The piano music was absolutely beautiful on Sunday. A church member blessed us with his gifts. Every week, I see God’s gifted people pour out a blessing for the church and for the world. Every week I meet educators, business leaders, parents, grandparents, laborers, homemakers, students and more who shine the love and goodness of God to people in their lives—both the greatest and the least.
I even met the great-granddaughter of Rev. F.W. Herzberger, a forefather, and pace-setter in our very own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. His great-granddaughter, Suzanne, spoke fondly about her beloved relative who was known for helping the disenfranchised.
Rev. Herzberger graduated from the seminary in 1882. During his first four years of ministry, he started six congregations. As he served God’s people, he led the way in advocating for those cast aside. He championed the poor and hungry. He rallied people around racial equality and compassion. He also took the risk to enter the brokenness of urban blight.
In 1899, Herzberger became the first “city missionary” in the LCMS. Instead of being called by one congregation, he was called by the St. Louis Mission Society, a new organization that recognized the emerging needs of the city. Herzberger had a gift the church needed: Born in the United States twenty years after the emigration of our LCMS foregathers, Herzberger spoke English. The LCMS knew the needs of the community and responded with Gospel vigor.
This was breaking new ground—but that is what the LCMS always did. It took risks in order to put the Word of God to work. Herzberger was called to minister to people in hospitals, prisons, poor houses, and asylums. Two laymen donated funding for the first two years of ministry costs. Professor L. Fuerbringer of Concordia Seminary noted that “an entirely new missionary movement had begun in their midst. The object of this mission-work was…to do individual soul-saving work among the hundreds, nay, thousands of poor neglected Lazaruses lying at our very doors in our large cities.” (https://crossings.org/part-one-f-w-herzberger/)
Herzberger suffered the loss of sight in one eye when, while he was walking with a prisoner to the gallows, a chain broke loose and hit him in the face. But Herzberger was undeterred. Writing in the 75th-anniversary book of the LCMS, Herzberger repeated the confessional refrain that Walther and many others stated boldly:
“By His grace, His divine grace alone, Missouri’s faith is no dead historical faith, but the faith that worketh by love. Missouri confesses in the words of Luther with the Fourth Article of the Formula of Concord, treating of good works: ‘Faith is a divine work in us, that changes us and regenerates us of God, and puts to death the old Adam, makes us entirely different men at heart, spirit, mind, and all powers, and brings with it the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing’” (Ebenezer, 1922, p.446-447).
F.W. Herzberger’s great-granddaughter continues his legacy as she blesses the hurting and forgotten with prayers, visits, and prayer shawls. That is a legacy of our church. It is what I see throughout the Texas District!
By Rev. Michael Newman