|If there ever was a pastor who suffered much in the course of his ministry,
certainly the Rev. Joseph Barton was one of these. No doubt, there
have been others who have had trying experiences, but to experience almost
complete blindness in the early years of his ministry, and to lose not
one, but two sons in combat during World War II was no small burden to
bear. Yet he never seemed to feel any bitterness toward God, or have
any doubts about the validity of his faith.
His Coming to America
Although his early training was in engineering, deep down his real interest was to become a minister of the Gospel. After hearing about the renewal of the Ancient Unity of the Brethren on Texas soil, in 1903, he immediately became interested in becoming one of its ministers. So at the age of eighteen, he left his homeland and came to America, temporarily settling at West, Texas with some of his kin. Here he was later joined by the rest of his family, together with his cousin, Josef Hegar.
Upon the recommendation of his uncle, John Hegar, he was formally accepted as a ministerial student of the Unity together with Josef Hegar. Soon thereafter, the two headed North to pursue their studies at Elmhurst College in Illinois, and later at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. They were both ordained at the Unity Convention, at the West Brethren Church July 6, 1910, by the Rev. Adolf Chlumsky and the Rev. Bohumil Kubricht.
But even while still seminary students, they both returned to Texas during the summer to conduct classes for the youth in religious education, organize choirs and teach the Czech language. He also established Sunday Schools in some of the congregations.
Immediately following his ordination, Rev. Barton became the pastor of four congregations. These were Granger, Taylor, Buckholts and Dime Box. This happened mainly as a result of the influences of Rev. Chlumsky who had been serving them for some time. It was his recommendation that they would accept Rev. Barton as his replacement, so that they could be better served by this young pastor.
The congregations of Granger and Taylor soon built a parsonage for their new pastor at Granger. It was here that he met and married his mate for life during the first year of his service there. She was Miss Albina Mikulencak, who, not only became his wife, but also a very important help mate during his ministry which included serving as organist in the various congregations from time to time.
After settling in Granger, he soon began preaching in nearby Holland north of Granger, where he helped to establish the congregation in 1910. Later he used his basic engineering skills to design the church building.. During about the same time, he also established a preaching station, south of Granger, at Elgin. However, when the roads became sufficiently improved, the group there became integrated with the Taylor congregation.
When he was asked by his wife's uncle to begin coming to Robstown to preach (about 200 miles south of Granger), he did. There he helped to establish the congregation in 1913. Other congregations which he helped to establish were Temple, Houston, Danbury and Midfield. In 1930, he began holding worship services mainly for the Brethren students attending the University of Texas in Austin. This ultimately led to the establishment of the congregation there as well. For many years, he served the congregations at Smithville, and in 1935, following the death of Rev. A. Motycka, he succeeded him as the pastor of the Nelsonville Brethren Church. Ultimately it was said of him that there was not one congregation in the Unity that did not hear him preach at least during Revival services if not otherwise.
Actually it was his hope and dream that one day every large congregation of the Unity would have a resident pastor, who would also serve any small congregations nearby, while also making himself available for home missionary work as needed.
In addition to his widespread pastoral ministry, he assisted in the publication of the Brethren Journal, served as a member of the Synodical Committee beginning in 1910, first as vice-president of the National Union of Czechoslovak Protestants in America during its convention at Chicago. These facts are merely some illustrations of the gifts of leadership which Rev. Barton had been given and of his willingness to use them, as was widely recognized and called into service by his peers.
His Faithfulness in Trial
His first born son, who later also became a minister, the Rev. Joseph A. Barton, described the experience in part this way: "My earliest recollection are those of riding to Austin and Temple with him on the train to lead him about the two cities as he went from one doctor to another, completely blind...I remember that during the week he went to the doctors, and on Sundays he entered the pulpit to preach."(1) Finally after about five years of blindness, the Mayo Clinic in 1917 discovered that the root cause of his blindness was infection of his teeth. However, by the time of this discovery, his eyesight was so severely damaged that he never regained more than 10% of his vision. "His eyes were hardly capable of seeing, but because he wanted to see, he saw"(2) his son further observed.
Yet in spite of such serious handicap, he carried on. How was that possible? Likely, because of his personal determination and commitment, the enabling power of the Lord he so faithfully served and the untiring assistance of his family and others. This responsibility naturally first fell upon his wife, but later his sons in order of age and finally upon Theodore and Daniel, the two youngest. They served both as his chauffeurs and readers. Accordingly, what additional burden this became for this wholly committed servant of the Lord when both of these were called into military service, never to return. Finally, however, technology came to his rescue in the inventions of a blind reading machine which enabled him eventually to have the whole Bible on records, even including certain books and magazines.
Yet the physical handicaps plus the emotional stress and personal grief took their toll, causing a gradual decline in strength to the point that when the message came about the loss of the youngest son in combat December 23, 1944, the family feared sharing it with the father. But according to his wife, "he accepted the message peacefully in the faith of Job"(3). She further observed, "His strong will inspired him to continue in his work for almost a year. In fact, he would often try to cheer my spirit with the encouragement to be grateful that God had still preserved for us two sons, a grandson and three daughter-in-laws."(4)
He died August 28, 1945 just short of his 59th birthday.