Lawrence Schuerman on his father, William F. Schuerman

 

Cover page:

 

Wheat Ridge, Colorado

 

July 3, 1960

 

To the Grand Children and Great Grand Children of William F. Schuerman

 

The enclosed brief writing, in manuscript form, has been shown to a few of you.Its favorable reception indicates that it may be of interest to all of you,To those of you who knew my Father I trust it will bring back fond memories.To those not so fortunate, may it fill, to a slight extent, that lack.

 

Lawrence Schuerman

 

MY FATHER

In Memoriam

 

There are two things inextricably entwined in my thinking and feeling; religion and my father. To me, my Dad was the essence of religious faith and practice, and when I found myself slowly rejecting, one by one, many of the dogmas of Christian faith the problem was doubly hard because it seemed that I was thereby rejecting my father, and such a thing was unthinkable. But, over the years, the problem has been resolved. Living the good life, with its impact upon others, can never be verbalized, and it will not fit the straight jacket of any dogma.

 

So, with a glad heart, I shall proceed to do something that I have wanted to do for many years. I shall write about father. I know that the image is highly idealistic and subjective. It is the image of an adoring son.

 

My father was born in 1859, in the farm home of German immigrants in southwestern Wisconsin. His boyhood was uneventful, in a closely knit German community, scarcely past the pioneer stage. There was the country school in which Will (or some German equivalent of that diminutive) quickly became proficient in the English language. There was high school, a not inconsiderable accomplishment in 1878. Will's parents had come from a solid cultural environment in the German Rhineland and they encou≠raged intellectual pursuits. After high school Will worked in, and even≠tually managed the flour mill, a family enterprise which was moderately prosperous. In this he followed in the footsteps of two older brothers, the elder of whom was fatally injured in a mill accident, and the second of whom, after properly fulfilling filial obligations, had "gone preaching".

 

Will worked in the mill from about age 20 to 24 or 25. Then he made a decision which must have been based upon long and prayerful considera≠tion. He "answered the call" to the gospel ministry.

 

Having made the decision the situation should have been uncomplicated. His preparation up to that point was adequate, and he and his family could well afford the expense of whatever specialized training might be indicated. But there was a complication. Will was in love, and in his case it was what is commonly described as the "head over heels" variety. It must have crept up on him like a thief in the night.

 

The beloved object was a young woman, three and one-half years younger than Will, who, at sometime during the years that Will was in the mill, for a few months or possibly a year, had worked in the Schuerman home as a maid or housekeeper. It was a period of invalidism for Will's mother. The girl's name was Lillian. Will called her Lillie.

 

Lest anyone suspect that I am here indulging in wild, romantic, fic≠tional fancy, I will now expose a hole card. It is the Ace of Hearts.

 

Among the treasured keepsakes of my mother, I, one day, ran across a diary.It was in Willís handwriting.It covered a period approximately just before and during Will's being at seminary for a period of preparation for the ministry.

 

It was the usual indifferently kept volume.There were entries of two or three words.There were blank pages, but at six or eight places in the book, there were a page or two or three pages in which Will poured out his heart. He poured it out haltingly, hesitantly, searching for words and meanings.

 

Interpreted as I think I can in the light of my knowledge of my father's shyness, modesty, and good sense, I believe that the writings reveal that Will was in love. I believe that he loved with a passion so deep that it filled him body and soul.

 

Well, you will say, let's get on with it. Boys and girls are falling in love every day.

 

That the love was returned, possibly from the first, I do not doubt. It was returned by a sensible young woman who had her feet on the ground. This is indicated in one or two diary entries in which Will appreciated how sensible the dear girl was. But the path of love was rocky indeed.

 

Will's parents surely appreciated Lillie's good qualities of intelligence, stability and industry, but there was a severe handicap. She was not a German. In that German-oriented milieu, parental attitude must be given great weight even by a twenty-three year old man. I can imagine Will's mother saying to him in her good German, "Lillie is a good girl, but, Willie, there are so many nice girls among our kind---", and she would tick off the names of likely prospects.

 

Yes, it was rocky. It was touch and go for a while. Lillie was ambitious and independent. She had already demonstrated proficiency in school teaching. She had prospects.

 

What was Will offering her? The life of a poor preacher's wife.A hand to mouth existence for years to come. It was known that years would be spent in all-German communities, among strange people, a strange language, strange customs.

 

In the end Love conquered all.

 

Will completed his seminary work, married in 1885 at age 26, and took his bride to the pioneer State of Kansas. He was a preacher in the Evangelical Association, an all- or nearly all-German denomination which had grown up in Pennsylvania in the early part of the century. It had a discipline, a polity, and church organization similar to the Methodist Episcopal.

 

The next 15 years were the usual ones of a preacher in that time, place, and communion. There were successes and failures. Will was a good preacher and pastor, but a poor politician. I have my father on a pedestal, I know, but I will still say that his worth was greatly undervaluated by the powers that were.

 

It was the policy of the Church that preachers were moved frequently. In fact, when Will started preaching there was a definite three year time limit. The highest rank in the Church for a parish pastor was that of itinerant minister. This rank was entered normally after 3 or 4 years of probation, and after careful examination. Upon entering the rank, the candidate made a written pledge that he would travel (thus "itinerant"), and that he would accept willingly and unquestioningly the assignments made by constituted authority. The authority was the presiding Bishop and the "Presiding Elders" (district superin≠tendents) of the conference. Often assignments were made with little consideration given to the wishes or needs of the individual preacher, his family, or the congregations involved.

 

My father never received a good appointment and they were usually poor. Well, you will say, he probably got what he deserved or could handle. I think not.

 

At this point you may write this all off as the maundering ofhyperemotionalism. You may--except for the fact that I have a small confirmation.

 

About the year 1903 or 1904 my father was the pastor of a country parish in the Central Kansas community of Alida. Among his parishioners was a farm boy about 20 years of age. The boy's name was John Stamm. John has barely had eight years in a poor country school. He was big and awkward. He know nothing but farm work, In him my father detected a spark of genius, a diamond in the rough.

 

Under my father's guidance and council, John gradually came to realize a call to Christian ministry. He had a long hard road ahead. My father opened his library to John's use. He helped him with his English and German grammar. And always before John's eyes was kept the distant vision. My father realized that he had here not just the run of the mill preacher candidate, who, with a few months study and the passing of a few simple examinations could "go preaching".

 

In due time John, largely by his own unaided efforts, went to the Church school at Naperville Ill., where he took the four years of preparatory work in two years, four years of college and two years of seminary. He preached for a few years and returned to Naperville as a Professor of Theology. He gained a wide reputation as a teacher and writer. Then, when still a young man, (a thing previously unheard of in this communion) he was elected a Bishop of the Church and became one of its great leaders.

 

At the time of my father's funeral in 1932 the family wondered if it dared request Bishop Stamm's presence. A wire was sent and the reply came back, "I want to come". The Bishop made a long trip from the East to Denver specifically for the funeral.

 

I wish that I had a recording of that funeral oration. I believe that my children and my children's children would appreciate it. The Bishop was talking about one of the humblest of the servants of God; one whose voice had never been heard in the Councils of the Church beyond the confines of the local conference, and seldom there; one who was willing to sit back and let others do all the talking take the spot light. But when the time came to take a stand, it was taken firmly, intelligently and with a measure of good old German stubbornness.

 

The Bishop began by reviewing my father's ministry at Alida. He told about his quiet going about among the people, his council and admonition. But mainly he talked about his sermons in which the power of conviction shown in eyes and voice, and posture. Then the Bishop talked about what my father meant to him personally, the advice and assistance mentioned above. Over all, though, was the example of the life of a man of God, a dedicated life. At the end the Bishop said that be was happy to relate that once before, when visiting at the local church he had been able to express publicly and before the living and his family and friends words of appreciation and his sense of indebted- church he had been able to express publicly and before the living and his family and friends words of appreciation and his sense of indebtedness, In closing, this leader of International Christendom stated that he too was a humble mourner at the bier, that he mourned the passing of his spiritual father.

 

In 1905 a sciatica, which had bothered my father for some time, became severe and he bad to give up the active ministry. He was bed-ridden at times in the next few years. Eventually he had treatment from an osteopath who apparently straightened him out, and put him back on his feet almost as good as new; almost but not entirely. He delayed returning to active preaching for some years.

 

During these years the Church helped little if at all. While the economic situation was critical the environment was stable, a fact that my mother appreciated in raising her family. I can imagine my father's anxiety to get back into the harness and his suggesting to Mother his applying for an appointment at the next annual conference. Her reply would be, "Oh, Will, think of the children. They are just beginning to do well here".

 

I had not intended this to be a complete biography of my father but only to show the influence he had on me, and I think the background for that is presented above fairly adequately. I will hurry over the rest of the years of his life.

 

For about 10 years, 1905-1915, my father engaged, when able, in various occupations in and about Abilene. Mostly they were some sort of peddling jobs. Remember, he had been trained as a miller and as a preacher and little else. He was a pretty good carpenter, having built, or helped build, several houses, parsonages, church additions, etc., but I do not remember his ever carpentering for a daily wage. It was probably out of the question during these ten years because of the danger of recurring sciatica.

 

His last peddling job was his best. He was a salesman and delivery man for the Royal Tea Co., traveling over a large area surrounding Abilene. This business was just beginning to amount to something in 1915. With the combination of a reduction of financial worry, outside work, and the return of good health, my father began to feel good. When he felt good he felt like preaching.

 

The result was inevitable. Much against the wishes of my mother, if not against her active opposition, Dad applied for an appointment in the spring of 1915. He preached for four years in Kansas on three "fields of Labor". They were all poor; poor communities, small con≠gregations, no opportunities. For one thing, he had lost all the seniority he might have had, during the years of inactivity. He finally gave it up as a bad job. His health was not so good any more. He retired the second time in 1919, and moved to Loveland, Colo. he was then about 60.

 

 

By this time the Church was finally waking up to the fact that it owed something to its broken down preachers and Dad was eligible for a small pension. It was not much, but, along with odd jobs which he could find, occasional nursing jobs for Mother, and earnings of the children at home, it kept the wolf from the door.

 

Dad remained active and interested in many things. He did a little preaching on occasion and engaged in several rather strenuous but luckless enterprises. Such a one was a venture in southeastern Colo≠rado, financed by Dad's brother, in which we (yes, I helped) tore up a full section of good prairie sod, and planted wheat for two years. They were dry years, and the crop never paid for the harvesting. The only one who benefited in the thing was me. Dad saw that I got my $100 a month wage no matter what. He felt that was the least he could do in promoting my college education then in progress.

 

In general Dad's last years were quiet and reasonably happy. He read a great deal, a large interest being History. He had a rather long final illness due to intestinal cancer. He died in 1932 at age 73.