Pennsylvania Ministerium - Founding

Founding

German settlers had been arriving in North America since the mid-seventeenth century, and they were particularly attracted by William Penn's promise of religious freedom in the colony of Pennsylvania. By 1683, the number was large enough to form communities such as Germantown (now a neighborhood in Philadelphia). Many of these immigrants brought with them their Lutheran faith and began to form congregations in their new homeland.

By the mid-eighteenth century, there was a growing need for well-trained Lutheran clergy in the colonies. The Pietist foundation at the University of Halle responded to this need, and sent 24 clergymen to minister in the colonies in 1742. Among those sent was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Muhlenberg's influence went beyond those congregations he served; he organized other Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania so that they might work in cooperation. Such was his influence that Muhlenberg became regarded to be "the patriarch of the Lutheran church in North America.

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At Muhlenberg's request, German-American Lutheran pastors met together in Philadelphia on August 26, 1748. Six pastors and lay representatives from ten congregations attended the meeting, where they agreed to work together as the "ministerium of North America." They also adopted a common liturgy to be used in North America. This meeting has become known as "the most important event in the history of North American Lutheranism."

The Ministerium remained a relatively informal association until a constitution was drawn up and agreed upon in 1781. Along with a formal constitution, it adopted the name of the "German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of North America." The churches of the ministerium followed a polity influenced by the Dutch Reformed model and by Muhlenberg's Pietism, and did not insist on strict adherence to the Lutheran Confessions. During these early years, there were not only German pastors, but also Swedish pastors in the Ministerium. Members of the Ministerium could be found in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and even the Carolinas.

In 1784, Frederick A. Muhlenberg (second son of the earlier patriarch) organized the growing number of Lutheran congregations and clergy in the state of New York into the Ministerium of New York. Mindful of this and other Lutheran church bodies being founded in North America, in 1792 the group in Philadelphia renamed itself "The Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States".

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