Saturday, January 08, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 9

John Wesley DeVilbiss Preaches First Sermon in German, January 11, 1856

When the Texas Annual Conference met in Galveston in December 1855, Bishop George Pierce took the German speaking churches out of their geographic districts and placed them all in a single district based on their language. He then had to name a Presiding Elder for that district. The problem arose that none of the German preachers had enough experience for the job, and none of the English preachers spoke German.

Pierce appointed John Wesley DeVilbiss, who had come to Texas from Ohio in 1842, to the district. DeVilbiss realized that he needed to learn German. He moved to New Braunfels where he could be immersed in the language. About a month later, on January 11, 1856, he was ready to preach his first sermon in German. The sermon was at “Antioch Chapel on Clark’s Creek.” (I think this church was the predecessor of Hope UMC in Lavaca County in the SWT Conference.)

Had DeVilbiss achieved enough fluency to preach a sermon in just one month? Not really. He had written his sermon in English, and then had help translating it into German.

He persevered in both his language study and his presiding elder duties. DeVilbiss eventually achieved a fair fluency in German and some familiarity with Spanish. The German District consisted of 11 appointments from Galveston to Fort Mason south to Victoria, Yorktown, and Medina County. He served the German District for four years, and in December 1859 became P.E. of the Helena District in the newly-created Rio Grande Mission (later West Texas later Southwest Texas) Conference. He took the superannuate relationship in 1881. DeVilbiss died in 1885. The German District of which he had been the first presiding elder eventually evolved into its own annual conference.


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