Reader Voices: Mormon missionaries and Martin Luther

By Richard H. Cracroft

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, March 17 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Putting on our coats, we moved to the small front hallway in which stood a small foot-pumped organ, a Harmonium, on the music stand of which sat a hymnal, opened to the hymn, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," ("A Mighty Fortress is Our God") by Martin Luther, founder of Protestantism and father of the Lutheran Church.

Pointing at the hymn, I said, "We may have our differences, Herr Pfarrer, but we agree on one thing: Martin Luther wrote wonderful hymns."

Astonished, the minister said, "Do you know Martin Luther?"

"We sing that hymn often in our church," I said.

He smiled guardedly, and, seeming to test us, he motioned to his wife and said, "Let's sing 'Ein feste Burg."

So we did. Elder Kaiser, Elder Cracroft, and the good reverend sang, auf Deutsch, from memory (Elder Kaiser and I had recently sung it in our two-man Sunday services), "Ein feste Burg."

Before we began the second verse, I interrupted: "There is one thing lacking here: at the end of each stanza we should fire off three cannon shots to our God — 'A mighty fortress is our God' — boom, boom, boom" — and I imitated (very well, I think) the sound of a cannonade (ein Kanonenschuss).

Whereupon the minister, our erstwhile combatant, laughed out loud at my enthusiasm, and we sang the verse over again, complete with cannonade.

At the end, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I have been wrong about you. Anyone who loves Martin Luther and his hymn can't be all bad."

"That's right," I responded, and then quoted some lines I had recently memorized from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German Shakespeare, whose complete works I had purchased during the previous summer and had been browsing: "Wo man singen hört, dort lässt dich ruhig: nieder, denn schlechte Leute kennen keine Lieder. "("Where you hear (people) singing, there you may feel at ease, for bad people do not know how to sing.")

"Goethe was right, as usual," he said, and squeezed my shoulder with some affection.

We shook hands with his wife and with him, thanked him for his time, and left, smiling.

We went back to sharing the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among the people of Gmunden, with some modest success. We attended and enjoyed at least two Sunday evening musical events at the local Lutheran Church, waving to our many contacts, who must have wondered about devils in their midst.

We never saw the pastor and his wife again. And we never again heard of any anti-Mormon sermons by the Lutheran minister in Gmunden.

Blessed by the intervention of the "mighty fortress, "tower of strength" and "helper mighty" who "is our God," Elder Kaiser and I did as Wilford Woodruff would have done: "We went on our way rejoicing."

The late Richard H. Cracroft was a Brigham Young University English professor emeritus and served in various ward and stake callings. He was 76 when he died in September 2012.

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