Above: Gloria Dei Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1850
Photographer = Frederick De Bourg Richards
Image Source = Library of Congress
Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-39946
JUSTUS FALCKNER (NOVEMBER 22, 1672-SEPTEMBER 21, 1723)
Lutheran Pastor and Hymn Writer
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) commemorate the lives of William Passavant (1821-1894; feast day in The Episcopal Church = January 3), Justus Falckner, and Jehu Jones (1786-1852). pioneering Lutheran ministers in North America, on November 24, the anniversary of the ordination of Falckner in 1703. On my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, however, each man receives his own feast day.
Falckner, born at Crimmitschau, Saxony, on November 22, 1672, was the fourth son of Daniel Falckner (Sr.), a Lutheran pastor, and a brother of Daniel Falckner (Jr.). [Aside: The tradition of naming a son after the father without adding a suffix, especially common in Germany and England, is really annoying to many historians and genealogists. To know which Johannes Doe one is reading about is really helpful. Sometimes it is relatively easy, but on other occasions it is impossible.] Our saint, who began his studies at the University of Halle, with the intention of becoming a pastor, felt inadequate for that goal by the time he graduated. Instead he became a lawyer and a land agent like his brother, Daniel Jr. In 1700, at Rotterdam, the Falckner brothers acquired the power of attorney for the sale of William Penn‘s lands in Pennsylvania. The following year the Reverend Andreas Rudman (1668-1708), a pioneering Swedish minister in what became the United States, purchased 10,000 acres along Manatawny Creek for Swedish Lutherans. The connection with Rudman helped to convince the Falckner brothers to serve as clergymen in North America. On November 24, 1724, 1703, at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Justus Falckner became the first Lutheran minister ordained in North America. The service was the first recorded instance of the use of an organ at a worship service in what became the United States.
Our saint served as many as 14 congregations spread out over a territory of 200 miles at one time during nearly 20 years of ordained ministry. His first assignment was a Dutch congregation near New Hanover, Pennsylvania. Later he succeeded Rudman (who returned to Sweden) at New York City. Fortunately, Rudman left the congregation in good condition. Falckner also served at Albany, where the congregation was in dire shape; he had to start “from scratch” there. In 1719, after the death of Pastor Joshua Kocherthal, our saint assumed responsibility for the congregations in the Hudson River valley.
Meanwhile, if all that were not enough, Falckner would have been a busy man even without those responsibilities. In 1704 he published the first Lutheran catechism in North America. Over the years he lobbied for the use of organs in Lutheran churches in the Delaware River valley. He succeeded. And, in 1717, our saint married Gerritje Hardick, with whom he had three children (in 1718, 1720, and 1723).
Falckner died at Newburgh, New York, on September 21, 1723. He, aged 51 years, had damaged his health via his work load. Daniel Jr., a pastor in New Jersey since 1708, added the Hudson River valley congregations to his responsibilities, starting that year.
Our saint seems to have written at least two hymns (both from 1697, during his college years) extant in English-language translations. “Rise, Ye Children of Salvation,” in English since 1858, courtesy of Emma Frances Bevan, is plainly by Falckner. I am less (yet reasonably) certain about “If Our All on Christ We Venture,” which old North American Moravian hymnals attribute in the original German to Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760). Both Zinzendorf and Falckner wrote in German, I know. I also know that some old Moravian hymnals mistakenly attributed certain German hymns to the Count.
Falckner was indeed a pioneer of the faith in North America, and thereby worthy of much respect.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 6, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Justus Falckner,
who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock.
We pray that, following their examples and the teaching of their holy lives,
we may by your grace attain our full maturity in Christ,
through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35
1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21
John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60