In the pages below I will try to relate my slow and torturous route to what I pray is a better understanding of God's will. My name is Steffan Schultheiss. I am not, and never have been, a particularly handsome nor, save from the pulpit, an imposing man. There, God's grace fills me, and all modesty aside, I speak with power and conviction. I am the senior pastor of the St. Nicholas' Church in Badenburg. This is primarily because of the political astuteness and connections of my wife, Margreth. She is the youngest daughter of a former mayor of Badenburg, and was raised to the politics of her situation.
I was born the son of a shoemaker in the year of our Lord 1574. I did well in school, and was given scholarships that led me to Jena, where I did very well in rhetoric and theology. From Jena I returned to Badenburg and became the most junior of pastors. Then Margreth picked me. For which kindness I thank God regularly. Over the ensuing years she has taught me much of the workings of politics in Badenburg. In the year 1625 I was given the post of senior pastor of the largest congregation in Badenburg.
Badenburg is a Lutheran town. St. Nicholas was the more conservative of the two main congregations, each of which had some smaller churches as part of our congregations. St. John's was only slightly smaller in size and, I felt, somewhat loose in its interpretation of the Bible and Martin Luther's teachings.
When the Ring of Fire happened, I was at my desk writing yet another sermon on patience and praying for God's help. The last several years I had had a lot of practice preaching patience and praying for God's help. The war hurt Badenburg in a number of direct and indirect ways. The most recent and severe problem had been the extortion of a group of mercenaries, which the council had been convinced, at the point of a knife, to hire to protect the town.
God's gifts, to me, had always been the little things: the flowers, a baby born safe and healthy. The big things discussed in the Bible—parting the Red Sea, destroying towns that displeased the Lord—were all, I knew, in the distant past. Christ was more subtle, feeding the masses with a few loaves and fishes, turning water into wine. After Christ there was no more need for any big miracles. I rather preferred the smaller gentler miracles, anyway. After all, I had no desire at all to have my hometown added to a list that included such places as Sodom, Gomorrah, and Babel. Besides, I had been taught that all that was needed to understand the will of God was written down in the Bible. Still, I prayed, a bit of help in keeping my home town alive would not go amiss.
So I worked on Sunday's sermon, and prayed for God's aid. When the miracle happened, I didn't see it. When Margreth told me about it, I, like doubting Thomas, didn't believe. I had to see the miracle, and more, before I believed.
As Margreth told it to me, she had been in the market and faced toward the east gate. As she looked down Market Street, she saw a dome of light a bit to the south and well beyond the city wall. She only saw about the upper third of it, and buildings in the way blocked part of that. From what she said the phenomena was a perfect hemisphere miles across. She told me of wondering if Rudolstadt was still there. After the dome of light there came thunder as it follows lightning, but this was not lightning.
Enough people had witnessed the event, whatever it was, that she judged shopping was no longer so important and rushed home to inform me so that I would be prepared to deal with the fear it would cause.
It was a noble thought, and I rewarded it with ill-concealed scorn. It was a distant storm or an optical illusion. Irritated and grumpy with the interruption of my work, I accompanied my good wife to the east wall. I should have listened with more care and less scorn. Crowds were gathering along our route. Questions about the nature of the event were asked of me. I had no answers.
I was ushered up into the gate tower from which I could see some distance. Rudolstadt was still there—I could see the higher buildings. A bit to the south, I could see the results of the event of which Margreth had spoken. One of the mercenaries pointed out the changes. The land had been altered. I knew it wasn't a miracle, for God was sending no more prophets or miracles. Paul had said so in his letters. People would think of it as a miracle, though. How else was one to think of it?
I urged caution in dealing with the event. I continued to urge caution over the following weeks and months, slowly changing the specifics of my comments and sermons as we learned more of what had happened.
I first met Americans in the council house. They were disappointing in that they were simply people, not angels or demons. They told a story that was unbelievable, yet mostly believed. They said they were from the future—nearly four centuries in the future—from a place called West Virginia, in the Americas.
I began to really believe what they had told me about their origins. Everything was too consistent for a fabrication. I visited the Ring of Fire several times over the weeks following its appearance. There was a Catholic church next door to a Protestant church. There were lots of churches, each independent of the others. The books matched the story. All the evidence fit together, each piece supporting every other.
God had chosen to take a hand in the sort of hard material way that He hadn't since Old Testament times. However, the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura said that didn't happen anymore. One of the strongest tenets of the Reformation had been thrown out, not by the overweening Church of Rome, but by God Himself.
I prayed for understanding but it eluded me. The people there were not saints and angels, nor were they demons and devils. Not all the people there were good Christians. The good were not necessarily the Christian, and the Christian not necessarily the good. I was treated well by people who professed Christian beliefs, and badly by others professing the same. I had met kind and caring people who professed to not believe in God at all, and others who were rude in their arrogant certainty that there was no God, even when faced with the clear evidence of the Ring of Fire. There was no pattern I could get a grip on.
I continued to urge caution on my congregation in dealing with the Americans. Still, the Ring of Fire drew me like a moth to a flame.
God had done something special here. I could look at the cliffs God had made and feel His presence. There was a peace and confidence that I had felt before, but never so strongly as I felt it here. This could not be explained away. Whatever it meant, this was a miracle no one could deny. The Ring of Fire and the land within it was holy ground beyond all doubt.
I found it distressing that the up-timers failed to see it. They had from the day they arrived felt free to change things, to modify God's work.