calendar May 6, 2012 in Assembly, Connecting

Celebrating Our Heritage, Welcoming the Future

Coverage of Dr. Krueger’s two presentations to the Synod Assembly are provided separately below:


“Celebrating your heritage, welcoming the future”

May 04, 2012

in his first presentation for the 2012 SEPA synod assembly, on Celebrating Your Heritage, Embracing Ministry, Welcoming the Future, the Rev. Dr. Karl Krueger, Director of the Krauth Memorial Library and Professor of History of Christianity at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, looked at how Henry Melchior Muhlenberg’s ministry and experience in planting the church in colonial America leaves lessons for ministry today.

Shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia, after being sent from Halle, Germany, Muhlenberg set out to visit the three congregations to which he was called. Arriving at the most distant from Philadelphia, New Hanover, he found but one candlestick while he needed three or four. There was no shopping center in those days. His solution: take out his knife and fashion ones from turnips. Perhaps Muhlenberg was showing his practical side, maybe as the first Martha Stewart?

On somewhat more serious notes, Dr. Krueger looked at a number of instances, actions and choices that those in ministry today can understand and, perhaps, learn from. Even before coming to America, Muhlenberg was faced with multiple roles in his ministry, as pastor, teacher and orphanage administrator. During that ministry, he faced a downsizing in his salary, but not in his job description. This did not dissuade him.

Given the opportunity to serve outside of Germany, in India or the American colonies, Dr. Krueger explained that he chose “the Garden of Eden – Pennsylvania” and was called to the three congregations in Philadelphia (St. MIchael’s), Trappe and New Hanover. Dr. Krueger noted this was a “thirty three mile circuit with no SEPTA, no Turnpike, just horseback for travel from place to place.” He also had to learn English – Pennsylvania was an English colony and Muhlenberg felt it important to speak the language of the colony even though he was called to serve a growing German population.

With three years on the circuit, the German population was skyrocketing, and he sent word to Germany: “I need help.” Help did come. Peter Brunnholtz was a pastor who he assigned to St. Michael’s, and two seminarians came for Muhlenberg to train. Muhlenberg set out on circuits further into the countryside, establishing congregations and bringing pastoral care. He crossed the Schuylkill River (the creek) near what is now Spring City, and planted a new congregation, finding that some didn’t want to have to cross the river to get to the one he had established earlier. “Let the pastor cross the creek and come to them” was the idea.

At the church he planted across the river, called Zion, he left a five page document, based on his 30 years of experience planting churches, that could be a guide to ministry today. Some points:

Scope of ministry: “Especially, do ministry for our children and descendants.”Have a larger vision of mission.

Self governance: He earlier had St. Michael’s draw up a constitution to guide it in self-governance as he traveled the circuit to plant the church, and did the same in other congregations he planted.

Shared ministry: Serving a circuit of congregations, Muhlenberg and other colonial pastors could not be at every church every Sunday. The lay leaders in the congregations would lead worship and handle the affairs of the church when the pastor was elsewhere on the circuit. The pastor could not do everything.

Local partnerships, with other pastors and the people in the communities he served, were important to growing the church and planting new congregations where the Gospel needed to be proclaimed.

Muhlenberg gave regular accounts to Halle, which supported his ministry in the colonies, “so the reverend fathers would know and send offerings to support the mission.” While his reports were typically found in both the colonies and in Halle, one was found only in Halle. It was November 1772, and he had to get it onto the ship to Europe before the Delaware froze for the winter. The main thrust of the message: “there’s a congregation ready for you to send a pastor.” He believed this had to get to Halle before winter so a new pastor would sent soon.

Did it work? Yes, no, and yes.

Yes, the message was published in Halle.

No, “it is sad, no new preachers because congregations are always assembling.”

And, yes. St. Peter’s Church in Chester Springs, the church that has planted on the other side of the creek, is celebrating the 240th anniversary of the dedication of the original church.

Muhlenberg was clearly globally connected, as we need to be today. He maintained the connections with Halle and with India, where others had been sent. He also connected with others where he served, pastors and congregation leaders, and recognized they all needed assistance.

Dr. Krueger pointed out the dynamic spirituality that was a part of Muhlenberg’s life. His box of daily prayer cards was a regular reaffirmation of the Word, and a guide as he followed Luther’s formula to “pray, meditate and practice.” He sometimes relied on what Dr. Krueger called “Biblical lottery,” where when he was perplexed he might randomly draw a card and use its readings for guidance. And he followed a philosophy to “do nothing without deliberation, and, once acted, do not regret.”

His dynamic spirituality also guided Muhlenberg’s wife Mary. They were on a particularly rough passage to Savannah, Georgia, and giving up hope of a safe arrival. Mary reached into the box and pulled a prayer card from the box. “This was her anchor, now his anchor,” Dr. Krueger reflected. Thinking to Bishop Burkat’s morning sermon, he observed that sometimes we need the 30,000 foot view, while our lives are sometimes lived in the weeds. Dandelions are not always a blessing. “Sometimes we need the perspective of the word of God, and of the future.”

Last, Muhlenberg rethought theological education. He and his contemporaries were trained in Halle and elsewhere in Europe, but he saw the need to train pastors in the colonies, in context. He also saw the need to be multilingual from the beginning, and “frowned on those who had to live and die faithful to the mother tongue. Some Germans acted as if German was the language of Adam and Eve.”

Muhlenberg’s experience brings many insights we can gain by studying his ministry. Dr. Krueger’s second presentation will explore the theme further.


Muhlenberg to the future

May 04, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Karl Krueger continued his exploration of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg on Friday evening, May 3, by reminding the synod assembly that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA was a living legacy of Muhlenberg and his Pennsylvania Ministerium, a legacy the synod should embrace.

Reading Muhlenberg’s papers finds a number of his encounters with insects (yes, insects). Muhlenberg was often acquainted with mosquitoes, which he described as “large, poisonous, stinging gnats that made life miserable.” He found them around New York; they were unwelcome at Trappe when Muhlenberg was visited by the Provost of the Swedish Lutheran Church in 1762. During the difficult trip to Savannah in 1774, according to Dr. Krueger, he described the most unpleasant experience made worse by “the stench in the ship and the mosquitoes biting us and hugh cockroaches” (likely palmetto bugs). His wish was to send them to Europe in curio cabinets “so they could enjoy them” according to Dr. Krueger.

Observations Muhlenberg made might be made by some today. He described inhabitants of New York as “people astonished by German dress – who think New York is the metropolis of the world and all others are suburbs.”

Muhlenberg was ecumenical in a number of ways, always looking to celebrate, embrace and welcome. His copy of the Book of Common Prayer clearly showed it was often used. An Episcopal preacher, George Whitfield, part of the “great awakening,” was giving revivals in Philadelphia that drew 20,000 people. He heard Whitfield and invited him to preach at Zion Lutheran Church in the city, where Whitfield was reported to have preached for an hour.

Though Muhlenberg may have disagreed with Whitfield on his theology of baptism and predestination, he was welcome in the Lutheran church. Dr. Krueger explained that Muhlenberg believed that we should “think kind and sympathetic [thoughts] about other religious persuasions.” He was open to possibilities, not an isolationist, and kept his pulse on religion in America, looking for other worship opportunities. The Lutheran Synod gathering at St. Michaels in October 1763 was led by two Episcopalians and two Presbyterians, and George Whitfield preached.

Even those he disagreed with he also respected. Johann Handschuh, sent from Halle to Lancaster and later Germantown, was known to irritate Muhlenberg, who once described an entrance by Handschuh by saying “along came Handschuh with a chorus of lament … we knew we were in Pennsylvania” according to Dr. Krueger. Yet when Handschuh died, Muhlenberg arranged for pallbearers who reflected the denominations in the city.

Muhlenberg and Candidacy: Muhlenberg was a judge of character, and Dr. Krueger told of the assignment of the first two seminarians sent to Philadelphia. One, Voigt, had been called to serve in the city serve in Philadelphia, while the other, Krug, was described as “weak, with an unpleasant voice like Handschuh.” He was expected to assign Krug to rural New Hanover and Trappe, and Voigt to Philadelphia and Germantown, but in the end did the opposite, sending Voigt from the city rather than to serve with Handschuh, noting they were both hypochondriacs who “look at trifles through magnifying glasses” – not a good team for ministry.

Muhlenberg and Social Ministry: Muhlenberg engaged in many areas of social ministry. His copy of the book Biblical Physics included a hand written recipe for a variation of medicine popular at the time, written in English. He confirmed indentured servants older than 18, instructing them privately and presenting the catechism in poetry to make it easier for them to learn.

His legacy of social ministry carried into work done after his death during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 by Henry Helmuth, pastor at St. Michaels and Zion in Philadelphia, who buried over 641 parishioners in three months, staying at the cemetery to wait for the constant stream of the dead being brought for burial.

The German (later Lankenau) Hospital and Kensington dispensary, established to care for those with tuberculosis along with Pinecrest in Phoenixville, were all legacies from the social ministry work begun by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Lankenau Hospital still serves the region, and Kensington and Pinecrest led to the ministry now known as Kencrest.

Dr. Krueger notes that Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the finest American Lutheran, “was not a bishop, not a monk, not a televangelist, seminary president (or librarian) or a theologian, but a parish pastor.”

– John Kahler