1865-1867 President Wilhelm Streissguth

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1865-1867 WELS President Wilhelm StreissguthPresident Wilhelm Streissguth

Wilhelm (William) Streissguth was born at Lahr, grand duchy of Baden, on April 10, 1827. He pursued his studies at Lahr and Ludwigsburg, and finally, in the Mission Institute and the University of Basel. He was ordained into the holy ministry on March 10, 1850. In April 1850, the church authorities of the canton of Glarus, Switzerland, called him as a missionary to the Reformed colonies of New Glarus and New Bilten in Wisconsin. When the opportunity presented itself, he made contact with the newly born Wisconsin Synod and with President Johannes Muehlhaeuser. Lutheran convictions, implanted early by home study of Luther’s Small Catechism, prevailed over the unionistic spirit of the times. In 1856 he became a member of the Wisconsin Synod. During the following thirty-one years, he served the following congregations: Newton and Liberty (Trinity), Manitowoc County; St. John’s in Milwaukee; St. Peter’s in Fond du Lac; St John’s in St. Paul, MN; and Friedens in Kenosha.

Rev. Streissguth served as the president of the Wisconsin Synod from 1865-1867 under some interesting circumstances. Pres. Bading was on a fund-raising trip to Germany for the new synodical school in Watertown, Wisconsin. Pastor G. Reim had been elected president during his absence and served from 1863-1865, with Rev. Streissguth as vice president. In 1865, however, a schoolteacher in Helenville made certain accusations to the children about Pastor Reim, and although he was cleared of any wrong-doing by his congregation and elders, Pastor Reim resigned from the office of president and Streissguth took his place as president. (Pastor Reim also resigned his call in Helenville and took a call to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He also resigned his membership in the Wisconsin Synod.) When Bading returned from Germany, Streissguth resigned his office as president due to illness and frequent severe headaches. Bading, who had been serving as vice-president, thus assumed the presidency again in 1867.

In his first address as president in 1865, Rev. Streissguth set the tone for his short two-year presidency. His opening words commented on Jesus’ sayings in…

John 14:6, “I am the truth,” and John 17:17, “Your word is truth.” Streissguth said, “All doctrine and forms of life, especially those too of worship, should be designed to confess Christ as the truth.”

Streissguth was instrumental in leading the Wisconsin Synod into its first inter-synodical association, the short-lived membership in the General Council. He attended the planning meeting at Reading, Pennsylvania. His favorable report to the 1867 Wisconsin Synod paved the way for a charter membership in the General Council, which was terminated in 1869. No answer was given to questions about the “four points” of doctrinal uncertainty among churches of the General Council (i.e. Millennialism, Pulpit Fellowship, Altar Fellowship, and Lodge Membership) and this resulted in Wisconsin leaving the General Council. Rev. Streissguth also served on the German Hymn Book Committee that was to prepare a German Hymn Book, recognizing the need for good Lutheran resources in Wisconsin’s congregations. In his work as president, he showed himself to be an advocate of a strong praesidium in the Wisconsin Synod. Almost a century before it happened, he advocated the establishment of the office of full-time “president-visitor” without any congregational responsibilities. He objected to a general disregard of the presidential office, when it came to congregational activities and pastor’s receiving and taking divine calls.

Streissguth’s thinking on these and other matters led to an 1867 convention report that spelled out specific rights and duties of the president. The agenda for the 1867 convention at Streissguth’s congregation of St. John’s, Milwaukee, the last prepared by him, indicates how the growing synod and its praesidium were being confronted by growing problems. On the Agenda were a delegation of 10 Iowa men there to participate in a discussion of “open questions,” chiliasm, and other subjects that loomed large in Iowa theology; committees were to deal with the major problems of secret societies and the relationship of Wisconsin to the Union Church of Germany. There were also seminary, college, and preparatory school matters to be discussed. The hymn book was being readied for publication. The General Council membership had to be considered. A full plate of important issues for a short presidency!

In 1886 his failing health compelled him to retire from active parish ministry, but his interest in the work of the Church never waned. He continued to lend a helping hand wherever he saw an opportunity to serve the Lord. His life, its work, and its end were briefly summed up in his obituary in the Northwestern Lutheran:

“Rev. Streissguth was a faithful witness to Christ, a firm believer in Christ, and a victor through Christ.”

His personal life was not without struggle. His first wife died in childbirth in 1857 and the child too died shortly after. As a widower with three young children, he was blessed with another wife upon a trip to Frankfurt, Germany. There he was united in marriage to Magdalena Brumder on August 23, 1858. The Lord blessed Rev. Streissguth with four sons and two daughters who survived to adulthood.

For Futher Reading:

  1. Prof. E. Fredrich’s article: “Two Forgotten Wisconsin Presidents: Reim and Streissguth.
  2. August Ristow’s paper: “Wilhelm Streissguth.”