FELSISA / Salem Uelzen
Evangelical Lutheran Salem Congregation Uelzen Marlon

Evangelical-Lutheran Salem Congregation Uelzen

Situated approximately 15 km North-West of Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, this rural Lutheran Congregation today comprises of a German and an English component, jointly electing to remain as a single Congregation, sharing one Pastor and the available facilities: one church and one hall. Scheduled at different times or (once a month) in combination, weekly Divine Services welcome and accommodate both language groups in praising our Lord and Heavenly Father.

With a history of well over a hundred years, this congregation has been a blessing and place of worship for generations through colonial conflicts and numerous agricultural hardships due to extreme and diverse weather conditions. Yet the congregation was and is still richly blessed by the grace of God.

Establishment at Rosenen

Due to the severe danger arising with the Anglo-Zulu war, the Hermannsburg Missionaries had to flee the Zululand with their families in 1878. Among them was Missionary Hans Heinrich Schroeder, who was able to purchase the farm Rosenen in the vicinity of Glencoe.

Missionary H.H. Schroeder (1829-1891) and his wife Margarethe (1836-1917) - EVANGELICAL-LUTHERAN SALEM CONGREGATION UELZEN
Missionary H.H. Schroeder (1829-1891) and his wife Margarethe (1836-1917)

Following the war, he was not able to return to the Zululand because of ill health, and instead acquired permission from Superintendent Hohls to start missionary efforts on his new farm. This he did to the best of his ability, yet without monetary support from the Hermannsburg Mission. Upon his death in 1891, Missionary (Christoph) Wilhelm Dedekind at Nazareth (near Elandskraal) was asked by Missionary Schroeder’s wife, Margarethe – affectionately known as “Mutter Schroeder” –, to serve her family and the congregation of native Africans at Rosenen with Word and Sacrament. Soon the Family Straßburg, who were involved with work on the new train station at Glencoe, also took part in the services. Given the considerable distance for Missionary Dedekind to travel to Rosenen, Mutter Schroeder’s sons preached God’s Word to the missionized natives.

In 1890 the Hermannsburg Mission declared pulpit and table fellowship (‘Abendmahlsgemeinschaft’) with the Hannover Regional Church. Disputes and tensions ensued amongst the society of the Mission, both in Germany and South Africa, resulting in some members making decisions for separation, amidst which the ‘Hannoversche Evangelisch-Lutherische Freikirche’ (Hannover Evangelical-Lutheran Independent Church) founded an independent mission in 1892 seated in Bleckmar, Germany. In South Africa, due to reasons of confession and conscience, on 13.9.1892 the members of the congregations Lüneburg and Bergen officially declared independence from the Hermannsburg Missionary Church and founded the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA). Family Schroeder also perceived that the unity declared by the Hermannsburg Mission had placed them into church fellowship with the Hannover Regional Church, an affiliation understood by them as incompatible with their faith bound to the Lutheran Confession. This contributed to Mutter Schroeder declaring, in a letter to Missionary Dedekind during the latter stages of 1892, the family’s resignation from the Hermannsburg Mission Church. Towards the end of the same year, the families of Friedrich Dammann and Wilhelm Müller also declared separation from the Mission Church and joined the house church at Rosenen. The four German families soon joined the FELSISA, yet without joining a particular congregation thereof, and the pastors of the FELSISA subsequently alternated in serving at Rosenen with Word and Sacrament.

In 1894 the government of Natal released Crown lands for sale as individual farms. Due to favourable purchase terms, the already mentioned families Friedrich Dammann and Wilhelm Müller were accompanied in their purchasing of land and settling in the vicinity of Glencoe by the families Friedrich Fröhling, August Wellmann, Johannes Klintworth and Karl Hellberg. The Bleckmar Mission, following a request from Mutter Schroeder, also purchased property, resulting in the founding of the mission station Eben-Ezer. The German families all gladly assisted in the erection of buildings at Eben-Ezer, where the Catechist Naphtali was appointed to serve the missionized natives, whilst Candidate Wilhelm Hellberg was viewed as prospect to fill the role of ordained minister to the European families, as well as to take charge of the mission station as a whole.

Still during 1894 the German families came together to form a loose congregation affiliation.  Instead of church councillors, two so-called “Vertrauensmänner” (‘trusted men’) were elected in Friedrich Dammann and Friedrich Schroeder, yet these were soon referred to as ‘Kirchenvorsteher’ (church councillors). The families of Friedrich Wichmann, Friedrich Drewes, Leonhard Hedder, H. Meinecke and August Krause later on also settled in the area and joined the congregation affiliation. The wait for their own dedicated ordained minister was finally over when Pastor Wilhelm Hellberg was installed as the missionary at Eben-Ezer on 28 January 1897, serving at the mission station as teacher and preacher.

Though the congregation affiliate was now administered to with Word and Sacrament, it had not attained voting rights in the FELSISA. According to synodical resolution voting rights were designated to a congregation with its own pastor. This goal was achieved at the congregational meeting of 28 March 1897. Those present agreed to unite as the Salem Congregation (Salem: the place where the LORD resides) and called Missionary Wilhelm Hellberg as its pastor and teacher.

Pastor Wilhelm Hellberg and his wife Elisabeth (neé Kimmel) - EVANGELICAL-LUTHERAN SALEM CONGREGATION UELZEN
Pastor Wilhelm Hellberg and his wife Elisabeth (neé Kimmel)

The Congregation was accepted into the FELSISA at the Synodical Convention at Bergen on 16 July 1898. In October of 1898 the Salem Congregation’s first Constitution was drawn up and adopted. Thereby the recorded minutes of the congregational meeting of 28 March 1897 were signed by all members with voting rights, as well as by the younger members without voting rights – a contributing factor for why 28 March 1897 is understood as the founding day of the Congregation.

Initially the vacated house of the lay-preacher Naphtali served as the Congregation’s church building at Eben-Ezer. As Eben-Ezer was the property of the Bleckmar Mission, it was resolved in 1898 to obtain land in order to build their own church, school and parsonage, largely due to the growth of the German congregation.

First Church Building at Uelzen (1903)

After a lengthy debate at the congregational meeting on 21 May 1898, the Congregation resolved to purchase a property of 100 acres on the boundary of Friedrich Fröhling’s farm, Henning, and named it Uelzen.

Though the first decisions for the construction of a church building and a parsonage were already accepted on 3 June 1899, construction was halted by the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War, which lasted from October 1899 to May 1902. Once the war had ended, the Congregation could finally put its plans in motion, as it strove to complete its independence from the Eben-Ezer mission station, with its own locale and buildings. During the course of 1903 the two intended buildings at Uelzen were erected. 30 September 1903 was a great day for the Congregation, as on that day Pastor Hellberg and his family moved into the parsonage at Uelzen.

The First Parsonage at Uelzen (1903)

Shortly thereafter followed another very momentous day, as the church building was dedicated on 25 October 1903 under the leadership of Pastor Hellberg. A few years later, in 1905, the church bell – still in use at Uelzen to this day – was donated to the Congregation by Leonhard Hedder and Wilhelm Müller.

In the following years the Congregation was blessed with a time period of relative peace, during which it was able to establish itself, as it continued to grow in size.

The First Church with Extension (1927)

Several Germans, residing in regions as far off as Utrecht and Platrand, joined the congregation, and were served by Pastor Hellberg with Word and Sacrament at their homes. An upper gallery in the church and a chapel of rest at the cemetery were built in 1927, as well was an expansion to the church building towards the northern side.

 

Uelzen approx. 1946
Left – corner of Pastors house
Front Right – Milking Shed
Centre – Church and School
Back – Hostel and Teachers residence

Given the growth in members of the Congregation, it was decided that a larger church building was needed. For this purpose, a building fund was established on 4 January 1937. The project began to gain traction when at the congregational meeting on 29 January 1945 it was resolved that as a token of appreciation by the farmers of the Congregation for protection of their herds, each breeder would annually donate a head of cattle in proportion to their herd. These animals were then auctioned publicly and the proceeds donated toward the building fund. It was clearly stipulated that this was purely voluntary. Five years later, on 17 January 1950, it was resolved that, instead of the construction of a new church building, the existing church was to be enlarged. However, in 1949 the church council had already requested a building plan for a new church from Mr. Magni, an architect from the Swedish Mission in Dundee. When this plan was presented at the congregational meeting on 17 June 1950, the Congregation resolved to instead construct a new church building according to the Magni plans, and that construction was to commence immediately.

On 19 August 1950, it was decided to build the new church between the existing church and school. In order to gather the outstanding amount needed to complete the construction of the building, the annual contributions per member were raised at the Congregation’s annual general meeting on 15 January 1951. The cornerstone ceremony of the new church building took place in 1951, and construction was completed during the same year. The church was dedicated on Trinity Festival of the following year, 6 June 1952.  Pastor Wilhelm Reusch conducted the service, to which several guests and numerous brass players had flocked from the other German-speaking congregations.

Since the liturgy was preliminarily accompanied by a harmonium, which was not loud enough for the singing voices of the Congregation, the Uelzen Brass Band accompanied the hymns for several years. It was accordingly decided in the Congregation that an organ would be ordered and built into the church. The organ was acquired in 1965, and its dedication took place on the 3rd Sunday of Advent that year.

In the last quarter of the first century of this Congregation’s existence, it started becoming a truly ‘South African’ congregation, with the introduction of Divine Services, and also instruction for those to be confirmed, in English. Soon after the arrival of Pastor Albers in 1967, he offered to conduct services in English in addition to the German services being conducted. At that stage there were three ‘mixed’ families in the congregation in which the wives were of English speaking stock. Services were not conducted on the premises of the Uelzen congregation, but in the old church which had belonged to the Swedish Church in Dundee, where services were conducted once a month. After some time, services were only conducted every three months, and by ±1971 there was a break, as no more services were offered. In 1973, when Pastor Köhne became pastor of the congregation, there was a fresh start in regards to services conducted in English. Although there was opposition once more, services were resumed at Uelzen itself. These were conducted twice a month, during which time the first confirmation classes in English were also introduced and resulting confirmation conducted in English. This was a stage of gradual but steady growth in the English work of this congregation, and the basis was set for the future.

In 1987 Pastor Straeuli took over as pastor of the Uelzen congregation, and initially the status quo was maintained. However, in April of 1989 at an extraordinary meeting of the congregation it was decided to have services in English each Sunday. This decision proved to have a positive effect on the way the congregation was viewed by other people in the area. No longer was it considered only as a ‘German’ congregation and a number of people joined the congregation on the basis of this decision.

In 2011, during the time of office of Pastor Kurt Böhmer, following Combined Services on every fifth Sunday, a Combined Communion Service was introduced on the first Sunday of the month, starting at 9:00, combining the two congregations as one, in worship and praise, whereby room was given for both languages in the selection of hymns and the parts of the liturgy.

One would go amiss if one would refrain from mentioning the Uelzen Choir and the Uelzen Brass Band, which were founded along with the Congregation itself with Pastor Wilhelm Hellberg in 1897. Though much fluctuation and change could be noticed over more than 120 years of existence, they continue to contribute to the congregational life at Uelzen.

The Uelzen Bazaar, first held in 1970, has become no less than a cultural and social phenomenon, inseparable from congregational life at Uelzen. The participation and support of the congregation in the preparation for the Bazaar could be stated to overshadow the significance of the event itself, as far as concerns the inward picture of the Congregation. Donations of livestock and baking from the congregation are received for sale and with time the bazaar has grown to make up between 20 and 30% of the annual budget. The dedicated butchery, built onto the existing church hall, is a sight to behold. A host of delicatessen and German specialities are produced and sold at the annual Bazaar, drawing many from the surrounding regions to attend.

In gratefulness to our heavenly Father, that He has blessed our Congregation with a rich and colourful history, we in brief also list the following major milestones:

  • 1930 – Telephone installation.
  • 1931 – Teachers residence built.
  • 1935 – Pastors milking shed built.
  • 1943 – New school constructed.
  • 1947 – Hostel constructed and extended in 1958.
  • 1955 – ESCOM to Uelzen.
  • 1965 – An Organ was acquired.
  • 1980 – A new Church Hall was completed.
  • 1987 – A new pastor’s residence.
  • 1996 – The church floor and walls were renovated.
  • 1997 – The Notice board was constructed as part of the Centenary Celebration.
  • 2000 – Wall of Remembrance constructed.
  • 2001 – Garages at the Hall were completed.
  • 2002 – Lawns relevelled around hall.
  • 2002 – Historic photo and small museum display created.
  • 2012 – Copper of church steeple replaced.
  • 2019 – Screen and data projector introduced into church.
  • The first Pastor of the Congregation was Pastor Wilhelm Hellberg, who was appointed as the missionary of Eben-Ezer in 1896 on request of the loose congregation affiliation of Germans. He was present at and involved in the founding of the Congregation on 28 March 1897. He served the Salem Congregation for 26 years, namely from 1897 to 1923.
  • Missionary Luer assisted on a temporary basis following the death of Pastor Hellberg on 12 March 1923.
  • On 23 September 1924, Pastor Wilhelm Reusch succeeded as pastor, serving for 44 years at Uelzen, going on pension in 1967.
  • Pastor Ernst-August Albers succeeded him in July 1967, serving for 7 years until 1974, when he was called to Greytown.
  • Pastor Werner Köhne (a born South African) who was Pastor at Durban, succeeded him serving Uelzen for 13 years before accepting a call to Wittenberg in 1987.
  • Pastor Helmut Straeuli in turn succeeded him in 1987. After 12 years of service at Uelzen, he was called to Durban in 1999.
  • Pastor Reinhold Thom accepted the call to Uelzen in 1999. He retired 4 years later, in 2003.
  • Pastor Kurt Böhmer in turn succeeded him in 2004. After just shy of 14 years of service, he accepted a call to Pretoria (Afrikaans), moving there at the beginning of 2018.
  • Pastor Marlon Hiestermann succeeded him in 2018, and is currently still serving the Congregation.