October 7: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Missionary to America, 1787


When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”


Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of Lutherans in America, was born in Einbeck, Germany in 1711, the seventh of nine children. He graduated from Gottingen University and studied also at Halle, where he served as a schoolmaster.

In 1742 August Hermann Francke, who had made Halle a great center of Pietism, sent Muhlenberg to America. He went first to London, where he learned from the court chaplain Frederick Ziegenhagen something of the needs of the New World. Also while he was there, Muhlenberg had a gown made that was different from both the German and the Scandinavian style, and this set the pattern for English Lutheran clergy in America.

In the early part of the 18th century, the Lutheran communities in the New World were scattered over a wide territory and came from various ethnic origins. They had built a few churches, but they were without any kind of general organization, and there was considerable dissention among them. Muhlenberg arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on September 23, 1742, and went to Philadelphia in November to serve congregations there.

During the 45 years he labored in America, Muhlenberg traveled incessantly, corresponded widely, and set a course of Lutheranism for coming generations. He preached in German, Dutch, and English, and with a powerful voice. He established the first Lutheran synod in America, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, in 1748, and submitted a liturgy which was ratified by that organization, and remained the only authorized American Lutheran liturgy for 40 years. Ultimately this form of the historic Lutheran order developed into the common liturgy of North American Lutherans, and was the precursor for all Lutheran worship books to come, including the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Muhlenberg and his sons were also leaders in American public life. One son, John Peter Gabriel, left his pastorate in Virginia to become a general under Washington, and another, Frederick Augustus Conrad, also a Lutheran pastor, became a member of the Continental Congress and the first speaker of the House of Representatives.

Muhlenberg died at Trappe, Pennsylvania on October 7, 1787 and was buried there beside the historic church. A Latin inscription on his monument declares confidently, “Who and what he was future ages will know without a stone.”

(NOTE: Historical records indicate that Muhlenberg preached to the Lutheran congregation gathered in Linglestown, the ancestors of our present congregation.)

— From Festivals and Commemorations by Philip H. Pfatteicher


Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace grow into the full stature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN

— Pastor Stickley