A day of history.

I was at St. John’s Cat Spring this morning. Country preacher Kevin Haug has been there for seven years. Check out his blog at http://countrypreacherscorner.blogspot.com/ . In that time this little church has grown from 67 in worship to 130, effectively doubling. Being the only church of any kind in Cat Spring, a community just south of Bellville, means they welcome folks from various religious backgrounds. The order of worship was very streamlined.

They have gotten involved with the Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic and even organized a walk that raised significant dollars for pastors in the CAR. Not bad for a congregation of 400 in a town of 800.

Cat Spring is one of the oldest German-American communities in Texas. Known at first as Wildcatspring in German, Cat Spring was founded by immigrants from Oldenburg and Westphalia in 1834 and named for a nearby spring where a puma was killed by one of the German immigrants. It is said the place crawled with wildcats.

I met Herbert Kolllatschny this morning. He gave me a short book, Religion in Cat Spring (1840-1927) that he wrote. I read it this afternoon. He draws on Colorado County history books to tell his story.

A Rev. Louis Ervendberg moved to Cat Spring after his attempt to start a Lutheran Church in Houston failed. He started First Evangelical Church, which probably met in homes, since no building is known. Three Kleeberg children were baptized in 1841 according to Ervendberg’s Kirchenbuch. Ervendberg left to start an orphanage with his wife, but sadly ran off with a 17-year-old girl. He was later murdered by thieves.

A Moravian pastor named Ernst Bergmann arrived in 1850 from Germany. He was called by a congregational meeting that met in a tent on Easter Sunday. His salary: $78/year, so he had to farm to make ends meet, like Ervendberg.

Bergmann wrote articles to the Moravian News in Germany enticing people to come to Texas. He knew Czech, German, English, Latin and Polish. He played violin an flute, directed the choir, taught gymnastics and set broken bones. He stayed 21 years. He has three daughters buried in the Cat Spring cemetery, ages 2 days, 9 years and 12 years old. The older girls died of Yellow Fever. His Kirchenbuch has never been found, but Austin County records say he did 105 weddings. He died at 79 years of age and is considered the father of Czech immigration to Texas.

In 1870 a 20×30 German Evangelical Lutheran church building was built for $223. The Lutheran pastors of Rose Hill and Frelsburg officiated at the dedication. Kollatschny’s book lists the entire membership, about 100. In 1879 their first confirmation class had 11 students. The Pastor from Frelsburg (Gerstmann) served the congregation for $20/year. He received fifty cents extra when there was communion or a baptism. Funerals were $1. 🙂

Pastor Gerstmann encouraged te congregation to join the Texas Synod, but it was voted down in a heated congregational meeting. Pastor Gerstmann left in 1889, and for five years the congregation could not secure a pastor. A parson was built and the salary was raised to $120/year. In 1894 a Pastor Wenzel accepted the call. By 1897 his salary was down to $70/year. He left. After a short interim, Pastor Schmidt arrived. In 1900 he was making $110/year. He was followed by a number of short-term pastors.

It fascinates me that the church minutes, written in German record mostly financial transactions such as the pastor’s salary, building costs and cleaning expenses.

Here is a photograph of the Cat Spring confirmation class of 1923.

Driving home I came though Bellville. I thought I’d snap a quick picture of this sign, welcoming people to St. John’s Lutheran in Bellville. (St. John’s is the most common church name in this synod.) This attractive sign invites as you enter town, reminding me of the strong Lutheran presence in this part of Texas.