Friday, October 7, 2016

For All the Saints: Henry Muhlenberg

On both the Episcopal and Lutheran calendars, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787) is honored today (the anniversary of his death) as the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in the United States.

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica has this: "... When he was twelve years old his father, a member of the city council, died. The son entered the university of Göttingen in 1735, and his work among the poor of Göttingen led to the establishment of the present orphan house there. In 1738 he went to Halle to finish his theological studies; he was a devoted worker in the Franckesche Stiftung, which later served as a partial model for his great-grandson's community at St Johnland, Long Island. ... In 1742, in reply to a call from the Lutheran churches of Pennsylvania, he went to Philadelphia, and was joined from time to time, especially in 1745, by students from Halle. Muhlenberg occupied himself more particularly with the congregation at New Providence (now Trappe), though he was practically overseer of all the Lutheran churches from New York to Maryland. In 1748 he organized the first Lutheran synod in America.

"Muhlenberg married in 1745 Anna Maria Weiser, daughter of J. Conrad Weiser, a well-known Indian interpreter, and herself said to have had Indian blood in her veins; by her he had eleven children. Throughout the War of Independence he and his sons ...were prominent patriots. He died at Trappe on the 7th of October 1787. The importance of his work in organizing and building up the American Lutheran Church, of which he has been called the Patriarch, can hardly be exaggerated; but his example in preaching in English as well as in German was, unfortunately for the growth of the Lutheran Church, not followed by his immediate successors. He had no sympathy with the Old Lutherans and their strict orthodoxy on the contrary he was friendly with the Reformed congregations, and with George Whitefield and the Tennents."

Muhlenberg descendants became prominent in ministry, academia, politics, and the military, and several locations are named for this pioneering minister.

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