Commemoration of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Pastor
The Lord be with you
Moving from Europe to the English colonies in America, Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg arrived in Charleston, SC, on September 23, 1742. He established the shape of Lutheran parishes for North America during a forty-five year ministry in Pennsylvania. He was born at Einbeck, Germany, in 1711, the seventh of nine children. A tireless traveler, Muhlenberg helped to found many Lutheran congregations and was the guiding force behind the first Lutheran synod in North America, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, founded in 1748.
When Muhlenberg arrived in the colonies, Lutheranism already had a long history in North America. In the mid-1600s Lutherans could be found in the Danish West Indies (today, the Virgin Islands) and along the Hudson River. Lutheranism continued to slowly grow, drawing membership from various ethnic backgrounds, but was never the dominant expression of Christianity. Therefore, when Muhlenberg arrived, the Lutheran congregations were still few, scattered, and not organized beyond the local congregational level. In deed, his call came from three congregations, one in Philadelphia, one from New Hanover (Swamp), and one in New Providence (Trappe), as none of them could support a pastor on their own.
Muhlenberg valued the role of music in Lutheran worship (often serving as his own organist) and was the guiding force in preparing the first American Lutheran liturgy. This liturgy survives to this day, having come to the Missouri Synod through The Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, carried forward in The Lutheran Hymnal, and Lutheran Worship, and today, as the third setting of the Divine Service in the Lutheran Service Book (page 184). (Of course, back in Muhlenberg’s day, it wasn’t called the “Divine” service but the “Common” service.1) He preached in German, Dutch, and English. The sample constitution for a congregation he wrote was the model for most Lutheran congregations in America for many years.
Muhlenberg is remembered as a church leader, a journalist (the book, Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman, comes from his journals and gives you an idea of just how tireless he was), a liturgist, and – above all – a pastor to the congregation in his charge. The strong presence of Lutheranism in the mountains of North Carolina is due, in part, to his work. He died October 7, 1787, leaving behind a large extended family (many quite involved in the founding of the United States) and a lasting heritage: American Lutheranism. He was buried in Trappe, Pennsylvania, where he died. The Latin inscription on his headstone confidently states, “Who and what he was future ages will know without a stone.”
Prayer for the Commemoration of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg: Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd of Your people we give You thanks for Your servant Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg, who was faithful in the care and nurture of the flock entrusted to his care. So they may follow his example and the teaching of his holy life, give strength to pastors today who shepherd Your flock so that, by Your grace, Your people may grow into the fullness of life intended for them in paradise; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Alternate Prayer: God, our heavenly Father, Your servant Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg displayed courage and perseverance in the face of opposition and slander, and brought order both in life and in worship to scattered and dispirited congregations: Give to the pastors of Your Church such strength and faithfulness that the devotion of Your people may be enriched, and that unity and cooperation may be advanced, to the glory of Your Name; through Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Additional things you could pray about:
• For the Lutheran Churches in America
• For harried administrators and leaders in the church
• For a spirit of peace and unity based on God’s word
• For a commitment to orthodoxy and right teaching
• For a deepened piety
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert
1 The introduction of the term “Divine,” in reference to the Communion Liturgy used in American Lutheranism, dates to the material published to introduce new hymnals in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With it came a division of opinion; is Sunday morning about us serving the Divine or about the Divine serving us? It also brought a division of opinion concerning the word “liturgy.” Based on the origin of the word, it means “public service/work,” but is it the public work of God or of the people? Referring to the Communion Service as “Divine” was probably taken from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The reality is, of course, that all answers are correct. We serve God in our prayers and praises, and God serves us with his gifts of forgiveness and grace.