Remembering Herman Otten
I grew up in the center of the United States. For me many who think they were born in the Midwest are Easterners (sorry Wisconsinites). We lived in little Garden City, KS until I was in fifth grade and then moved to the thriving city of Hutchinson. Though we were surrounded by Methodists on every hand, Garden City was blessed with a very faithful Lutheran Pastor, Pastor Herman Mayer, who stressed the Catechism and Lutheran hymnody. It was through him that my father became one of the early readers of Herman Otten in Lutheran News.
The magazine was in the household and Missouri Synod issues were openly discussed. There was no internet, TV was very limited, and communication by phone was too expensive. Herman Otten was a life line to read and be updated about significant events in the Synod. Through Herman I became exposed to Dr. David Scaer, Prof. Kurt Marquardt, Dr. Robert Preus, Dr. Sasse, Dr. Klug, Dr. Surburg and numerous others. The first three became my favorites and I longed to read them.
When we moved to Hutchinson in 1966 I encountered a different form of Lutheranism. While the hymnal was still there, it was not the same high standards of Pastor Mayer. While we were still reading Christian News, it was clear the Missouri Synod was drifting. I remember well waiting for the results of the Denver Convention and the joy over J.A.O. Preus being elected while the confusion that the same group approved fellowship with the ALC. Otten’s reporting was must reading when it finally arrived.
The arrival of a new pastor about this time who supported the St. Louis faculty led to tension in the local congregation. We had a St. Louis summer vicar who had grown up there who handled the youth and filled our heads with weird notions that included listening to “Spirit in the Sky” and some late 60s music as if it contained great spiritual truths. Our principal sided with the Pastor and an element at Seward that was on the “other side.” By the time of the walkout it was clear the majority would side with the Pastor and there was little room for a conservative Lutheranism. (The congregation continued on that path for many years.) The friendships I had with grade school classmates disappeared along the lines of our disagreement over Seminex.
We attempted to seek out another congregation even looking at the WELS. There were not many conservative in Kansas in those days. Finally, we settled on a small country congregation about 45 minutes from our house (if I remember correctly). Through it all, there was Herman and his reprinting of numerous individuals. While I had considered being a pastor, even maybe attending the WELS schools to avoid the Missouri problems, the turmoil turned my thoughts toward money. I drifted off to Kansas State and drifted in majors. Yet, the availability of Scaer and Marquardt when I returned home still intrigued me even though I became a practicing hedonist in many ways. I am thankful to Herman for the contribution he made in those years.
These later years have found me at odds with him on many points including his recent political endorsements, but my father is right. Herman Otten was a wonderful warrior for the church of Christ. I never really knew him personally, but his magazine was so important for my family and the development of a small town Kansas boy. Thanks be to God for Herman’s efforts on behalf of the Church. Rest in peace, Herman.