The Wurtz Brothers

1756-1810

Fifteen, full of life, a friendly and intelligent boy, Christian Wurtz found a ready place in the believers’ community at Vishenka in the Ukraine. Oldest of the three Wurtz orphans, everyone sympathised with his difficult life, and admired him for handling it so well.

Soon after Christian turned 21 he married Margaretha Stahl. She was nineteen. Eight months later they had a baby, and named her Susanna.

For a few years Christian and Margaretha led a normal and happy life. They had two more children, a boy and another girl. But when the believers at Vishenka needed a doctor they decided to send Christian to study medicine. His personality and quick memory, they felt, would serve him well.

So it did. But strange things began to happen.

At first Christian studied with a French doctor employed by the nobleman on whose estate they lived. But he could not learn much in Vishenka. More and more frequently he had to spend time in Russian cities with high mannered people in fine clothes.

As always, Christian learned quickly and made many friends. He learned French and Russian, and one weekend he shocked his wife and the believers by coming home without a beard. Soon he wore his simple peasant clothes only at home and dressed up to go away. He chose to serve in the imperial medical corps even though he needed to swear an oath to do it. And before long the believers learned that Christian, out in high society, made fun of them and their ways.

At first the brothers and sisters only prayed for Christian, hoping he would come back to serve them with his steadily growing knowledge and skills. But when he began to wear a powdered wig with a braid (even though they had asked him not to) and when his speech proved that the spirit of this world ruled his life, they finally had to exclude him from the church.

Christian acted as if he couldn’t care less. He ignored his grieving wife and three children and went to live in Moscow with friends. There, with the money he made from his profession, he lived a luxurious and frivolous life, denying himself of nothing within his reach.

Because the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, was a German woman, young men like Christian Wurtz easily took high-ranking positions in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But a life of wine, women, and glittering ballrooms held no attraction for the second of the Wurtz orphans.

Andreas Wurtz, only nine years old when the believers settled at Vishenka in the Ukraine, was a quiet, serious-minded boy, “not particularly gifted” (in the words of a visitor to the community) but faithful in whatever the brothers put him to.

Andreas helped in the garden and on the farm. He also learned how to make clay pots. As a twenty-four-year-old, he married Rebecca Glanzer. A year and a half later they had their first baby, a little boy that died, and five others followed.

Because Andreas did not enjoy robust health, the brothers put him in charge of the school, a work he faithfully carried out for the rest of his life. In school it became apparent that what he lacked in health and wit, Andreas amply made up for, in his heart. “One is drawn to respect and honour him for his diligent work in the school, for his genuine piety, simplicity of heart, and devotion to Jesus our Saviour,” the Moravian pilgrim, Johann Wigand wrote in 1802. “Andreas cannot keep his eyes from filling with tears when he speaks of Jesus the Lamb of God that takes away our sins. He told me he commends the hearts of his schoolchildren to Jesus, every day.”

Such confidence did the Vishenka believers feel in Andreas that in May 1792, they chose him for a servant of the Word.

Only Christian did not attend Andreas’s ordination meeting. Far from the community, from his wife and family, and from Christ, he had died five months earlier as a consequence of his wild living in the great cities of Russia. 

Christian left no descendants in the church carrying the Wurtz name. But Andreas’s children grew up to walk, like their father, with Christ. His grandson, Michael Wurtz came with his family to Bon Homme in South Dakota. That Michael’s great-grandson, Jacob Wurtz, is our beloved Olvetter here at Elmendorf. 

For 20 May 1810, the diary of the church at Vishenka reports: “At ten o’clock this morning, Andreas Wurtz, servant of the Word, fell asleep in Christ with a peaceful heart. Before his death, he testified to a good conscience and said farewell to the brothers and sisters gathered around him, urging them to remain true to their calling and to live in accordance with it. He had been a servant of the Word for eighteen years and had worked faithfully as schoolmaster for seventeen years. He was forty-nine years old.”

Even though he would not have guessed it (no more than he could have guessed his descendants would one day live on the other side of the world, in Minnesota), Andreas showed us how to live and die. And his brother Christian, who expected such great things for himself, showed us how not to do it.

We remember both of them today.

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