Oct22MonReflections on the ministry of the Rev. Dr. John Schmieder at St. Matthews (1918-1970) October 22, 2018
Reflections on the ministry of the Rev. Dr. John Schmieder at St. Matthews (1918–1970)
I’d like to spend some time talking about Pastor Schmieder,
not simply as a eulogy or for the sake of painting the portrait of a local saint, neither making him responsible for socio-demographic forces beyond his control or for the achievements of hundreds of talented lay people during his tenure,
but to see what we glean from his life for our lives today.
It may or may not surprise you,
but I am too young to have ever known Dr. Schmieder, so these reflections are based on conversations I’ve had with his grandson, James Weber,
as well as archival material compiled by Sam Weicker and John McLellan.
Sam Weicker’s detailed obituary is in the display case if you want more information.
John Schmieder was born in 1890, and came from a long line of distinguished pastors (five generations), his father, HC Schmieder, was at the time a pastor in Saskatchewan.
His family moved back to the US when John Schmieder was a youth, and he pursued theological training in Philadelphia.
He was bilingual in German and English.
Ordained in 1911, he served two churches briefly in Philadelphia and Shenandoah, did some grad studies in Berlin and Marburg, Germany,
and came to Kitchener at age 27, on May 5, 1918,
a week after getting married to Margaret Poser,
The present church building was only 3 years old at the time.That fall, Spanish Influenza began to sweep the globe, and he did many visitations, in October that year burying 22 from the illness.
Even he and wife became ill, but recovered.
What a tragic start to a pastorate!
(I don’t think I could have handled that).
Schmieder was very artistically inclined, and many of the artistic ideas in the 1925 sanctuary paintings, and also the new church house were his, such as the stained glass windows.
He esp. found it important to have natural lighting for the stained glass, whether in the chapel, or in the sanctuary chancel.
He was also known to do some painting touch-ups around the church.
In Sam Weicker’s opinion “John Schmieder was responsible for most of the artistry” at St. Matthews.
Although for some Pastor Schmieder (esp. in later years) epitomized the Herr Pastor model, of a strict minister-on-a-pedestal,
or sometimes was criticized as “staying on too long”,
his intellectual curiosity ensured that he was up to date on latest liturgical and theological research, and he was held in high esteem by many scholars.
Pastor Schmieder was a man of strong principles, which sometimes turned people off, such as when he refused to remarry divorced couples
or when he wrote a letter to the Record criticizing public festivities during Lent.
He was a famous public figure in the city, so much so that he couldn’t go into a beer store to buy a case of beer for a party.
Occasionally he encountered resistance, such as when a group of parishioners attempted, unsuccessfully, to have him removed from office.
Pastor Schmieder had high expectations for himself and others.
Over the years he received many offers to become a pastor at large churches in the US, but he turned them down:
he loved St. Matthews, and the people loved him in return (as you can see in the 1934 illuminated address (in the Schmieder Room)
He served on many wider church boards (Waterloo College, American Missions) and obtained an Honorary doctorate from Western University in 1939 in recognition for “diverse leadership in the wider church”
He worked very hard, but also spent summer holidays at the cottage on Lake Papineau, with no phone service and no interruptions.
According to Sam Weicker, he performed 10,725 ministerial acts at St. Mathews, including 3,745 baptisms, 3,374 confirmations, 1,681 funerals.
(For comparison’s sake, I’ve performed 13 baptisms in 8 years of ministry. I don’t think I’m going to beat him!)
Dr. Schmieder was known for his quality of preaching, and his quote "plain and interesting delivery”. From 1959-69 he was St. Matthews Pastor Emeritus, filling in during Pastor Zinck’s absences, performing pastoral acts and helping as needed.
After his first wife died in 1962, he married Marianne Binhammer, who herself died in 1989.
Two interesting things I learned: he initially opposed the concept of the Golden Hours broadcast, as he was concerned that people might be listening to the service in unholy or unsavoury places, like taverns and such. But later he changed his mind, based on the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, realizing that you never know where God’s word might take root, and that God could move people’s hearts, wherever they might be participating in worship.
And so, in memory of Dr. Schmieder, a shout-out to anybody listening to FaithFM in bars or cars or even on the beach.
Pastor Schmieder also hated flags in church, and although they were a necessity to promote patriotism and stem the anti-German backlash during WWII, he immediately took them down following the war.
The Rev. Dr. John Schmieder died on Sept 2, 1975, at age 85 and the church was packed for his funeral.
A mighty fortress was played on full organ, but supposedly you couldn’t hear the organ because the singing was so loud!
The visitation in the chapel had a line-up that extended down the sanctuary aisle down the street.
Pastor Schmieder is buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery, right beside Pastor Emil Hoffman, St. Matthews’ first pastor.
Originally I had thought about choosing Schmieder’s favourite readings, favourite hymns and perhaps reading a sermon of his, or even re-creating his funeral service but I discovered
that he held it as important that the worship service have a unified picture, that everything fit nicely together, in other words, a service with integrity, proclaiming the good news.
So I decided to go ahead basically with the service for today as normal, the readings for Pentecost 22, mainly just adding this reflection.
According to my knowledge, nothing formal has been done to commemorate his ministry since his funeral in 1975,
so I hope you didn’t mind this excursion.
One last thought about Pastor Schmieder I have for you,
is that maybe just as Pastor Schmieder had a passion for Stained glass,
perhaps we can see through his life, as if we were looking through a stained glass window, and draw inspiration from his life and ministry here,
just as we look through the lovely stained glass here at St. Matthews and get inspired for our daily tasks and our faith lives.
I’d like to end this reflection with some of his words, a hymn written in 1935, titled “We give to thee our God and Saviour,”, that exemplifies his vision of dedicated discipleship and servanthood that I’ll talk about in my sermon.
(Tune: “Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe”)
We give to thee our God and Saviour,
Life service true in church and home,
in varied field of glad endeavour,
we would but wor-ship thee alone.
O help us Lord where’er we labour
to honor thee and love our neighbour.
Brief Sermon on Mark 10 35-45
And so we move into a brief sermon using the Gospel reading from Mark,
which talks about what it means to be the first in the Kingdom of God.
And here in this reading, James and John are very naughty disciples,
and they get into a lot of trouble for asking a very impertinent question to Jesus:
Can we sit at your left and right hand in your Kingdom?
That is, can we be your deputy rulers?
Now James and John were part of the inner circle of Disciples,
along with Peter,
and had been the only disciples allowed to see Jesus’ transfiguration,
his special divine revealing, and conversation with Elijah and Moses.
So they knew they were pretty special in a way,
and they were prepared to push the envelope,
and see just what more they could get out of the situation.
Like how any normal employee who knows they’re in the good books with the boss, goes and asks for a raise.
Perfectly understandable from a human perspective.
That’s how the system works.
But Jesus turns around and says:
You really don’t get it do you?
God’s kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this earth.
Haven’t I been clear enough on that subject for the last two years?
Why are you so slow to grasp this?
In this day and age, in this society, if you’re rich and powerful,
you get to go to the front of the line, get first dibs on concert tickets,
you can stash your cash in overseas tax shelters,
you can boss people around.
But in God’s kingdom, whoever wants to be first of all,
must be a servant of all.
Now without dwelling too much on Dr. Schmieder as an example,
and as I don’t know enough about him,
I can’t really comment on where he stood on the master-servant continuum.
I heard that he was a quiet, soft-spoken man,
but also filled the role expected of Lutheran clergy
in the day as being top-down,
rather than the more collegial egalitarian attitude that is expected today.
I do know that he worked tirelessly as minister,
that is, a servant of the church (and his wife did as well),
giving of his time, hospitality and gifts.
So he was servant to all, but also respected as first of many,
in this the so-called tallest pulpit in town.
Now back to us:
I think it makes sense: nobody likes someone who lords it over you, who bosses or bullies you,
whether that person is another volunteer, or a pastor, or a boss.
So don’t do it…be helpful, and caring, and servant-like
(not in a self-demeaning please-step-on-me kind of way of course),
but using Jesus as an example, the prime divine servant,
who stood up for his principles but also
stooped down and washed his friends’ dirty, smelly feet.
How are you a servant to all?, or at least to a few?
Any of you who are parents, or caregivers,
or in the health-care system, probably most of you actually know,
how important it is, how life-giving it is when we serve and help and care for each other.
Being a servant, in its best sense, is the Christian way.
Jesus’s admonition that The last will be first, and the first will be last, and that to be the first we have to be the servant of all,
reminds us that God’s reign, God’s kin-ship is different than our current society,
is very different than the “kingdoms of this world”
and that Jesus is a different kind of leader, a different kind of King.
This Jesus who stopped at nothing to liberate us from all that holds us back: sin, death, self-centredness.
This servant King Jesus, inspires us to a humble, self-giving life of service and frees us to be mindful of the least of these.
Praise be to Jesus, who emptied himself, and became one of us to show us the way. Amen.