04/18/1958.  Now, after a long time, I will continue with my story.

Included in some of my more unpleasant memories are, I confess, the Bible classes we had to attend regularly, regardless of if we were so inclined or not.

 

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Some of our pastors made an effort to make this hour a bit more engaging, so that one could follow with some interest, but sometimes it was too boring to even yawn, and only the automatic obedience of childhood brought us to the unfriendly, gloomy school.  On the other hand, I was always happy to go to church, only pouring rain, extreme heat, or bitter cold giving me pause, but that was not an option – whoever was “an der Reihe” went.  Anyone who did stay at home read a sermon, and on the Sundays where there was no Bible study, another sermon was read in the evening.  Father was reasonable and cut it short when it was too long; stating, and rightly so, that if it is too long people become fatigued and don’t hear anything anymore.
In the winter we would forgo making any light during twilight, a time of day I always found very beautiful and that we used to call the “Schniederfier”.  It is a shame that that time of day is no longer celebrated.  It was especially nice on Sunday evenings when we would sing together in the twilight – only religious songs, of course, and that was a shame because I’ve always also enjoyed singing many folk songs.

In the spring or autumn, when we no longer had any evening light, we would skip the  evening blessing.  Instead father prayed  from memory the following prayer that I do not want to be forgotten:  Herr, du Hüter Israels, welchen aller Schlaf verborgen, wollest doch in dieser Nacht, für die lieben Meinen sorgen.  Ja, für alle Menschenkinder sorge heut’ und morgen früh, laß Dein Auge für sie wachen, Deine Hand beschütze sie.  Höre gnädig und erhöre wenn die Frommen jetzund beten, verschone die Beleidiger, die Dir heut zu nah getreten.  Trag Geduld mit denen Sündern, die, so in der finsteren Nacht, noch auf fressen, saufen huren und berauben sind bedacht.  Nimm die Kinder wohl in Acht.
Denen die nicht schlafen können, mache kurz die lange Nacht.  Mach Du der Elenden Nächte heller durch den Gnadenschein und laß ihre Last erträglich auf dem Jammerlager sein.  Endlich wollest Stadt und Land unter Deinem Schutze wohnen.  Lärmen, Aufruhr und Gewalt ferne von den Grenzen gehen, bis wir aus den Finsternissen zu dem großen Tage gehen.  Und als dann laß uns im Lichte , ewiglich erfreuet stehen.

This prayer is even longer, and comes from an ancient prayer book by Arndt, Schmolke or Starke.  I can not forget Father’s strong, reverent voice when he said this prayer.

 

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08/05/1958.  In those days church life was much more central to daily life than it is today, but often I think it was just boredom that drove some people, who were anything but pious, to church.  Before and after church, on the long route there and back, we met friends with whom we might not otherwise have convened, and it was not always edifying spiritual discussions that took place.  The pastors had quite a bit of influence, following immediately after God in their authority, but of course

Johann Heinrich Volkening

they were also only human.  Especially loved and revered – even today, 51 years after his death – was Pastor August Volkening, son of revival preacher Johann Heinrich Volkening.  Of him one can say that he was a great blessing to the community.  He not only “awakened” people with his words, but during his sermons no one fell asleep.  He took care of the personal needs of his church members, and actively helped where help was most needed.  He also did not mince words when placing blame.  In this way he has able to convince the  farmers to create more humane living situations for their workers, by updating their cottages.  I never heard a disapproving word about Pastor Volkening.  The reconstruction and renewal of the Church was very dear to him, and he contributed much to its beautification (1906 – 1907).  It was his last work, he died shortly after the inauguration.  This was a huge blow to the community of Oldendorf.  Pastor Blankenstein, the 2nd Pastor, though a good pastor for many, was not highly revered by all.  He lacked the perspicacity and the authority of a Pastor Volkening, which was urgently needed in the following years.  During that time a battle of the Church extended for years, splitting the community into two hostile camps.  It was a battle over the

Oldendorf Church

churches benches and chairs.  These were previously owned by farmers or other owners who bought the seats as a way to raise money for the church.  Our farm had 6 seats, some had more or less.  Those who had no seat had to squeeze in somewhere.  The servants and hired hands with their farms of course, and others with near or distant relatives.  It was generally the case that the benches were crowded, but that in no way disturbed the peace and devotion, the crowding being alleviated by alternating between sitting and standing.  The crowding was the reason that the church was extended in the south aisle in the first place.  This new area was created for the previously dispossessed.  The correct distribution was not yet in effect when pastor Volkening died.  The new Pastor Heidsiek, an able, energetic and intelligent man, had a difficult time putting it all to right.  With Pastor Volkening no one would have dared to open their mouth to complain, but with the new pastor a disruptive element ventured forth, that today would call themselves communist.  In addition, there were some quarrelsome farmers on both sides of the dispute who just had fun being confrontational, and where it was not about the thing itself, because when the dispute was over one seldom saw them in church.

 

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Many felt a real need existed and were ready to volunteer their seats.  Father, as usual,  belonged to the moderates.  He could clearly see that everyone in the church should have the same rights, but as a farmer it went against the grain for him that the seats  that in his eyes belonged to the farm, because they were acquired by his ancestors, were just seized without comment, especially at the instigation of the “vaterlandslosen Gesellen” (unpatriotic).

After years of struggle, the dust finally settled between the “Seated” and “free seated”.  Every farmer etc., had a woman’s and a man’s seat, and the other seats were resigned back to the church for a refund of 25 marks per seat.  The benches were then identified with brass nameplates, each bench randomly assigned, and in this way everyone was satisfied.

In 1951, when the church was renovated, these nameplates disappeared without a whimper, and since the church has so much space everyone can find a good seat.

During these church struggles Pastor Blankenstein died.  Some spiteful people even claimed that Pastor Heidsiek annoyed him to death, quite an outrageous accusation, that even the “serious Christians” did not put a stop to.  With my own ears I heard a particularly pious man spread all sorts of malicious gossip – he had not personally experienced it – but he was still comfortable spreading these rumors even though it is against God’s commandment, “Alles zum Besten kehren(Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor).  When Pastor Moeller came into the church after Pastor Blankenstein, he was approached by members from both sides of the debate who were still trying to stir up trouble, but with a few friendly, humorous words, he escorted them to the door, and thus the case was settled.  Both Pastors then proceeded to work together for years on the best of terms – so much for church life.

NEXT – Chapter 2, Part 4:  Worldly Life