Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pericope for the Week

Last week marked the 223rd anniversary of the death of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (9/6/1711--10/7/1787), the so-called "patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America." He had been born in Hanover, Germany (the seventh of nine children), educated at Goettingen University, served as teacher in Halle (at that time a center of Lutheran Pietism), and then, under the direction of the Pietist leader A. H. Francke, came to Pennsylvania in 1742 to serve the "united" Lutheran congregations there. Skilled in many areas--he was fluent in  Latin, German, English, and Dutch, and had some knowledge of medicine--he was a great organizer, catechist, preacher, and missionary. He and his wife had eleven children, three of whom themselves became prominent: John Peter Gabriel was a pastor, soldier, and politician; Frederick Augustus Conrad was a pastor, congressman, and the first person elected Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives; and Gotthild Henry Ernst was a pastor (surprise), botanist, and scholar.

The three large volumes of Muhlenberg's journals, edited by two giants among 20th-century American Lutherans, Theodore Tappert and John Doberstein (who also translated the entries), give us, to quote the editors, "intimate glimpses into the life and manners of American colonists in the eighteenth century." Here are two "markings" that struck me as I reread the journals last week:

From the entry for October 13, 1774:

Our host received a visit today from a German family of our religion who live in Old Indian Swamp, fifty miles away in the country. The man's name is Philip Eisenmann and he has a plantation of his own, but no Negroes. He and his wife cultivate the place themselves in the sweat of their brows and prove thereby that a man can live and find food and clothing without the use of black slaves, if he be godly and contented and does not desire to take more out of the world than he brought into it.

They lamented the great lack of schools and religious services in their neighborhood. They have been using their barn for public worship and have taken on as preacher a young man who recently arrived from Germany and spent some time teaching school in Charleston. The man said that the pastor works the whole week on a sermon, gathering it together from books and writing it all out, and then on Sunday dryly reads it from the paper without the slightest expression in his voice. He even has to read the Lord's Prayer, not knowing it from memory, and gives as his excuse the fact that the Lord did not give him the gift of a good memory. The good Lord is always the one to be blamed when these sluggards remain uncircumcised in heart and ears. The only credentials he brought with him from Germany were a pair of black breeches. The other fragments, such as bands, etc., he obtained from his countryman, Pastor Daser.

And this from the entry for July 4, 1776:

Today the Continental Congress openly declared the united provinces of North America to be free and independent states. This has caused some thoughtful and far-seeing melancholici to be down in the mouth; on the other hand, it has caused some sanguine and short-sighted persons to exult and shout with joy. It will appear in the end who has played the right tune. This remains as a comfort to believers: There is One who sits at the rudder, who has the plan of the whole before him, to whom all power in heaven and earth is given, and who has never yet made a mistake in his government. He it is who neither sleeps nor slumbers and who has asked his people to pray, "Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done."

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