By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Recently I gave a speech about the history of First Protestant Church at the Texas German-American Society’s meeting. One of the stories in the history of this church is about the three large bells that are in the tower. These are not the ones that Prince Carl gave to the church and brought by the Schaefer family; those are installed on the front lawn. The tower bells symbolize change and you’ve heard over and over that “change” is inevitable. We all agree that it’s true, but we also know that change is extremely difficult.
Let’s look at how the First Protestant Church bells became the symbols of change and even of a changing society here in New Braunfels. Parishioner Christian Lange presented the three bells to the congregation in 1894 to be hung in the tower. The smallest bell has its name, “Germania”, engraved on its side. Germania represents the German heritage. It is three feet in diameter and thirty inches tall and rings a high tenor sound. The next bell is named “Columbia” and is forty-four inches in diameter and forty inches high. It signifies the loyalty toward the new country, America. The song, “Hail Columbia”, although it never mentions America, is a song whose words were written when America and France were at war with each other and was used to keep Americans united. The chorus goes:
“Firm, united, let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find”
“Concordia” is the largest of the bells and expresses the hope for harmony between the old and the new generations. It is almost six feet in diameter and four feet high. With its deep mellow voice, it forms the bass for the harmony of the blending of the three. If you look up the root of the word Concordia, you will find that it means “a peaceful coming together, not of one conquest over another”. Symbolically, the three bells represent a peaceful blending of the German and American cultures resulting in a new culture.
About two decades after those bells were singing in harmony, there was an opportunity for Concordia to show its strength. Here’s what happened:
Shortly after the end of the First World War, there arose an element of discontent in the church body. From the beginning, the church had been a German church – the German Protestant Church with everything in German- sermons, music, organizations, and confirmation classes. Now many parishioners wanted to make the transition to become truly American.
There was much strife during this time and the church split down the middle. There was an English service and a German service. There were two confirmation classes, two choirs, one in English and one in German. The English church service paid the utility bill for the English service and the German church service paid the utility bill for the German service. An attempt was made to solve this growing chasm by hiring an English-speaking pastor to join the German pastor, Rev. Gottlob Mornhinweg. He had been pastor at the church since 1899.
After many years, the problem was finally solved by hiring Rev. Edwin Berger who was proficient in both English and German and could give sermons in both. Rev. Mornhinweg was retained as an Emeritus Pastor. After this tumultuous time, the name of the church changed from German Protestant Church to First Protestant Church. After WWII, the German influence became smaller and gradually the speaking of German all but faded away. The same situation was happening in the town of New Braunfels.
First Protestant strives to hold on to some of its German traditions a little like the town holds on to its “Germania” with Wurstfest, Weihnachtsmarkt, the German singing societies, Kindertanzen and Kindermaskenball. We have our fests and vereins, burgs, and bergs. Occasionally at First Protestant the choir sings an anthem in German and the pastor, Darryl Higgins always adds a German blessing.
Don’t think for one moment that “ Germania” didn’t suffer during this transition. It was hard. No doubt, the struggle goes on in other cultures as well, whether it is Hispanic, Black or Asian. The changes aren’t over yet as we go from a little town to a big city, but here’s hoping “Concordia” is strong and big enough to help peaceful transitions.