First Lutheran Synod in the Colonies

Dan Graves, MSL

First Lutheran Synod in the Colonies

TGerman Lutherans started arriving in Pennsylvania in 1683 under the leadership of Frank Pastorius, and many more followed. The Lutheran colonists built two new churches, including one in Trappe, Pennsylvania, near whose walls their famous leader Henry Melchior Mühlenberg was later buried. In 1741, Mühlenberg accepted the call to come to Pennsylvania. He reached Philadelphia on November 15, 1742. Upon arrival in the City of Brotherly Love, Mühlenberg proceeded to New Hanover and New Providence Pennsylvania. He was back in Philadelphia in time to preach his first sermon there on December 5.

The most important work Mühlenberg undertook was the founding of the Lutheran Synod of Pennsylvania. This was officially established on this date, August 26, 1748. Although rather informal, with no constitution in the beginning, the Synod gave form and focus to the Lutheran communities throughout the state. Mühlenberg was in an undeniable position of leadership. It was a significant moment in the long and illustrious history of Lutheranism in America but Mühlenberg could easily have been distracted by current events.

In 1748 it seemed France and Spain might assault Pennsylvania. Religious groups took sides on the issue: the Quakers and their friends rejecting any defense at all, the Episcopalians and Presbyterians preaching sermons and holding lotteries to build a coastal fortification. "We said, however," wrote Mühlenberg, "that we had been sent to preach to our people repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus, and hence we could not mix in political affairs unless we had express orders from our highest or provincial government; accordingly we remained silent."

From 1754 to 1760 no regular synods were held, but in 1760, primarily through the influence of Mühlenberg's friend, Provost Karl Magnus Wrangel, the meetings were revived. Mühlenberg wrote the constitution for the mother congregation in Philadelphia, St. Michael's, which was adopted in 1762. It became a model for many Lutheran congregations. By 1781 the constitution of the Evangelical Ministerium of North America was completed.

Bibliography:

  1. Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg Patriarch lutherischen kirke Nordamerika. Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1881.
  2. Lagerquist, L. DeAne. The Lutherans. Westport, Connecticutt: Praeger, 1999.
  3. "Mühlenberg, Henry Melchior." Dictionary of American Biography. New York : Scribner, 1958 - 1964.
  4. "Mühlenberg, Henry Melchior." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  5. Nelson, E. Clifford, et al editors. The Lutherans in North America. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, c1975.
  6. Rubincam, Milton. "Henry Melchior Muhlenberg's Early Labors in Pennsylvania: 1742 - 1760. Pennsylvania History, a Journal of mid-Atlantic studies. Volume 10, No. 3 (July 1943) 178 - 192.
  7. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated April, 2007.

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