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German Language Usage at St. Paulís Church

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Joined: 17 Mar 2009
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Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 8:36 pm    Post subject: German Language Usage at St. Paulís Church Reply with quote

Iím sure that many of you still remember German language services at St. Paulís Church. Back in the 1800s when the church was formed, all services and records were in German. That is quite understandable because all of the settlers had received their religious instruction in German and thatís what was spoken almost exclusively in the homes as well as in the community. While the people spoke Low German, the services were held in the High German dialect, the language of Martin Luther. Some old-timers resisted the use of English, insisting that the inspired Word of God was first written down in the German language and therefore was the pure Word, not some later translation like the King James Version.

While it is quite common for immigrants to retain the language of their homeland, it persisted in Concordia for a much longer time than in many other communities. The people were overwhelmingly of German descent and, being rural, Concordia was somewhat isolated from the rest of the area around it. As noted by many historians, the church was the center of the immigrantsí cultural and community life. So the use of German continued for well over a century.

When my mother was growing up in the early 1900s, she received her German instruction at the churchís Davis school and her English instruction at the public Eastwood school (both just north of Davis Creek). Checking the confirmation records of St. Paulís, one notes that the first English language class was confirmed in 1925. (My aunt Cornelia Petering Pape was in that first class.) World War I did not stop the use of German in Concordia as it did in many other, particularly urban, communities.

I can remember going to German church services with my parents as a young child, not understanding what was spoken. The small black German hymnals were in the pews. They did not contain any musical notation like the hymnals of today, just words. I enjoyed paging through the old German Bibles. Many of the pictures in them were particularly menacing. As I have noted before, I started the first grade at St. Paulís School in 1941 and brought my German Fibel to class to begin instruction in the language. However, Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II changed all of that.

While German was no longer taught in the classroom, one tradition continued as long as I went to school at St. Paulís, namely the German portion of the Christmas program. The first part of the program was in German and the latter part in English. We would recite verses in German telling the Christmas story. My first grade verse was ďSie fuerchteten Sich sehr.Ē (They were sore afraid). And, of course, we sang the old familiar carols, like O du froehliche, Ihr Kinderlein kommet, and Ehre sei Gott in der Hoehe. The last one was a favorite of some of us boys during WWII. While practicing the program in the auditorium upstairs at school, we would shout out ďAir raid, Air raidĒ pretending to pull down the blackout shades.

Iím not sure how long the German Christmas programs continued, but I believe that services were conducted in German as long as Pastor Heilman was able.
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