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CLOUD OF WITNESSES

Preaching gospel, or just barrel full of sermons?

The editors of Leben recall America's 'bush preacher' and his startling discovery

One of the delightful reminiscences of 19th century American church life was published in the 1870s by the Reformed Church Publishing House of Cleveland, Ohio. Written by H. J. Ruetenik, “Der Busch Pfarrer” (“The Bush Preacher”) is subtitled, “Experiences of a German Pastor in America.”

The author had come to America in 1847, settling first in New York and New Jersey, but later traveling among the scattered Pennsylvania German Protestant communities. He vividly describes the beauty of the mountain as he walked from town to village and gives picturesque descriptions of the old barns. It is the characters he meets along the way, however, that make this little volume such a jewel. On one trip, he describes meeting “Father Scheffrich” and “Mother Scheffrich,” his pipe-smoking preacher’s wife.

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“So I wandered on in uplifted spirits for several days making inquiries at times for a German pastor, until I finally came down into the level regions and here one evening came to the home of a man who was known as “the pastor” in a circle of from 20 to 30 miles. His name was Scheffrich.

“Father Scheffrich was no longer young. He had already preached in this neighborhood for 40 years. … I nearly said the gospel, but he did not preach that, but his father’s sermons. For, as I later learned, his father was a preacher educated in Germany, who came to this region 60 years ago and settled on the place which his son has now inherited from him.

“With it he inherited a barrel of sermons, which stood in the attic. Now, when the eleven congregations, which his father had served, chose him as their pastor, he placed beside the sermon barrel another empty one, and took out of the full barrel one sermon after the other. After a sermon was delivered, then it was placed in the second barrel, so that it would not be accidentally preached too soon the second time.

“But when gradually all the sermons from one barrel were preached into the other, then he reversed the full barrel and began anew….”

Learn more about the adventures of “The Bush Preacher” at the Leben website.

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