“The population (of Germantown) grew steadily and more diverse, so that by 1735 there were
congregations of Mennonites, Brethren (also known as Dunkards and German Baptists),
Lutherans, and German Reformed in addition to the Quakers.” (Mark Frazier Lloyd and Sandra Macenzie Lloyd, “Three hundred Years of Germantown History: an Exhibition Celebrating the Tercentenary of this Community,” Germantown Crier: Germantown 1983 Tercentenary, Germantown Historical Society, Volume 35, Number 1, Winter 1982-83: 7)
Mennonite Meeting House
Germantown Avenue above Herman Street
“On Main Street (Germantown Avenue) stands the Mennonite Meeting House, where William Rittenhouse was the first pastor of the congregation. Among the thirteen original settlers of Germantown some were Mennonites or “German Friends”, and by 1702 they had put up a little log meeting house displaced in 1770 by the present building.” (Francis Burke Brandt and Henry Volkmar Gummere, Byways and Boulevards in and about Historic Philadelphia, Philadelphia: Corn Exchange National Bank: 1925, 46) Image4.gif (167265 bytes)
“As a world body, the Mennonites were organized at Zurich, Switzerland in 1525.” (John A. Hardon, The Protestant Churches in America, Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1969: 337)
Church of the Brethren
6613 Germantown Avenue
“The Church of the Brethren, or Dunkards, at No. 6613 Main Street (Germantown Avenue), above Sharpnack Street, Germantown, notable as the mother congregation of this sect in America, began as a church organization in 1723, although the front portion of the prsent otherwise modern building dates back only to 1770. Within the meeting house may be seen a tablet to the memory of Christopher Sower (Saur), the younger, at one time Bishop of the Church of Brethren, and to the memory of Christopher Sower, the father, famous for publishing the first American quarto edition of the Bible in 1743. In the well-kept graveyard lies Alexander Mack, founder of the Dunkard Sect. (Francis Burke Brandt and Henry Volkmar Gummere, Byways and Boulevards in and about Historic Philadelphia, Philadelphia: Corn Exchange National Bank, 1925: 64)
“Baptist Sabbatarians were refugees from the Palantinate in Germany. Often called Brethren or Dunkers, they arrived in Philadelphia in 1720. Eight years later, they founded a community under the direction of John Conrad Beissel, who had been associated with Peter Becker, the Germantown mystic and founder of the Dunkards or German Baptist Brethren. Leaving Becker, Beissel started a monastic community at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, for celibate religious life.” (John A. Hardon, The Protestant Churches in America, Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1969: 66) “From Pennsylvania, the Bethren spread across the country.” (Ibid., 336)
The Lutheran Church and the Rev. Heinrich Melchior Muehlenberg
In 1742, Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg (1711 – 1787), “Patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America”, was called by three Lutheran congregations, Old Zion Lutheran Church, Philadelphia (established circa 1730), Augustus Lutheran Church, Trappe (established circa 1730), and New Hanover Lutheran Church, New Hanover (established circa 1700/1717), to preach the gospel. In 1747, Muhlenberg first discussed plans to institute a regular ‘conference’ of Lutheran clergy from the Delaware Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania. The following year, on August 15, 1748, Muhlenberg, together with a handful of pastors and lay people met at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church (15th Street and Apple Tree Alley) in Philadelphia, for the initial meeting of what same to be called the Pennsylvania Ministerium. That Lutheran church body is the oldest in North America. Muhlenberg’s words “A twisted cord of many threads will not easily break” surely influenced the outcome of the meeting. (Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and The Colonial Lutheran Church, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 1997)
“Muhlenberg adapted the first American Liturgy which was adopted by the Synod at the time of its organization April (sic) 1748, in St. Michael’s Church, Philadelphia and had Luther’s Catechism printed by Benjamin Franklin in 1749. He early visioned a College and Theological Seminary for the necessary training of native students and made advances toward this end. This ideal was however not realized until seventy-seven years after his death, when the Philadelphia Theological Seminary was founded in 1864, and the College at Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1867 and named ‘Muhlenberg’ in his honor.” (William O. Fegely, D.D. and revised by Herbert H. Michel, M.Div., Augustus Lutheran Church – The Shrine of Lutheranism, 1987, 15-16)
“His descendants were Generals, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, first Speakers of the House of Representatives, college founders, hymnologists of renown, as well as successful preachers spanning generations.” (Herman LeRoy Collins, A.M., Litt D., Philadelphia: A Story of Progress, volume 2, Philadelphia: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1941, 62.)
“In the five county Philadelphia area — the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) — there are twenty-two active congregations dating from Muhlenberg’s lifetime, or before. Many of them have interesting interesting artifacts on display, and their cemeteries are the resting places of colonial citizens and Revolutionary War soldiers. ” (John Peterson, “Historic Lutheran Sites In the Philadelphia Area”, Lutheran Quarterly, Volume X / Number 4, Winter 1996, 467) Several of the most prominent, historic congregations are described below.
New Hanover Lutheran Church
Lutheran Road, Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania
“With religious activity as early as 1700, New Hanover was organized at least by 1717. It is known as ‘Oldest German Ethnic Lutheran Congregation in America.’
The present church building was dedicated 1768 by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg in the presence of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania in Convention. The interior has been restored to a style typical of the period when it was built. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg was pastor here a period of time before the Revolutionary War. He later became the first speaker of the of the U.S. House of Representatives. Subsequently, U.S. House Speakers have been guests at New Hanover and the pastors have occasionally been invited to give opening prayers in the U.S. House.” (John Peterson, “Historic Lutheran Sites In the Philadelphia Area”, Lutheran Quarterly, Volume X / Number 4, Winter 1996, 468)
St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
6671 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia
“Established about 1721, St. Michael’s is the oldest Lutheran congregation in present day Philadelphia. The current church, dedicated 1896, is the fourth on the site. A colonial school house built for the congregation in 1740 is adjacent.” (John Peterson, “Historic Lutheran Sites In the Philadelphia Area”, Lutheran Quarterly, Volume X / Number 4, Winter 1996, 472) St. Michael’s was “the scene of some of the divided labors of the Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, well known for his services both in Philadelphia and in Germantown, as well as for founding the famous old Lutheran Church at Trappe, Pennsylvania.
In the graveyard of St. Michael’s lies (the) Revolutionary patriot, Christopher Ludwig, famous as the first ginger-bread baker in Philadelphia, and also as the ‘Baker General’ to the American army.” (Francis Burke Brandt and Henry Volkmar Gummere, Byways and Boulevards in and about Historic Philadelphia, Philadelphia: Corn Exchange National Bank, 1925: 48)
Augustus Lutheran Church
717 Main Street, Trappe, Pennsylvania
While the congregation dates back to circa 1730, this “Shrine of Lutheranism, being the oldest, unaltered Lutheran Church in the United States” was built in 1743. “It was the first Church built by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the first regularly called pastor, and marks the beginning of the organization of Lutheranism in America. It is of German-rural architecture. All timbers are hewn, and framed with tenons scured with dowels, and without paint. Nails, hinges, and latches are hand forged out of charcoal iron. The floor of native stone is laid on the ground.
The name Augustus was then adopted in honor of Herman Augustus Francke, founder of the Halle Institutions, whose son persuaded Muhlenberg to accept the call of the three United Congregations in America.
The first service was held in the unfinished interior September 12, 1743. The dedication was postponed until it would be completed and paid. The stress of primitive conditions delayed this act until October 6, 1745 when it was consecrated with solemn ceremony in the presence of a large gathering. At this time, the Dedicatory Stone was placed in the wall over the main entrance bearing the following inscription in Latin: ‘Under the auspices of Christ, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg with his Council, I.N. Crosman, F. Marsteler, A. Heilman, I. Mueller, H. Haas, and G. Kebner, erected from the very foundation this building dedicated by the Society of the Augsburg Confession. A.D. 1743.’
This is the only known church building bearing an inscription that designates the confessional document of the congregation instead of the name Lutheran by which it is popularly known.” (William O. Fegely, D.D. and revised by Herbert H. Michel, M.Div., Augustus Lutheran Church – The Shrine of Lutheranism, 1987, 5-6) Both Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and his son, Gen. Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, are buried behind the church.
Old Zion Lutheran Church
628 North Broad Street, Philadelphia
“Old Zion was Muhlenberg’s Philadelphia congregation, dating from about 1730. The present building is that of one of Old Zion’s English daughter congregations, Saint Matthew’s, founded 1818. The building dates from 1891. Services are still held in German as well as in English. Old Zion’s Constitution , written by Muhlenberg in 1762, was the pattern for the organization of Lutheran congregations for more than a century. The negotiations surrounded Muhlenberg’s ‘retirement’ from Old Zion set the precedent for the understanding that a Lutheran pastor’s call constitutes a permanent relationship.
Old Zion’s former building in Center City, Philadelphia, are significant.
- Saint Michael’s, 5th and Apple Tree Alley, was dedicated August 14, 1748. The Lutheran Pastors, being in the city for this occasion, met together the next day, August 15, 1748, and organizaed the Ministerium of Pennsylvania.
- Zion, 4th and Cherry Streets, erected 1766, was the largest auditorium of any kind in colonial America (seating capacity, 3,000). The official memorial services of Congress for George Washington, were held there on December 26, 1799.
Both of these buildings were demolished shortly after the Civil War and the funds used to build four new buildings for congregations in the expanding city of Philadelphia.” (John Peterson, “Historic Lutheran Sites In the Philadelphia Area”, Lutheran Quarterly, Volume X / Number 4, Winter 1996, 470-471)
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church
Church Road (off Germantown Pike, 5 miles east of Norristown, Pennsylvania)
St. Peter’s was founded in 1752 by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. On May 20, 1778 from the steeple of the original church, General Lafayette gave orders for the battle against the British. (George R. Beyer, Guide to the State Historical Markers of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1991: 26)