October 7: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Lutheran Pastor in North America, 1787

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Engraving of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, 1884, History Of Montgomery County Pennsylvania,Illustrated, online, ed. T. W. Bean

About this commemoration

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg is regarded as the patriarch of Lutheranism in North America.

Muhlenberg, born near Hannover, Germany, in 1711, received his education in Göttingen and Halle before immigrating to the American colonies in 1742. Lutherans came to the colonies from a variety of regional and ethnic backgrounds and tended to build churches wherever they settled, sometimes with Lutherans of different origins settling in closer proximity to each other. There was little organization among these disparate groups until the arrival of Muhlenberg.

Upon his arrival, Muhlenberg visited Lutherans in coastal Carolina and Georgia before making his way to Philadelphia. With enormous energy and unflagging patience, Muhlenberg began to call together the Lutherans, first the Germans, then the Swedes, until the formation of the first Lutheran synod in America in 1748, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania. At the inaugural synod, Muhlenberg offered a common liturgy for use among Lutherans. The liturgy was adopted and became the essential element in unifying the Lutherans in America for several generations. Muhlenberg’s axiom, “one book, one church,” has been a benchmark for liturgical revision among North American Lutherans to the present day.

Muhlenberg also recognized the pastoral challenges of organizing a new church in the new world. In the old countries, the church was closely allied with the state. Taxes to support of the churches were collected by the state and Christian education was part of the curriculum in every school. In the new world, the churches were to be voluntary, self-supporting associations and education in matters of Christian faith was to be the concern of church and home.

Muhlenberg’s family played prominent roles in the birth of the new nation. One of his sons served as a brigadier general in the Revolution while another was a member of the Continental Congress and later the first speaker of the House of Representatives. His great-grandson, William Augustus Muhlenberg, was a priest who shaped the Episcopal Church in the mid-nineteenth century (see April 8).

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg died on October 7, 1787.


I  Loving God, Shepherd of thy people, we offer thanks for the ministry of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who left his native land to care for the German and Scandinavian pioneers in North America; and we pray that, following the teaching and example of his life, we may grow into the full stature of Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  Loving God, Shepherd of your people, we thank you for the ministry of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who left his native land to care for the German and Scandinavian pioneers in North America; and we pray that, following the teaching and example of his life, we may grow into the full stature of Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Psalm 111

Lessons:  Isaiah 60:1–5, Galatians 5:22–6:10, and Matthew 18:15–20

Preface of a Saint (2)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

Also of interest

As his great-grandson, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (commemorated on April 8), served as an Episcopal priest, here are our contemporary guidelines for the ecumenical ties in this one family.


Muhlenberg College is named for this patriarch of Lutheranism in America.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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8 thoughts on “October 7: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Lutheran Pastor in North America, 1787

  1. October 7: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Lutheran Pastor in North America, 1787
    We have a significant relationship with Lutherans, so it seems appropriate to include this
    In the second paragraph, “in closer proximity” should probably be “in close proximity” – otherwise “closer” leaves us wondering, closer than what?
    In the collects we have the words, “we pray that, following the teaching and example of his [i.e., Muhlenberg’s] life, we may grow into the full stature of Christ….” It sounds nice and all, but we really don’t have the slightest idea what M’s teachings were, so it raises the question of whether the petition is expected to be accepted as empty rhetoric, (and thus meaningless) or, if it has meaning, I wonder what we are to mean when we pray these words about “following in his teaching”?

    For that matter, what “example” are we to follow if we follow his example? Uniting the Lutherans? Uniting the Episcopalians? Uniting the Anglicans? Having one service book?

    Sometimes the collects take a trite path, praying to be LIKE the person commemorated, which ends us up either detached from present reality (as with imitating M’s achievements), or trying to be LIKE 365 different models (365 being arbitrary but standing for all the various lives included in the church calendar), when it would be better to pray about being faithful to our core Christian identity (aspects of the Baptismal covenant) in ways that suit the opportunities for ministry actually at hand, considering the kind of person we may be, and the gifts God has put at our disposal. We should be as “real” in our petitions addressed to God, not just sound good.

    The collect’s petition needs serious re-thinking.
    (I won’t comment very much on whether growing into “the full stature of Christ” depends on how well we copy Muhlenberg, but it seems like just so much more empty rhetoric to me, however sacrosanct it may sound.)

  2. Where I wrote, “considering the kind of person we may be,” I’d like it to be, ” considering the kind of person OR FAITH COMMUNITY we may be.”

  3. Collect. Notwithstanding John’s comments above, It seems kind of short to me – whereas others have seemed long-winded.

    Hebrew reading: We just had this reading for John Mott on October 3rd, 4 days ago. Isn’t there another Hebrew scripture reading that we could pick to avoid repeating it so soon?

    Bio. What a wonderful ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement is included for this commemoration. :).
    And, he gets a ‘He died’ statement, too. :):)

  4. I agree with John’s comments on the collect, and think they apply to some of the other collects we’ve seen. With the number of commemorations increasing (I assume there’ll be more coming) it may be time to stop providing individual collects, and instead to recommend one of the collects provided in the Common of Saints (BCP pp 195, 246). An ‘of a saint’ IV or V could be added to cover some of the categories that are emerging in HWHM.

  5. I would prefer a subheading which read “Pioneer Lutheran Pastor, 1787” The language of the first sentence indicates the self-evident point that this was in North America quite adequately.

    In line 2 of the second paragraph, substitute “emigrating” for “immigrating”. This is the second instance in these bios where the writer does not seem to understand these terms. The “e” in “emigrating” comes from the Latin root, in which it means “from”. As a former immigrant into the USA, I emigrated from the UK. Muhlenberg emigrated from Germany and immigrated into the USA.
    Just as we use “province” in two senses, so Lutherans use “synod” to mean gatherings (as we do with Provincial Synods) and to refer to totally independent denominations.

    In line 6 of the second paragraph, delete the letter “r” in “closer”.

    I find the last sentence in the third paragraph patently untrue. Even after the merging of various streams of different Lutherans a generation and more ago, we still have at least three major Synods going their own way. In particular, there are separate prayer books for the two main branches(ELCA & LCMS), and both have recently completed their own revised versions (The Lutheran Book of Worship and Lutheran Worship respectively). …..

    As for WELS, the Wisconsin Synod:
    WELS teaches that the account of creation given in Genesis 1-3 is a factual, historical account .
    I believe they go their own way in liturgics, although I have no direct knowledge of their practices.

    What to do in an article on HMM? I suggest deleting all after “revision” in line 10 of the third paragraph. That would honor HMM’s contribution, while avoiding any taint of a false claim.

    In line 3 of the fourth paragraph, substitute “in” for “to”.0

    In line 5 of the fifth paragraph, substitute “helped shape” for “shaped”.

  6. Just a note for historical accuracy: There was no such place as “coastal Carolina” in 1742. Early in the 18th century the colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina were separated and each had its own governor and government under the crown of England. Pastor Henry M. Muhlenberg arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on September 22, 1742. He visited Salzberg Lutherans in the colony of Georgia, and then he took a boat north to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania arriving in November 1742. I do not access to Muhlenberg’s journals, but they would need to be checked to see if he made any visits to coastal towns in North Carolina.

  7. In my Internet reading, I did come across mention somewhere that Muhlenberg visited Wilmington, North Carolina, though this would need to be confirmed in further research.

  8. Adding Melchior to the calendar seems a logical result of our concordat with the Lutherans. He was a great missionary and founder.

    Adding Muhlenburg to the calender sooem to follow as a logical reult of our concordat with ELCA. He is theirsignificant founder, and one worth commemorating

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