Above: The Church of the Holy Communion, New York, New York
Image Source = New York Public Library
HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG (SEPTEMBER 6, 1711-OCTOBER 7, 1787)
Patriarch of American Lutheranism
His feast day transferred from October 7
WILLIAM AUGUSTUS MUHLENBERG (SEPTEMBER 16, 1796-APRIL 8, 1877)
Episcopal Priest, Hymn Writer, and Liturgical Pioneer
ANNE AYRES (JANUARY 3, 1816-1896)
Foundress of the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion
One church, one book.
–Henry Melchior Muhlenberg
October 7 is the feast day of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg in The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and The Lutheran Church–Canada. A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Calendar of Commemorations (The Episcopal Church, 2016) lists William Augustus Muhlenberg and Anne Ayres on April 8. However, since one of my purposes in renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is to emphasize relationships and influences, I have merged the commemorations.
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg became the Patriarch of American Lutheranism. He, born at Einbeck, Saxony, on September 6, 1711, attended the University of Gottingen. Then our saint taught in the orphanage at Halle for 15 months. He wanted to become a missionary to India, but became a pastor in Grosshennersdorf, Saxony, instead. In September 1741 Muhlenberg visited Halle. Soon thereafter he was en route to America, sent there by pastor August Herman Francke, who had also sent other missionaries to the New World.
Lutheranism was in a sorry state in America. There was little organization above the parish level, liturgies varied widely, there were no firm standards for become an ordained minister, and adjacent Lutheran churches frequently had little to do with each other. In 1741 Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a Saxon Lutheran layman and Moravian bishop, was visiting America. While in Pennsylvania, he functioned as a Lutheran pastor at Philadelphia, creating a controversy in the church there.
Muhlenberg had a difficult set of tasks to complete. His motto was Ecclesia Plantanda, or
The Church Must Be Planted.
Our saint arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1742. Then he spent a week with the Jerusalem Lutheran Church at Ebenzezer, Georgia. Muhlenberg arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 25, 1742. Within a month he had ousted Zinzendorf from the pulpit. On December 27, 1742, Muhlenberg became the pastor of several congregations. He went on, within a year, to found a school per congregation and to found new churches.
During the following decades Muhlenberg planted and organized the church. He founded new congregations, fostered unity among them, and established standards for ordination. On August 26, 1748, at St. Michael’s Church, Philadelphia, ministers from 10 of the 70 Lutheran congregations in North America formed “The United Preachers of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of German Nationality in These American Colonies, Especially Pennsylvania,” the first synod. In 1781, with the adoption of a constitution, the synod became the German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in North America. The ministerium gave rise to other synods, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in the State of New-York and Adjacent States and Countries (1786), led by John Christopher Kunze, Muhlenberg’s son-in-law. The original synod became the German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States in 1792.
Muhlenberg did much to build up the Ministerium in North America/of Pennsylvania. He traveled from the northeast to Georgia. In 1751 and 1752 he spent much time in New York City, where the dispute over what the proper language for worship should be had created divisions. Our saint, who prioritized the Gospel of Jesus Christ over languages, preached in English, Dutch, and German every Sunday for months. Over the years he struggled with Lutheran disunity; many Lutheran ministers did not relate to Halle, as he did. Our saint also prepared a hymnal late in life.
On the personal side, Muhlenberg married Anna Mary Weiser, daughter of Indian agent Conrad Weiser, in April 1745. Three of their sons became Lutheran ministers. Although our saint ranged from Loyalism to neutrality during the American Revolutionary period, two of his sons (both of them ministers) chose to fight under the command of George Washington. Peter (in full, John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, 1746-1807) went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives with Frederick (in full, Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, 1750-1801), the first Speaker of the House.
Our saint died at Trappe, Pennsylvania, on October 7, 1787. He was 76 years old.
Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, first Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States, had a son named Henry William Muhlenberg, who became a wine merchant in Philadelphia. Henry William married Mary Sheefe. The couple welcomed William Augustus Muhlenberg into the world on September 16, 1796. He became a figure to rival his great-grandfather in terms of ecclesiastical importance.
William Augustus Muhlenberg, raised in a Lutheran home, became an influential Episcopal priest. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania from 1812 to 1815, graduating as the English-language salutation. His affinity for the English language, especially in worship, led him to join The Episcopal Church. Such conversions were common at a time when German was the preferred language of worship in many Lutheran congregations, the leaders of which referred those who preferred to worship in English to Episcopal churches. Muhlenberg became a priest, serving first as the assistant at Christ Church, Philadelphia, from 1817 to 1822. (The rector of the parish was William White, also the Bishop and Pennsylvania and the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.) Then, for a few years, Muhlenberg was the Rector of St. James’s Church, Lancaster. There he opened the first public school in Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia. Meanwhile, our saint had published a case for singing hymns instead of the traditional metrical Psalms. Thus he served on the committee for the Prayer Book Collection (1826), an early Episcopal hymnal.
In 1826 Muhlenberg relocated to New York. He became the Rector of St. George’s Church, Flushing, Long Island. There he founded the Flushing Institute (later St. Paul’s College), which made him nationally famous for his advocacy of progressive educational methods. At St. George’s Church Muhlenberg was a pioneer in liturgical renewal. His church had vested choirs, candles and flowers on the altar, and greenery at Christmas. If that were not enough, the church sang Christmas carols. This was groundbreaking in a culture in which much of the dominant Protestant ethos did not support celebrating Christmas.
Muhlenberg received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Columbia College, New York, New York, in 1834.
In 1845 Muhlenberg founded the Church of the Holy Communion in the City of New York. The architect of the edifice (dedicated in 1846) was Richard Upjohn (1802-1878). Muhlenberg’s sister, the wealthy widow Mary A. Rogers, financed the construction of the building and much of the parish’s budget for years. This patronage enabled the church to minister to members of all social classes; that was a priority for the priest and his sister. One of the novelties at the Church of the Holy Communion was free pews–no pew rentals. Our saint was also a pioneer in the Sunday School movement; the parish schools reflected this fact. The church also offered unemployment benefits, operated an employment agency, provided medical services, and offered English-language classes. Furthermore, the liturgical life of the parish was more advanced than at other churches. Communion services were weekly, Morning and Evening Prayer were daily, Holy Week was a priority, and the choirs there were the first vested choirs in the city. Beyond that, the use of colors, flowers, and music to increase the beauty of worship was influential.
The parish dispensary became the genesis of St. Luke’s Hospital, New York City. Muhlenberg served as the Superintendent and Chaplain there from 1858 to 1877. He and Anne Ayres, a member of his congregation, founded the institution.
Ayres, born in London, England, on January 3, 1816, arrived in New York City in 1836. For a few years she tutored children of the wealthy, but Muhlenberg’s influence prompted her to change the direction of her life. In 1845 she and Muhlenberg founded the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion, dedicated to providing social services. For many years members of the Sisterhood performed most of the nursing duties at St. Luke’s Hospital. The Sisterhood of the Holy Communion was the first Anglican order for women founded in North America.
Muhlenberg was an ecumenist. In 1853 he presented a proposal before the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. Our saint, convinced that the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer (1789) were too rigid, proposed Articles of Union with Protestant bodies in a confederation, complete with Apostolic Succession. The requirements were:
- The Apostles’ Creed;
- Ordination not repugnant to the Word of God;
- Common hymns, prayers, and Biblical readings; and
- A council on common affairs.
This proposal, the natural successor to The Evangelical Catholic (1851-1853), Muhlenberg’s monthly journal, went down in failure. It did, however, influence the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886, 1888):
- The Old and New Testaments as scripture,
- The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds,
- The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and
- Apostolic Succession.
In 1868 Muhlenberg served on a committee to discuss revising The Book of Common Prayer (1789). Revision had to wait, however; the next edition debuted in 1892.
Muhlenberg, who wrote hymns, chose to remain unmarried, so that he could have more time for ministry. His theology was something science did not threaten; he did not oppose Evolution. His priorities in ministry reflected his proto-Social Gospel ethos. Among his final projects (with Anne Ayres) was St. Johnland, an intentional community for members of the working class on Long Island, away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. There were family homes, group homes, businesses, a library, a church, et cetera. Muhlenberg helped to finance St. Johnland.
Muhlenberg died in New York City on April 8, 1877. He was 80 years old.
Anne Ayres died in New York City on February 9, 1896. She was 80 years old.
The Ministeriums of Pennnsylvania and New York survived into the 1960s, when they, as part of The United Lutheran Church in America, merged into the Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg’s dream of a common liturgy for North American Lutherans has never become a reality. The closest it came to reality was the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), which, by the way, borrowed heavily from The Book of Common Prayer (1979), in development at the same time.
The Church of the Holy Communion closed in 1975 and merged with Calvary Episcopal Church and St. George’s Episcopal Church. Since then the edifice has housed a series of establishments, including two night clubs (one of them notorious), an upscale store, and a gymnasium.
The Sisterhood of the Holy Communion ceased to exist in 1940.
St. Luke’s Hospital and Mt. Sinai Hospital merged in 1979.
St. Johnland survives as a nursing center.
Flowers and altar candles remain familiar sites in Episcopal hymnals.
The Episcopal Church has made the transition from metrical Psalms to hymns.
The Episcopal Church has entered into full communion agreements with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Moravian Church in America.
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, William Augustus Muhlenberg, and Anne Ayres did much to glorify God, build up the church, and benefit many people.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MARCH 15, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT ZACHARY OF ROME, POPE
THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAN ADALBERT BALICKI AND LADISLAUS FINDYSZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS IN POLAND
THE FEAST OF OZORA STEARNS DAVIS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF VETHAPPAN SOLOMON, APOSTLE TO THE SOLOMON ISLANDS
Almighty God, we praise you for your servants
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, William Augustus Muhlenberg, and Anne Ayres,
through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.
Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,
whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60