CHRIST LUTHERAN CHURCH, Elm Creek: by Janie Wallace
Christ Lutheran Church, which was founded February 14.1886, played an important role in the life of many New Berlin residents in the early days of this Community.
In the year 2000, a new steeple was placed on the 114 year old building. In the 115 years of service to their Lord, these faithful people have persevered. Many, many, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths have been recorded in the historic archives of this congregation. They continue to give thanks to their Lord for giving them the faith and courage to persevere despite the unusual hardship that marked their beginnings
The early settlers were determined to have a church and persevered despite setbacks that would have daunted less determined souls. They actually built three separate churches on the same site in under a year. The first and second were destroyed, but the third still stands today. The story of the early congregation is one of devotion and determination. Mr. and Mrs. August Lenz donated four acres of land for the church and cemetery. On May 2.1886 the first church building was dedicated. This building collapsed in June of 1886 when it was struck by lightning during a storm. Another building was built, only to be destroyed in August of 1886 when a great hurricane passed through this area. This storm was so furious that it completely inundated the port city of Indianola before lashing its destructive forces across central Texas. Indianola was never again rebuilt. Many immigrants of this area had entered the United Stated at this port city.
What other destruction and damage did this hurricane cause? Were their homes and barns blown away? This destruction occurred in August; harvest time for these farmers. Did they lose their corn, cotton, peanut, and hay crops? Did they lose the fruits and vegetables in their gardens? How many cattle, horses, mules, chickens and turkey did they lose to the floods that usually accompany a hurricane? How much time did they have to prepare for this storm? Not much, as communication was practically nil! How brave and dedicated to their Christian faith they must have been! How was it that they did not become discouraged and give up, thinking that God had abandoned them? This clearly shows us the fortitude, determination, true strength of character and faith these immigrants had. They trusted and believed that their God would see them through these trials and tribulations.
The third church was built and dedicated in February of 1887. This building is still used today as the sanctuary and main worship center for the congregation. In time, a parsonage was built for their pastor and the congregation grew.
Many descendants of the charter members of this courageous and faithful congregation are residents of the area today. Among family names of the charter members are. Lenz, Mattke, Koepp, Helmke, Radtke, Schievelbein, Schulttze, Warncke, Markgraf, Hartmann, Helnke, Schraub, and others. The donors of the property, Mr. & Mrs. Lenz, were the grandparents of Annie Lenz Penshorn and the great-grandparents of Jimmie Penshorn and Marlene Warncke Young, among others.
Church records provide a snapshot of the time period. During the year that the church was being built, three separate times, life went on with its usual joys and sorrows. According to the church records, there were two weddings in the parish in 1886. Wilhelm Kunde was married to Maria Stolze and Heinrich Wieters was married to Maria Luedemann. Those members who died in 1886 were Carl Schievelbein and four children whose parents were Friederick and Wilhelmine Lenz Koepp. The children were Wilhelm, age 20; Wilhelmine, age 16; Dorothea, age 12; and Ida, age 3. They died from February 16 to February 24 of an epidemic believed to have been diphtheria. One child survived, Adella, age 10. How utterly catastrophic!
We can only vaguely imagine how devastated the dedicated faithful members of this congregation, located in the total wilderness, could have felt. The congregation was located 12 miles from Seguin, only a small community itself in 1886. La Vernia and Marion were also just barely settlements. New Berlin was totally isolated from a town of any size. How wonderful they must have felt to finally have achieved their goal - a church in which to worship!
(Some of the members of this congregation bad been attending church in New Braunfels or Seguin prior to this time.) This building was built at great sacrifice. The members were immigrants, struggling simply to survive, growing the food they needed to eat and building a structure to escape the winter's harsh cold and the summer's severe heat. Most of them were farmers and surviving on a farm was not easy. When they arrived, land had to be cleared, wells dug, houses and barns built, and endless list of tasks had to he completed. They had to contend with disease, starvation and loneliness, as they had left their families and friends in the old country.
In the face of these monumental tasks, the construction of a church was still of paramount importance to the German Lutheran families of New Berlin. Despite the unfathomable setbacks of the first year of Christ Lutheran Church, they persevered, building their sanctuary three times. It stands today as a testament to their devotion and determination.
Visit the Elm Creek Church Web site.