My Connection with the Martin Stephan Story

For my part, I grew up in Methodist Southern Indiana, far from most Lutheran or Stephan enclaves. It took until the late 1960’s for me to realize the ramifications of the Martin Stephan saga. The more I read, especially in our family sources, the more egregious I found the injustice towards my ancestor.
No longer could I allow this subject to gather dust in some library or attic. I had to right the wrongs of Zion & Co + Valpo U. It was Naomi vs Goliath. Still, the musical and business side of my life were demanding. When time permitted, I continued research to fathom how some of the Saxon’s maltreatment of Martin Stephan could possibly have happened.
During my Valpo years from 1967-1980, I received a DAAD grant from 1971-72, a year of teaching leave in Germany, and a year of unpaid leave from 1977-78. Like my Great Uncle Theo, I capitalized on the opportunity to do research on Martin Sr., visiting Dresden to peruse and copy original Stephan documents in their archives.
While driving in East Germany, I passed through the town of Grimma, where two elderly sisters lived. Their grandfather, a Lutheran Pastor Julius Adolf Prölss, had married my great Aunt Concordia, who died in childbirth. The owner of the house revealed to me that the sisters had moved to Stuttgart but didn’t know their address. From the States I located that address and wrote a letter of introduction. The two sisters immediately wrote back and invited me to visit, which I did some months later. In the meantime, we corresponded as if we had known each other for ages.
When I entered their house, I saw a portrait of my great Aunt hanging on the wall! The three of us spent hours sharing family history and the sisters recorded on tape letters they transcribed from German script.
Out of the blue I received a letter from Mr. Wolfgang Madei. He had developed an interest in the Stephan story through his work concerning relations between protestants and Jews. I visited him in Dresden several times, even though contact with a Westerner risked suspicion from the Stasi (secret police). We avoided being overheard by walking around the town, looking frequently over our shoulders.
Wolfgang introduced me a collection of chalices and communion vessels from St. John’s Lutheran Church. They consisted of items brought by Bohemian, i.e., Czech speaking exiles, (German: “Böhmische Exulanten”) in Dresden. Wolfgang also arranged a meeting with Ingerose Paust, who failed to show when we arrived at her home at noon. (She had confirmed shortly before that date). I smuggled Wolfgang’s letters and forwarded them to his relatives upon my return to the States.
In 1981, I resigned from Valpo and moved to California. Other priorities beckoned. Research on Stephan dragged on. With my partner Sue Moore, we founded Life Mission Associates to help people find a more purposeful life. We travelled the country giving speeches, seminars, and workshops. Together, we wrote Fulfill Your Soul’s Purpose, a companion workbook, and consulted with thousands of people in our California practice.
In the late 1980’s I turned to my own passion: choral music. I sang in public, founded and directed my own choruses.
But Martin Stephan haunted me. Everyone I encountered, be they atheist, protestant, Lutheran, academic, musician, friend or acquaintance, found Martin Stephan’s odyssey and the Saxon Emigration (SE) arresting, shocking, and powerful.
Even a non-LCMS Lutheran Bishop flew from Illinois to spend three days talking to me in Asheville, NC. He was thunderstruck by my material. Other clergy contacted me as well, ones who thought Stephan got a raw deal, especially in their classes at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Some people suggested I make a film about it or write a book. I could not throw in the towel.

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