Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other (Hebrews 10:25a, TLB).
A settlement of long-dead German immigrants recently left a big mark on me. They reminded me that the Christian faith was a consistent foundational element as brave men and women from around the world moved east to west in waves across the mountains and plains of our young nation. In 1846, this visionary band of 120 came to the Texas Hill Country, where they founded Fredericksburg an hour northwest of San Antonio.
Over a few years, more than 5,000 German colonists sailed to the Texas Gulf Coast, and then trudged their way to central Texas. Forging a hard path in two-wheeled ox carts and on foot. From coast to hills, they left a trail of graves of those who died of cholera as they sought a life without political or religious oppression. The ones who survived have left their permanent mark and their hardy descendants in this piece of Texas.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of following in their Fredericksburg footsteps and savoring their story. One of my first stops was at the Vereins Kirche (Society Church), a replica of the first public building erected in the new settlement. A church for all denominations – their first common building.
Today, churches dot the small city on every street. St. Mary’s Catholic was founded there in 1846, and its Marienkirche section dates back to 1861. The “new St. Mary’s” was built in 1908. I spent a few minutes in the back of the nave of this ornate Gothic Revival masterpiece and was overwhelmed with a sense of the glory and grandeur of God. The twin towers of the Marienkirche and the new church create one of the city’s most striking scenes.
Early settlers spread out, some great distances from Fredericksburg, as they established farms and ranches out through the hills. Though scattered far and wide, they never forgot Scripture’s admonition to come together for worship. Accordingly, they built small, simple one- or two-room Sunday houses in the settlement. (Think HGTV tiny houses in primitive form.) They came there on Saturday and spent the night so they could worship together Sunday mornings.
And speaking of Sunday houses, some have been preserved, updated, and remodeled to serve as bed and breakfasts. Plenty of contemporary accommodations mean visitors have varied options – rustic to luxurious.
“Oh, yes, in Gillespie County, we can accommodate 5,000 guests,” Ernie Loeffler told me. Loeffler is president of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. I don’t doubt him one bit. Almost 1,000 of those accommodations are in Fredericksburg, including hotels, B&Bs, and RV hookups.
On the edge of town is Cross Mountain, where it is thought that earlier Spanish missionaries erected the first wooden cross. Early German settler John Christian Durst found the old cross of heavy timbers and dubbed it “Kreuzberg” – Cross Mountain. Today a large metal cross overlooks the Hill Country, another landmark that pays tribute to the significance of the Christian faith in the region’s history.
Hospitality and history
Nowadays, Fredericksburg celebrates this heritage of perseverance and courage demonstrated by their forebears and is well prepared to share it with guests who visit. The city of some 11,000 boasts a number of other reasons to attract the steady stream of guests who come to town.
The most overwhelming one is the National Museum of the Pacific War, the nation’s only museum dedicated specifically to preserving the history of the Pacific Theater of World War II. Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific, called the city home. The museum is a surprising and extensive collection of exhibits and information on those who served in that theater. (Look for a full feature story in the November issue of AFA Journal.)
One of a number of unique businesses worth visiting there is Wildseed Farms, seven miles east of Fredericksburg. It’s the world’s largest working wildflower farm.
“We have 1,000 acres in Texas and over 200 acres of wildflower fields here at Hill Country headquarters,” said founder and president John Hunter. Looking out over vast fields of red poppies left me almost speechless.
“Why so many acres of red poppies?” I finally asked.
“Uh, well, they bring people into the parking lot!” Hunter said. “And of course, the fields change with the seasons.”
Another informative stop was the 10-building Pioneer Museum that chronicles the history of the area. Audio messages connect the visitor to history by featuring descendants of the preserved homes.
At Stonewall, some thirty minutes east of Fredericksburg, the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm is a perfect compliment to the Pioneer Museum. Costumed players demonstrate various life skills pioneers had to learn, e.g., soap making, canning, sausage making, sheep shearing. The Sauer-Beckmann farm sits on the edge of the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, which includes the LBJ ranch, birthplace, and the home that became dubbed the Texas White House.
A couple of other businesses back in town merit a note. I was hosted in the Old Farm House, a six-bedroom, three-bath authentic farmhouse behind the peach orchards of a Fischer & Wieser retail store with its own two-bedroom Sunday House. It’s just the kind of getaway place my extended family would have jumped on a few years before we got this old! I was behind a locked gate, surrounded by peace and quiet, a little pond out back, peach trees in front.
But the best thing about Fischer & Wieser is the company website www.jelly.com. You gotta love that name. F&W produces more than 150 jellies, preserves, and sauces. They’re the ones who put the chipotle pepper on the U.S. palate 20 years ago when they created the Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce.
One more unique experience in town occurred at J.E. Cauthen & Sons, Ltd. The store sells fine sporting arms, art, and collectibles. Now, I wouldn’t normally be much interested in a gun store, but the classy window displays caught my eye.
Inside, it didn’t take me long to consider the guns on display – some of which sell for more than I pay for a car. But the trademark Hill Country hospitality was on full display. Charlie Parcus brewed me a cup of coffee and showed me around the store, which, by the way, looks like a British gentleman’s den (I think) – ornate and masculine furniture, stone fireplace, polished wood floors, exquisite rugs, and original paintings.
“I see you have a painting by G. Harvey,” I commented.
“Yes,” Charlie said, “this is his hometown.”
“Wow. I’ve grown to enjoy his western art and landscapes. Because Focus on the Family has offered his prints each Christmas for years.”
“Are you connected to Focus on the Family?”
“No, I work for American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi.”
“Really? Isn’t that American Family Radio?”
“Yeah, that’s us.”
“I listen all the time!”
Meeting Charlie was a highlight – an unexpected bonus – of my week in Hill Country, but the cumulative effect of the experience was still the reminder that all the freedoms we enjoy result from a sturdy pioneer spirit in the hearts of those waves of pioneers whose lives were firmly rooted in their faith. I pray that our nation today could find the courage to return to that faith.