calendar February 7, 2023 in News

Black History Month: Lutheran Roots

By Dr. Addie J. Butler

Persons of African descent became involved with the Lutheran Church in the Northern colonies as early as Palm Sunday, 16691, when a free Black man (who took the name Emmanuel at his baptism) was admitted into membership in a Lutheran congregation in New York. Think of it! That was just 177 years after Christopher Columbus and his crew of sailors set foot on what would become North America and 155 years after Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany. It is reported that Emmanuel had a Caucasian wife and two children. Little else is known about him.

The first recorded incident of a slave being baptized in the Lutheran Church occurred in 1708. Tom was a Native American who lived in New York, also. As reported by Julius F. Sachse:

When [Tom] first expressed a wish to become a Christian, it became a question of whether if he were admitted to the Church he could still be held in bondage and treated as a slave….[He affirmed] he was willing to remain in servitude in this world, provided he was assured that he would be free and equal in the skies beyond.2

The first recorded instance of a Black slave becoming a member of the Lutheran Church in the Northern colonies occurred in 1712, when Pieter Christian (31 years old and reportedly a native of Madagascar) became a member of a congregation in what is now Athens, NY.

In 1755, an unnamed Black man was baptized at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Germantown, Philadelphia, in the presence of Dr. Henry M. Muhlenberg.3


  1. Jeff G. Johnson, Black Christians: The Untold Lutheran Story (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1991), pp. 21-35.
  2. p. 30.
  3. Beverly, Silveri, Report of African American Ministry (Chicago, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1993), p. 17.