‘Calling and Conviction’

Area men honor church founder, Lutheran pioneer

The Rev. Martin Moehring and Ken Selking don’t claim to be able to resurrect the dead. As Lutherans, they leave that to a higher power.

But the two area men hope their portrayals of the Rev. Friedrich Wyneken, who died on this day in 1876, will resurrect interest in one of the region’s most influential 19th-century religious pioneers.

“Really, his efforts in helping to establish Lutheranism and stabilize a German-American culture in this area are important for people to know about. … He is a major figure,” says Moehring, pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Decatur.

Both Moehring and Selking will bring the circuit-riding German-born preacher to life again this week during the inaugural Wyneken Seminar at Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Fort Wayne.

The event on Friday and Saturday celebrates the 200th birthday of Wyneken, who, as a German missionary, is credited with helping start about a dozen churches in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan and with founding the seminary – all before the Civil War.

Moehring, 54, says Wyneken’s life and legacy have been largely overlooked.

He first got interested when his church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1995 and he discovered the congregation had been one of the stops on Wyneken’s horseback preaching circuit in the 1840s.

“There really was not that much (written) by him that had been translated from the German,” he says of how his research was hampered then.

But in the last year, a lengthy Wyneken biography has been rendered into English, Moehring says, and so have the pastor’s letters, essays and speeches from when Wyneken served as the second president of the Lutheran Missouri Synod between 1850 and 1864.

Wyneken now even has a Facebook page, courtesy of the seminary’s Wyneken expert, the Rev. Robert Smith.

Moehring says he portrays Wyneken wearing period garb, including the yellow canvas breeches the minister was known to wear on his rides between churches. Moehring will present Wyneken’s biography during a talk Friday.

Selking, a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Preble, which was founded by followers of Wyneken, learned about him by getting involved in saving a ramshackle Adams County farmhouse where Wyneken and his family lived after 1850.

Selking, 64, helped The Friends of Wyneken move the house from West County Road 1050 North and North County Road 550 West to 11730 Winchester Road N.W. The group is now raising money to restore the structure and turn it into a museum on the area’s German-American and religious history.

On Friday night, Selking and his wife, Pendy, are hosting “Fritz’s Frontier Feast,” a fundraising dinner at the seminary in honor of Wyneken.

The dinner will feature the couple dressed in costume as the minister and his Adams County-born wife, Maria Sophia “Sophie” Wilhemine Buuck.

German- and pioneer-inspired food is on the menu – including sauerbraten, pork chops with apples, spaetzle (tiny German noodles), apple strudel and German beer.

Selking says he only occasionally lapses into Wyneken’s character.

“I don’t have the hair,” he says with a laugh.

But he says he likes that the stern-looking clergyman once gave his own shirt so a poor man’s family could bury him properly, and that Wyneken’s friends apparently called him “Fritz.”

A communion plate engraved with that name still survives and will be on display at the seminary with other Wyneken-era artifacts during the seminar, he says.

Other presenters Friday include Dr. Lawrence Rast, seminary dean, who will speak on the historical and cultural context of Wyneken’s frontier ministry, and a panel of area pastors who will discuss Wyneken’s role in founding their churches.

Saturday’s events will include a re-enactment by the Rev. Dale Kern, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Stryker, Ohio, who will portray the Rev. Johann Detzer, another early circuit-riding minister.

Then participants will leave on a bus tour of Wyneken-related historical sites in the Fort Wayne area hosted by Smith. The tour will end with a reception with birthday cake at the Wyneken house.

“When you look around here today, we have no concept of what he had to do. He went from Cincinnati all the way up through Ohio and Indiana to Frankenmuth, Mich., all by horseback,” Selking says.

“When you consider the woods and the swamps and bogs and marshes he had to go through … you have to admire someone with the calling and conviction to do that.” 

Rosa Salter Rodriguez – The Journal Gazette