September 6, 2011
Dear Friends of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg,
With Lutherans in North America and Germany we remember Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, born 300 years ago on this date in Einbeck (Hanover), Germany. In 1742, Gotthilf August Franke, a leading German theologian, and Friedrich Michael Ziegenhagen, the Lutheran chaplain to the King of England, George II (also a Lutheran and ruler of Hanover), sent Muhlenberg as pastor and missionary to Pennsylvania. He moved from a planted, well-established church to a wilderness church in need of being planted (“ecclesia plantanda”). In 1748 Muhlenberg helped found the Pennsylvania Ministerium, the first Lutheran church body in North America, to which the ELCA traces its origins. He helped pastors and congregations to develop a constitution, a common liturgy and a common hymnal.
Muhlenberg also worked tirelessly to establish a well-educated, well-trained clergy in his adopted country. As the first seminary founded by the Pennsylvania Ministerium, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) is proud to celebrate its true founder, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Thus, it is only fitting that celebrate this day not only to remember a hero of the distant past but also to inaugurate our campaign for a Henry Melchior Muhlenberg scholarship, so that deserving Lutheran students at LTSP can continue the legacy of the patriarch of North American Lutheranism.
We also remember Muhlenberg for his fidelity to the gospel of justification by faith and freedom in Christ. In a letter of 1 May, 1753, admonishing New Jersey Lutherans, Muhlenberg worried about “people who call themselves Lutherans but do not experience anything of the true Evangelical faith in their hearts — about which Luther wrote in his preface to the Epistle to the Romans.” In difficulties, he wrote, “Thee greatest comfort is knowing the One in whom we believe and with whom we suffer for the sake of truth and godliness.” [From: The Correspondence of Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg, vol. 3: 1753-1756 (Rockland, Maine: Picton Press, 2009), 40.]
As part of the celebration of Muhlenberg’s birth, the Francke Foundations in Halle, Germany (the institution that supported his work in the American colonies), working in close collaboration with LTSP, produced the exhibit that is now on display throughout the first floor of The Brossman Center. We give thanks to the Francke Foundations who have generously given the exhibit to the seminary as a permanent loan.
Thank you for your generous support of the seminary and for your eagerness to learn about and celebrate the work of the man whose statue has graced the seminary’s entrance for nearly a century, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg.
Philip D.W. Krey