Pennsylvania Ministerium

The Pennsylvania Ministerium was the first Lutheran church body in North America. With the encouragement of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711–1787), the Ministerium was founded at a Church Conference of Lutheran clergy on August 26, 1748. The group was known as the "German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of North America" until 1792, when it adopted the name "German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States".

Pennsylvania Ministerium
Ministerium Pennsylvania seal.jpg
Seal of the Pennsylvania Ministerium
AssociationsGeneral Synod (1820–1823; 1853–1864)
General Council (1867–1918)
RegionIn and near Pennsylvania
FounderHenry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787)
OriginAugust 26, 1748
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Merged intoUnited Lutheran Church in America (1918)
Other name(s)German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of North America (1748–1792)
German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States (1792–1918)

The Pennsylvania Ministerium (also referred to as the Ministerium of Pennsylvania) was also the source of the first Lutheran liturgy in America. Because of its unique place in the history of North American Lutheranism, the Ministerium continued to influence the church politics of Lutherans in America into the twentieth century.[1]

Lutherans in North AmericaEdit

In 1638, Swedish settlers, colonizing north along the Delaware from the New Sweden colony, established residences in what would become Philadelphia, at a place called Wiccaco by the local Lenape tribe, meaning "pleasant place". These Swedish settlers were Lutheran. The Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church was completed in 1700. Colonization extended to present-day Trenton.[2]

German settlers began arriving in North America in the mid-seventeenth century. They were particularly attracted by William Penn's promise of religious freedom in the colony of Pennsylvania, and came to the Philadelphia region in significant numbers. By 1683, the German population was large enough to form communities such as Germantown (now a neighborhood in Philadelphia).[3] Many of these immigrants brought with them their Lutheran faith and formed congregations in their new homeland.

Ministerium foundingEdit

By the mid-eighteenth century, there was a growing need for well-trained Lutheran clergy in the colonies. With the goal of creating closer union between the preachers, elders, and deacons of the area congregations, a conference was proposed.[4]

The Pietist foundation at the University of Halle in Germany sent 24 clergymen to minister in the colonies in 1742.[5] Among those sent was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Tension between pious and orthodox religious interpretations was present in Europe and North American Lutherans at this time.[6] The conference intentionally excluded congregations critical of pious interpretation. A conference was assembled, but disrupted by the orthodox Swedish preacher Rev. Nyburg, of New Sweden colony.[4] Tension around this conference extended beyond Pennsylvania. Open remarks from William C. Berkenmeyer against John C. Hartwick of New York were published in a booklet. Carl M. Wrangel was criticised by his Swedish colleagues in Delaware for having piestic leanings.[6]

An 1803 hymnal, published by the Pennsylvania Ministerium

Five years later, a conference was again assembled. At Muhlenberg's request, Lutheran pastors met together in Philadelphia on August 26, 1748, for the first Church Conference. Six pastors and lay representatives from ten congregations attended the meeting, where they agreed to work together as the "ministerium of North America." They successfully 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."[7] Attendees came from Philadelphia, New Hanover, Providence, Germantown, Tulpehocken, Lancaster, Upper Milford, and Saccum congregations.[4]

The fifteenth Church Conference, of 1762, led by Muhlenberg, was held at St Michael's Church, Philadelphia. Four Swedish and ten German preachers represented area congregations. [4]

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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

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".[11]

General SynodEdit

In 1818, the Pennsylvania Ministerium began talks of organizing the various Lutheran church bodies in America, so that they could "stand in some or another in closer connection with one another."[12] At a meeting in Hagerstown, Maryland in October 1820, just such an organization was founded in the General Synod (formally titled the "Evangelical Lutheran General Synod of the United States of North America"). At the outset, this group consisted of the Pennsylvania Ministerium, along with the New York Ministerium and the Maryland-Virginia Synod.

The General Synod served largely in an advisory function—each church body within the Synod retained its own constitution and independence. The primary role of the Synod was to facilitate cooperation among the various church bodies. It was under the auspices of the General Synod, with the leadership of Samuel Simon Schmucker, that a Lutheran seminary and college were founded in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.[13]

Despite its role in establishing the General Synod, the Pennsylvania Ministerium withdrew from the inter-Lutheran organization in 1823. Within the Ministerium, there was a close relationship between Lutheran and Reformed congregations, and many felt that the General Synod might jeopardize that relationship.[14] In addition, many in the Ministerium were wary of a centralized organization, and the control that it might exert over individual congregations.

Thus, in the years following, the Pennsylvania Ministerium remained an independent Lutheran church body. However, the Ministerium sought to maintain a relationship with the Synod, including continuing to send its ministerial students to the General Synod's seminary in Gettysburg, which was headed by Samuel Schmucker.

In the decades that followed, the Ministerium became less concerned with its relationship with the Reformed church and saw a significant increase in Lutheran identity and the importance of the Lutheran Confessions. Thus, in 1853, the Ministerium rejoined other Lutherans in the General Synod.[15] However, this renewed relationship would prove to be short-lived.

General CouncilEdit

The Book of Concord, which contains the documents known as the "Lutheran Confessions"

As with many Protestant churches, the General Synod was split on the issue of the American Civil War in the 1860s. Yet this was not the biggest challenge to Lutheran unity in the middle of the 19th century. As the importance of the Lutheran Confessions grew among American Lutherans, Samuel Schmucker—who was once seen confessionally conservative—found himself on the outside of the consensus of other Lutherans.[16] In 1855, Schmucker, along with two other theologians from the Gettysburg seminary, penned the Definite Synodical Platform. This document downplayed the importance of the Confessions—indeed even suggested an edited "American Recension" of the Augsburg Confession—and sought to establish a distinctly American Lutheranism that was more at home with other Protestants in the country.[17]

The Definite Synodical Platform was not enough to cause the Pennsylvania Ministerium to leave the General Synod, but it was a foretaste of things to come. When the Frankean Synod, a Lutheran church body noted for its progressive politics and its utter disregard for the Lutheran Confessions, was admitted to the General Synod, the leadership of the Ministerium had seen enough. At the 1864 gathering of the General Synod, at which the Frankeans were admitted, the delegates from the Ministerium left in protest. Unfortunately, the delegates left before the General Synod passed a resolution affirming and strengthening their commitment to the Augsburg Confession.[18]

It is not clear whether the members of the Ministerium intended for this to be a permanent break, or a temporary protest. Regardless, it became permanent when the officials at the next Gathering of the General Synod refused to admit the delegates from the Ministerium. Thus, the Ministerium found themselves on their own.[19]

In 1864, unhappy with the direction of the General Synod and its seminary at Gettysburg, the Ministerium established a new seminary in Philadelphia (later known as the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) and asked Charles Porterfield Krauth to head it.[20] This was followed, in 1867, with the Ministerium being joined by thirteen other church bodies in a more conservative and confessional organization known as the General Council.

United Lutheran Church in AmericaEdit

The Pennsylvania Ministerium remained a constituent church of the General Council from 1867 to 1917. In 1918, following the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation, the three Lutheran church bodies of eastern America (the General Synod, the United Synod of the South, and the General Council) reunited to form the United Lutheran Church in America. This event, while marking a watershed of unity among American Lutherans, also marked the end of the Pennsylvania Ministerium.[21] The ULCA would later join with other American Lutherans to form the Lutheran Church in America in 1962; that body, in turn, helped form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988.[22]


  1. ^ See for example Lowell Almen, One Great Cloud of Witnesses: You and Your Congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997) pp. 38–40
  2. ^ Sitarski, Steve. "History of Queen Village". Queen Village Neighbors Association. Retrieved October 1, 2014.
  3. ^ Tappert, pp. 21–31.
  4. ^ a b c d Documentary history of the Evangelical Lutheran ministerium of Pennsylvania and adjacent states: Proceedings of the annual conventions from 1748 to 1821. Board of Publication of the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America. 1898. p. 61.
  5. ^ Tappert, p. 48.
  6. ^ a b Nelson, Clifford E (1975). Lutherans in North America. Fortress Press.
  7. ^ Eric W. Gritsch, A History of Lutheranism, (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 2002) p. 175.
  8. ^ Tappert, p. 30.
  9. ^ Eric Gritsch, A History of Lutheranism, (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 2002) p. 175.
  10. ^ Tappert, p. 50.
  11. ^ Tappert, p. 52.
  12. ^ Anderson, p. 116.
  13. ^ See the websites of the Lutheran Theogical Seminary at Gettysburg Archived September 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine and Gettysburg College; both schools are currently affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
  14. ^ Anderson, p. 122.
  15. ^ Anderson, p. 230
  16. ^ Anderson, pp. 217, 221
  17. ^ Anderson, pp. 217–227.
  18. ^ Anderson, p. 232
  19. ^ Anderson, pp. 232–233
  20. ^ Eric Gritsch, A History of Lutheranism, (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 2002) p. 192.
  21. ^ Fred W. Meuser, "Facing the Twentieth Century" in The Lutherans in North America, ed. E. Clifford Nelson (Philadelphia:Fortress Press, 1980) pp. 372–373. Meuser especially addresses the role that the anniversary of the Reformation played in the foundation of the ULCA.
  22. ^ See the ELCA's "Key to ELCA Predecessor Church Bodies", retrieved July 10, 2007.
  • Anderson, H. George, "The Early National Period," in The Lutherans in North America, ed. E. Clifford Nelson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980)
  • Tappert, Theodore, "The Church's Infancy" in The Lutherans in North America, ed. E. Clifford Nelson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980)