the building here:
You can also read a much more extensive history of Lutheranism in Texas, including a more detailed history of the Texas Synod here: