THE ORGANIZATION, PROGRESS, AND EARLIEST MONTHS OF HOLY CROSS LUTHERAN CHURCH
by W. T. Block
Candidate John B. Schmid arrived in Nederland about July 25, 1957, the Midcounty area being his first pastoral assignment following his graduation from Concordia College in Saint Louis on June 4, 1957. He quickly moved into a small apartment located at 112 15th Street in Nederland. One of the 174 graduates of Concordia's Class of 1957, Candidate Schmid graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and his Theological Diploma, following eleven years of Lutheran Church training, which included one year of practical vicar experience at churches in Cullman and Gadsden, Alabama. Born August 3, 1932, in New Orleans, he was the son of Rev. Eugene Schmid, a Lutheran pastor of Gretna, Louisiana. Candidate Schmid began his pastoral studies for the Lutheran ministry at Concordia High School in Austin in 1946, later matriculating at St. John's College in Winfield, Kansas, before enrolling at Concordia Seminary in 1952.
On August 4, 1957, Candidate Schmid was ordained at an ordination service conducted at 7:30 P. M. at Trinity Lutheran Church. The candidate's father, Rev. Eugene Schmid, read the Rite of Ordination, whereas Pastor Victor Buvinghausen of Trinity Church preached the sermon for the ordination service. Rev. Gottfried G. Press, visitor for Circuit 18 of the Texas District, as well as pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Groves, served as Liturgist. A year later, Pastor Press would become Pastor Schmid's brother-in-law, following the latter's marriage in 1958 to Miss Ethel Press.7
During his first week in Nederland, Pastor Schmid visited as many of the Midcounty Lutheran families as he could locate. About August 12, 1957, he called an organizational meeting at his residence on 15th Street, where about fifteen prospective members attended and temporary church officers were elected as followed: Ed Hughes, chairman; W. T. Block, secretary; and W. R. Wiegmann, treasurer. At the organizational meeting, Rev. Schmid was authorized to rent the vacant Cessac Cafe building, an approximate 40 by 40-foot, two-story structure at 305 Twin City, located at that time on land adjacent to Nederland Pharmacy, but which is now a part of Nederland Pharmacy. The first congregation meeting was scheduled for Sunday, September 15, 1957. At the first organizational meeting, several names were suggested for the new Lutheran church in Nederland, and Holy Cross Lutheran Church received the largest number of votes.8 But before any meeting could take place, the old cafe building, filthy beyond belief, would require countless hours of "cleaning and fixing" before it would be appropriate and suitable for any church gathering.
Between August 15 and August 30, 1957, several of the earliest members, including H. B. Kieschnick, T. E. Smith, Bill Wiegmann, W. T. Block, Keith Dubois, G. D. Davis, Bill Leary, Lawrence Schkade, and others worked very hard to scour the old cafe building and make it usuable as a church facility. The walls were especially dirty and discolored. A long row of coal-burning cook stoves had occupied most all of the south wall of the cafe, and the writer recalls that he and Ben Kieschnick had used wide putty knives to remove a half-inch coat of old grease and coal soot from the wall, where formerly the stoves had stood. Then the floors, walls and ceiling were thoroughly washed with stiff brushes and soapy water, clorox and other cleansing agents before coats of paint could be added. A photograph of the interior of that church in the Midcounty Review reveals a total of about 120 metal folding chairs in place, an altar with flowers and six candles on it, and behind the altar, the dorsal curtain and cross.9
On the date of the first service, September 15th, a total of 105 persons attended church, indicating that a large number of Nederland's curious visitors were there, perhaps to see how a Lutheran church service was conducted. Attendence remained at about 90 for the first month, but quickly leveled off to an average of about 70 persons. For the fall of 1957, the following figures are the averages of twelve Sundays between September 15 and December 15, as follows: Sunday School attendance, 52; church attendance, 70; and Sunday offerings, $102.10 From the beginning, Holy Cross Lutheran Church was greatly blessed with an abundance of talented organists, as follows: Charles Smith, Mrs. J. E. Gietzen, and Mrs. Lawrence Schkade.
On October 3, 1957, less than a month following its opening Sunday, Rev. A. O. Rost, Secretary of Missions for the Texas District, addressed the congregation.11 On October 23, there was a business meeting at the church to appoint both a constitution committee and a land site committee to determine the location of a new church.12 Members of the constitution committee included W. H. B. Fehl, Sr., chairman; B. Kieschnick, W. Leary, and T. E. Smith. The land site committee included J. Ermel, B. W. Gillespie, Ed Hughes, B. Kieschnick, and W. Wiegmann. The date, December 11, 1957, was pre-set as the organizational meeting for Holy Cross Lutheran Church, as well as the charter date, the final acceptance of the church constitution and 1958 budget, and the election of church officers for 1958.13
On November 10, 1957, Dolores Denise Bryant was the first infant baptized in Holy Cross Church, and on December 9, the constitution for Holy Cross Ladies' Aid was adopted.14 The T. E. Smith family donated the first Christmas tree for the church, and on December 29th, the first shipment of offering envelopes for Holy Cross Lutheran Church arrived.15 On December 24th, the church celebrated its first Christmas Eve service, with 35 children participating in the program. A day later, the membership enjoyed their first Christmas day service together; and on December 31st, Pastor Schmid and the members celebrated the first New Year's Eve service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church on Twin City Highway. On December 6, the marriage of Martha Ann Kieschnick to Raymond Alphin was the first wedding performed in Holy Cross Lutheran Church.16
On December 15, 1957, the newly-elected church officers for the year 1958 were installed, as follows; W. R. Wiegmann, president; J. J. Murphy, secretary; T. E. Smith, treasurer; W. H. B. Fehl, Sr., financial secretary; W. Leary, Board of Trustees; G. Davis, J. Ellis and F. Kieschnick, Board of Stewardship and Missions; and Lawrence Schkade, Sunday School superintendent.17
At the organizational meeting of December 11th, the charter members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church began the signing of the church charter. It is noted, however, that many of the charter members were not accepted as communicants until the first half of 1958, indicating the signing of the charter remained open for several months.
The charter members were as follows (Mr. & Mrs. abbreviated as M-M): M-M J. J. Murphy, W. R. Wiegmann, M-M Gerald D. Davis, Mrs. R. A. Simmons; M-M John Ermel, M-M W. H. B. Fehl, Sr., M-M J. H. Frees, M-M Dudley Bryant, Jr., M-M James H. Ellis, M-M W. G. Leary, M-M Lawrence Schkade, M-M H. B. Kieschnick, M-M B. W. Gillespie, Frank B. Kieschnick, M-M John Kaspar, M-M E. L. Hughes, Rev. John B. Schmid, M-M T. E. Smith, M-M B. A. Schneider, Charles R. Smith, Mrs. Wm. B. Martin, Mrs. Fred Ewing, Mrs. H. M. Gribnau, Mrs. John E. Gietzen, Mrs. J. W. Turner, M-M A. Menard, Mrs. B. E. Cogswell, M-M James E. Holmes, M-M Lee Newberry, Mary Helen Kieschnick, Mrs. R. M. Alphin, Jerry Murphy, Patricia Ellis, Mrs. J. H. Peterson, M-M Bill M. Morgan, and Elaine Kaspar.18
As New Year's Eve of 1957 arrived, the Holy Cross Lutheran congregation had much for which to be thankful. It had a devoted pastor, and as of December 11, 1957 (according to Midcounty Review of May 15, 1958), the church had 49 communicant members and 37 children enrolled. Much progress had been achieved in less than four months--the writing and acceptance of the church constitution and a new budget, appointment of a committee to study possible locations for a new church, and the election and installation of church officers for 1958. In truth, Holy Cross Lutheran Church had indeed acquired a permanent niche, if not necessarily a large one, in the religious history of Nederland.
7 "John B. Schmid, New Lutheran Pastor in Midcounty Area," Midcounty Review, August 2, 1957.
8 "Holy Cross To Hold First Service," Midcounty Review, September 13, 1957; "Lutheran Church To Hold 1st Service Sunday," (Port Neches) Chronicle, September 12, 1957.
9 Photo, "Interior of Holy Cross Church," Midcounty Review, December 6, 1957.
10 Holy Cross Lutheran Church bulletins, Sept. 22 to Dec. 15, 1957, hereinafter cited as "HCLC Bul."
11 HCLC Bul., Oct. 6, 1957.
12 HCLC Bul., Oct. 20, 1957.
13 "Holy Cross Lutheran Church" Photo, Midcounty Review, Dec. 6, 1957.
14 HCLC Buls. Nov. 10 and Dec. 8, 1957.
15 HCLC Bul., Dec. 29, 1957.
16 "Lutheran Church To Hold New Year's Service," and "Wed in Lutheran Church," Midcounty Review, December 11, 31, 1957; HCLC Buls., Dec. 24, 25, 1957;
17 HCLC Bul., Dec. 15, 1957.
18 Copied from the charter of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, dated Dec. 11, 1957.