TEMPLE TERRACE — He's a third generation American who's also well connected to his German roots.
Over the years Wally Meyer has visited the land of his ancestors 21 times, three of those on monthlong church ministries, and is proficient in the language.
It's a skill that serves him well at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Temple Terrace, where Meyer is pastor. There, on the second Sunday of every month at 3 p.m., Meyer conducts one service in German.
"People really appreciate singing hymns in the language they grew up with," Meyer said. "Sometimes I even include a German children's song, especially around Christmas, which speaks deeply to their faith and reminds them that God was with them then and now."
Preaching in German has not always gone over so well.
Meyer's grandfather, Arthur J. Meyer, preached in German a century ago at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in North Zulch, Texas. His congregants might have enjoyed the service, but a warning letter arrived from the Ku Klux Klan. The family has preserved the original letter.
"If you don't like the stars in Old Glory, go back to your home over the seas,'' it said. "We ask you in the name of true Americanism to preach at least ever other sermon in the English language. … Our eyes are upon you."
It was signed by Norman Gee, No. 160, Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
No such threats have befallen the younger Meyer, who has been conducting the German service at Christ our Redeemer for the past five years.
Typically about two dozen worshipers attend from many Christian denominations — some young adults, a few retirees and many who came to the United States as war brides.
Marie Kurz, 75, came from Germany as a refugee with her family in 1950. For her, the service has strong nostalgic overtones and helps her practice her native tongue.
"When I hear the hymns in German, it all connects for me," said Kurz, a retired homemaker. "It brings you back to your childhood, back to home."
Reaching out to the community and finding different ways of attracting people to church services is another of Meyer's objectives. Several years ago the church had a contemporary worship service, but then attendance dropped. In looking for other ways to appeal to new people, Meyer offered the German service, and then fell back on another one of his talents, music.
Now, on the first Sunday of each month, Meyer conducts two "Americana" services infused with bluegrass music. Taking traditional hymns and prayers and setting the words to different time-honored church melodies, Meyer created an eclectic yet traditional Lutheran service accompanied by a banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, fiddle and occasionally an oboe.
The church still offers traditional Lutheran services, Meyer said.
"We offer these other services because they're the kind that people who avoid going to most other services would come to," Meyer said. "It's all the same Holy Communion, the same liturgy, the same word of Christ, but it's presented in a way that these people relate to."
Contact reporter Sheryl Kay with any religion news at [email protected] or call (813) 230-8788.