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By Jean Marie Hall

Freelance Writer


When I was first asked to do a story on Pastor Albert L. Hock, I thought it would be a fun and easy story to do. On a notepad I wrote inane questions like “when did you become a pastor? Where? Name some of the places to which you’ve been assigned. What was the funniest incident you can recall as a preacher?”

Alas, all that was before I met Pastor Al at the Gernand Retirement Village in Strawberry Point, Iowa.  I had no idea how interesting the interview and ensuing story would be.

To address the facts first, Pastor Hock, age 96, was ordained a minister in 1945 at Wartburg Seminary. His only call was to St. Luke’s Lutheran Parish in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he served for 39 years. The story begins there but definitely does not finish there.

Pastor Hock is most proud of his role in drawing peoples of other religions together. 

He is quoted in a 1976 newspaper article by Dean S. Potter, “It was a difficult thing for me to feel at home in the metropolitan area,” said the gentleman from Strawberry Point, “I was timid approaching some of the jurisdictional heads in the church and it took me a while to develop some self-confidence.”

As he gained that confidence, Pastor Hock noticed that more and more Jewish people had begun moving into the Highland Park neighborhood, eventually becoming the primary Jewish neighborhood of the city. Pastor Hock sought a way to connect with them and enrolled in a two-year conversational Hebrew course at the local Jewish Center. From that experience, he made friends and contacts as he learned about their heritage and grew to respect them as fellow people of God.

One of the friends Pastor Hock grew close to was his Hebrew instructor, David Meiri. Together they created connections between the Jewish communities and Christian denominations.

But it was not only the Jewish people with whom  Pastor Hock became associated.

“Vatican II was a wonderful time,” remembers Pastor Hock, referring to the Second Vatican Council held at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome between 1962 and 1965 that made radical and ecumenical changes in the Roman Catholic church, “Lutheran pastors were invited to attend the conferences.”

Pastor Hock took his cue from these changes. With the city of St. Paul being 75% Roman Catholic, he reached out to the Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul and invited him to attend the celebration of Lutheranism, an All Saints Day celebration.  After the worship service, the Archbishop exclaimed, “We have to do this again.”

To this day, Pastor Hock says it was the high point of his ministry.

The ecumenical event did continue and Pastor Hock became a member of the steering committee. One year, after the event had been moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the homily was given by the President of the American Lutheran Church and lessons were read by the Governor of Minnesota.

The Cathedral seats 4000 people and was filled to capacity with an additional 400  people standing. 

One of Pastor Hock’s most stirring sermons was given in 1968 and was entitled “If I forget You, O Jerusalem, Let My Right Hand Wither.” A copy of the homily made its way, via his friend Dave Meiri, to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kolleck, who began a correspondence with the Lutheran minister. The Mayor was so impressed by the sermon and with Pastor Hock that he awarded him the Jerusalem Medal of Honor.

The ecumenical tradition continued, even following Pastor Hock into his retirement! The late Roman Catholic Archbishop James Byrne of the Dubuque Diocese, who served in that role from 1962 to 1983, had attended all four of the Vatican II conferences and, like Pastor Hock, encouraged the cooperation between Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations, especially the seminaries and colleges in Dubuque. It was inevitable that the two should cross paths. Father Paul Peters, then pastor at Guttenberg, Iowa, invited all the Lutherans to meet with Catholics in Guttenberg for a service. Archbishop Byrne was included as well. He was impressed. It was the first time he had preached to a non-Catholic crowd. The ecumenism that had begun in St. Paul, Minnesota, all those years earlier had been continued.

Father Peters is now pastor of the linked parishes of St. Mary, Strawberry Point, St. Joseph, Elkader and Sacred Heart in Volga. 

Pastor Hock retired in 1983 and moved back to Strawberry Point, Iowa. He was born three miles north of Strawberry Point. He and his wife, Gerda, live in an apartment in the Gernand Retirement Village. The exterior entrance to the Hocks’ apartment is graced with 25 rose bushes, many blooming at the time of my visit. 

Apparently, however, Pastor Hock was not quite ready to be completely retired. He was asked by the church council of Saint Sebald Lutheran Church of rural Strawberry Point, to write a history telling the history of the St. Sebald Colony.   Johann Konrad Wilhem Loche was a leader who established the St. Saint Sebald Colony while still in Germany in the 1840s. His goal was to educate underprivileged young men who otherwise would not have been able to go to school and to train them as missionaries in America. Loche brought about the birth of the Missouri and Iowa synods and the St. Saint Sebald colony. The colony came out of separation from the Frankenhilf Colony, which today is Saint Michael Lutheran Church, in Richville, Michigan. Saint Sebald is named for a Bishop of the 11th century in Neuremberg.  Loche’s work began in the 1840’s.  Native American Indians were also taken in for the same purpose of becoming missionaries. Colonies were formed in Ohio and Missouri as well as in Iowa.

Pastor Hock is quoted in the foreword of his book as saying that he “began this study...contemplating a mere pamphlet.” Instead he realized that the entire story of Saint Sebald would not be complete without the inclusion of the stories of Wartburg Seminary, Wartburg College, the Iowa Synod, and the Missouri Synod. The result is a 275-page book plus appendices published by the Lutheran University Press in 2004. The title is “The Pilgrim Colony – The History of Saint Sebald Congregation, the Two Wartburgs, and the Synods of Iowa and Missouri”.

“I have told the story of the two Wartburgs and of the synods they and the Saint Sebald colony were involved with from the 1840’s to the 1930’s,” Pastor Hock explains. “I have taken this unique story to the present day for readers who would like to know what God is still doing with that little flock.”

It took the aging pastor eight years to complete the book. After visiting with Pastor Hock for an hour or so, he said, “Now we have to take a tour.”

As he left the apartment to get his car, Gerda said, “Now, you make sure he’s okay.” She then added, “He’s such a kind, kind man. The nicest person I’ve ever met.”

Pastor Al and Gerda were both married previously; however, they had attended elementary school together as youngsters. Gerda raised five children from her first marriage. The pastor was married to his first wife, Martha, a local girl, for sixty years.

The minister got his car out of the garage and picked me up in the street. From the town of Strawberry Point, we drove winding, hilly gravel roads to many of the sites about which he had spoken. The first stop was the former site of Wartburg College. No trace of the college remains on the farmstead. At other locations, Pastor Hock pointed out the sites of schools and dormitories. He showed me where students once took baths in the nearby creek.

We then turned onto St. Sebald Road where we came upon the beautifully groomed lawns and cemetery of the still operating St. Sebald Church. We faced a small but perfectly preserved church sporting a modest steeple. Inside we looked at old photographs and Pastor Hock posed at the podium on the historic altar for a picture.

We then wandered peacefully through the cemetery. Pastor Hock pointed out the headstones of two Indian children who had died while studying in the colony. Although the grounds and flowers were inviting on this beautiful summer day, we had to head back to Strawberry Point.

Pastor Hock now belongs to the North American Lutheran Church and is the oldest working pastor in that division. He still conducts services at the Gernand Center as well as holding other prayer services and discussion groups. This truly is an exceptional man; as well as a servant of God.

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