Germantown Lutheran History
1710 - 2010
Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, in Wittenberg, Saxony, inaugurated a reform movement in the western church that soon spread to the farthest reaches of the continent of Europe.
In reaction to the practice of selling indulgences, which was understood by many to be the equivalent of buying forgiveness with money, Luther emphasized from Scripture that God forgives our sins by his grace, for the sake of Christ.
Luther also emphasized from Scripture that God brings his grace and forgiveness to us through his Word and Sacraments.
The Lord’s Supper was especially recognized as Christ’s gift to us, and not as a work or a sacrifice that we perform for God, or offer to God.
The Lutheran Reformation took root in Scandinavia, in many regions of central and eastern Europe, and in many of the German territories of Europe – including the Palatinate, Hesse, and Wuerttemberg, in what is now southwestern Germany.
Lutheranism was still a strong presence in these southwestern German principalities at the beginning of the 18th century.
Various political, economic, and military factors prompted hundreds of families from this region to migrate to England in the summer of 1709, with the expectation that they would be settled by the English government in the American colonies.
This hope for settlement in America had been nurtured by a booklet that circulated through the region, which implied that Queen Anne of England would be willing to transport German settlers to the Carolina colonies – even though the English government had no such plan or policy.
This book was written by the Lutheran Pastor Josua Harrsch, of Eschelbronn, in the Palatinate, under the pseudonym “Kocherthal.”
These refugees were all referred to by the English authorities as “Palatines,” even though many of them had originated in Hesse, Wuerttemberg, and other territories. About a third of them were Lutheran, a third Reformed, and a third Catholic.
The Palatines began arriving in England in large numbers. The government located them temporarily in camps outside of London. The Lutheran pastors of London, John Tribbeko and George Ruperti (at the Lutheran Church in the Savoy), offered what help and encouragement they could.
The Palatines’ situation, as they waited for the government to decide what to do with them, was described as follows by a contemporary observer:
“There are now some thousands of them lodged in tents at Black Heath and Camberville, where they spend their time very religiously and industriously, hearing Prayers morning and evening, with singing of Psalms and preaching every Sunday, where both old and young appear very serious and devout.”
“Some employ themselves by making several toys of small value, which they sell to the multitudes that come daily to see them. They are contented with very ordinary food, their bread being brown and their flesh meat of the coarsest and cheapest sort, which with a few roots and herbs they eat with much cheerfulness and thankfulness; great numbers of them go every Sunday to their church in the Savoy, and receive the sacrament of their own ministers.”
“Many of the younger are married every week, the women weaving Rosemary and the men Laurel in their hair at the time of marriage. Adultery and fornication being much abhorred by them.”
“When any are buried, all the attendants go singing after the corpse, and when they come to the grave, the coffin is opened for all to see the body; after that it is laid in the ground, they sing again for some time, and then depart. They carry grown people upon a bier, and the children upon their heads.”
“So that in the whole, they appear to be an innocent, laborious, peaceable, healthy and ingenious people; and may be rather reckoned a blessing than a burden to any Nation where they shall settle.”
The government did eventually decide to send them to America, to the New York colony, in 1710 – but with the provision that any Catholics who wanted to go would need to convert to some form of Protestantism. Pastor Harrsch – the author of the influential book that had promoted immigration – was with them. He was now using his pseudonym, Kocherthal, as his regular name.
The Palatines, after their arrival in New York Harbor, were quarantined for a time on Governor’s Island. Many had died during the passage, and many more were still sick.
The Church of England had actually hoped to draw all the Palatines into Anglicanism, and to that end the Bishop of London had appointed a German Anglican minister, John Frederick Haeger, to be a missionary among the Palatines.
While the Palatines were in New York City, however, the pastor of the Dutch Lutheran congregation there – Justus Falckner – worked to thwart these plans.
Falckner was a convinced Lutheran. In 1708 he had authored a special catechism that explained the differences between the teachings of the Lutheran Church and the teachings of the Reformed Church.
J. F. Haeger, the Anglican missionary among the Palatines, described Falckner’s efforts to encourage the Lutherans among the Palatines to remain Lutheran:
“As I did sincerely intend, so had I hopes of transporting this people [the Palatines] into the Church of Christ as by law established in England and with all imaginable success; but after my landing I found that the Lutheran minister in this country had made already a separation and administered the Holy Sacrament to such of his confession as arrived in the ship before ours; persuading them that they ought to stick to that, in which they were bred and born; which Mr. Kocherdal after his arrival confirmed also, in so much that the separation between the Reformed and the Lutherans is fully made, which I did oppose with all my might and power...”
The majority of the Palatines were transported up the Hudson River, in October 1710, to “West Camp” and “East Camp.” “East Camp” is now Germantown, New York.
The Lutherans among them, having been fortified and encouraged in their confession of faith by Pastors Falckner and Kocherthal, organized themselves into congregations. The congregation that was organized in West Camp exists today as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
The congregation that was organized in East Camp, or Germantown, exists today as Christ Lutheran Church.
There is only one known portrait of a 1710 Palatine refugee: Conrad Weiser. He migrated from the Hudson Valley to the Schoharie Valley, and from there to Pennsylvania. His granddaughter married the famous Lutheran Pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg.
Among the original families of the congregation, the Loescher (Lasher) family had previously attended the Lutheran church in Wattenheim, in the Palatinate, which dates from the 13th century.
The Batz (Potts) family had originated in the Hessian town of Auerbach, where the 13th-century Lutheran church that they attended is likewise still standing.
The Lutheran congregation in Germantown did not have its own building until one was erected around 1750. Before that it shared a building with the Anglican congregation, and later with the Reformed congregation.
The first Lutheran church stood in what was then the “Queensbury” section of Germantown, in the vicinity of Sharp’s Landing Road along State Route 9G.
The cemetery was located under what is now Route 9G itself, and under the field to the west of Route 9G. The graves are all still there, but the gravestones were removed illegally, without the permission of the congregation, in 1911.
During the 18th century, the congregation endured some long vacancies, and it also shared pastors with congregations in other communities in the Hudson Valley, where Lutheran Palatines had established additional settlements.
The congregations in West Camp and East Camp were served together by Pastor Kocherthal until his death in 1719. His remains, and the remains of his wife, are interred in one of the walls of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in West Camp.
After Kocherthal’s passing, the Germantown church shared pastors intermittently over several decades with St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Rhinebeck, New York. The church building that the Rhinebeck congregation erected in 1786 remains standing, along U.S. Route 9.
One of the pastors who served during this time was John Christopher Hartwig, from 1746 to 1757.
Pastor Hartwig was friends with Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the most influential Lutheran pastor in colonial America. He was present with Muhlenberg and others at the organizational meeting of the first regular Lutheran synod in America, the Pennsylvania Ministerium, in 1748.
Hartwig was unmarried. In his will he directed that his estate be used for the founding of an educational institution to train missionaries and pastors. In this way Hartwick Seminary was founded, in 1797, as the first Lutheran seminary in America.
Its legacy is preserved today by Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.
One of the Germantown church’s most valued possessions is a German Bible, printed in Nurnberg in 1755. Before, during, and after the time of the American Revolution, this Bible was used in public worship.
Other valued relics of the past that are still in the possession of the church are a baptismal bowl, a Communion chalice, and a flagon (used for additional Communion wine). Many of our fathers and mothers in the faith received the Holy Spirit’s gracious washing of regeneration, and partook of the blood of their Savior in the Lord’s Supper, from these sacred vessels.
Next door to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Rhinebeck stands the historic parsonage of the Rhinebeck-Germantown parish, built in 1798.
The first pastor to live there was Frederick Henry Quitman. He is also the first pastor of the Lutheran Church in Germantown whose likeness we have.
In 1811 the Lutheran congregation at Germantown was legally incorporated as “Christ Church.” Before this it was not known by a particular name, beyond simply “the Lutheran Church.”
In 1812, the congregation in Germantown erected a new church building, in the Viewmonte section of Germantown, directly adjacent to the Germantown-Clermont town line.
Around this same time, under the lead of Pastor Quitman, the congregation began its transition from the use of German in worship, to the use of English. This transition was not complete until the middle of the 19th century. The last known use of German in a worship service was in 1853, when church records report that the Lord’s Supper was administered in German to several aged members of the congregation.
The relocation of the church to the far south of the town was for the convenience of the majority of the member families of the congregation, many of whom were now living in Clermont. Some branches of the Lasher family, for example, had been living in Clermont since the mid 18th century. The house built by church member Conrad Lasher in 1752, called the “Stone Jug,” still stands along State Route 9G in Clermont.
Pastor Quitman served the churches in Rhinebeck, Wurtemburg, Germantown, and Livingston from 1798 until 1815. In 1815 the Germantown and Livingston congregations were released from this arrangement, and began to be served by their own pastor the following year.
This pastor was Augustus Wackerhagen, who was married to Pastor Quitman’s step-daughter. He served the Germantown and Livingston churches together from 1816 to 1849. During this time he also served as a teacher at the Clermont Academy in the village of Clermont, where he resided.
From 1849 until his retirement in 1852, Pastor Wackerhagen served the Germantown congregation alone. This was the first time in its history when the Germantown church was not yoked with at least one other congregation for the sharing of a pastor.
In retirement Pastor Wackerhagen remained in the parish. He died in 1865, and is buried in the New Cemetery in Viewmonte. He had served the congregation as pastor for 36 years, during which time he ministered to at least 3 generations of its families. He was much beloved by all.
Wackerhagen was a very learned man, and also a very devout man. In his later years he composed this spiritual poem:
Jesus, thy name is dear;
To me, ‘tis ever near.
Engraven on my heart;
Thou art my Saviour, Lord!
From thee and from thy word
My soul shall never part.
Teach me, my God, like Christ to live,
That when I die, my soul to give,
Like Christ, into thy hand;
And in the Savior live again,
Without a sense of guilt or pain,
And reach the promised land;
Where I shall worship, face to face,
The Father on his throne of grace,
The Son at his right hand;
And there I’ll join the happy throngs
Of saints, who utter tuneful songs,
As near thy throne they stand.
Eternity! A truth that’s not conceived
By feeble human mind – it is believed;
He takes the truth that revelation gives,
And by his faith, it is the Christian lives.
Wackerhagen was succeeded by his son-in-law, Pastor William Burton Askam, who served from 1852 to 1859.
When his pastorate in Germantown concluded Askam left the area, but when he died in 1901, his remains were interred in the Old Cemetery at Viewmonte.
In the 19th century the congregation at Germantown became one of the largest and most influential Lutheran congregations in the Hudson Valley. Its pastors (such as Quitman and Wackerhagen) frequently served as presidents of the synod to which the congregation then belonged.
The growth of the congregation precipitated the erection of a new and larger sanctuary, near the site of the 1812 structure, in 1868. It stands today as one of the most impressive church buildings in the region.
The pastor at the time of this building project was William W. Gulick, who served from 1859 to 1877.
When Gulick died in 1914, while living in retirement within the Germantown parish, he was buried in the New Cemetery in Viewmonte.
Gulick’s successor was Pastor William Henry Luckenbach, who served from 1878 to 1894. Luckenbach was a gifted preacher, writer, and hymnist, and served for several years as president of the New York and New Jersey Synod.
Due to failing health Luckenbach retired from active parish ministry in 1894. He died in 1896, and was buried in the New Cemetery in Viewmonte.
A hymn for the beginning of the day, which Luckenbach had written, was sung at his funeral:
Still be with me, dear Lord, through all the day,
For with Thee I will not be led astray;
The tempter’s arts successful cannot be,
If he descries that Thou art still with me.
I laid me down and gently fell asleep,
Believing Thou would’st vigil o’er me keep;
Nor was my trust in vain, since now I see,
On this new morn, that Thou art still with me.
Of Thee, my never-failing Friend, I ask,
The needed strength for this day’s wonted task;
And if ills come I do not now foresee,
I will not fail if Thou art still with me.
I will not fondly covet treasure here,
Where carnal joys, like dreams, soon disappear:
To me ‘tis happiness beyond degree
To know always that Thou are still with me.
Content am I, with this day’s setting sun,
To be discharged, if all my work be done: –
From toil and pain and sin to be set free,
And sing in heaven, that Thou art still with me.
Pastor Luckenbach was succeeded at Germantown by Pastor William Edwin Traver, who served from 1894 to 1919.
During Traver’s tenure as pastor, a sizeable community of Slovak Lutheran immigrants began to take up residence in the area served by the Germantown parish. Many of these families affiliated with the congregation, and began to worship with the descendants of the Palatine founders of the church.
The Lutheran Reformation has spread to Slovakia in the 16th century. The Catholic Counter-Reformation had tried to reverse this influence over many decades, but pockets of Lutheranism remained in spite of these hardships. The Slovak Lutheran families who settled in and near Germantown originated mostly in the region around the city of Myjava, near the modern border of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
After his departure from Germantown, Traver served as a pastor elsewhere. But when he passed away in 1936, his remains were brought to the New Cemetery in Viewmonte.
Traver was followed in the ministry at Viewmonte by Terence W. Keller, who served from 1919 to 1936.
Pastor Keller expended much effort in leading the congregation into a greater appreciation of its distinctive Lutheran heritage. The more generic order of service that the church had been using in worship was replaced with the “Common Service,” which had been prepared on the basis of the historic Lutheran liturgical church orders of the Reformation period. The interior of the church was also remodeled, so that its appearance was now more in keeping with the typical design of a Lutheran church.
With Pastor Keller’s departure in 1936, Christ Lutheran Church was served by a series of pastors whose tenures in the parish were relatively short. Among these were Pastor Jacob Christian Port, from 1936 to 1938;
Pastor Walter John Bielitz, from 1938 to 1941;
and Pastor Walter Eric Bock, from 1941 to 1945.
At the time of the congregation’s 250th anniversary, in 1960, it was being served by newly-ordained Pastor James Yee Kin Moy, who remained until 1963. During his brief ministry in Germantown, Pastor Moy was very instrumental in bringing about a revival of active church life, and in stimulating a deeper commitment to the church on the part of many of its members.
Pastor Moy was followed, in 1964, by Pastor Herman Frederick Osterloh. He served the church for 35 years, until 1999. Like his distant predecessor Pastor Wackerhagen, Pastor Osterloh ministered to at least 3 generations of the families of the church. During his pastorate the Germantown congregation joined in a two-point parish with St. John’s Lutheran Church, in the Manorton neighborhood of Livingston, New York.
Pastor Mark A. Frickey succeeded Pastor Osterloh in 2000. He was called to serve what had become a three-point parish, consisting now of the Germantown and Manorton churches, and also St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ancram, New York. Later this parish was expanded yet again, to include St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Churchtown (Claverack), New York. Pastor Frickey continues (as of 2010) to serve these four congregations.
In 1917, while he was serving as the pastor in Germantown, W. E. Traver penned these lines:
“One of the most picturesque rivers of the world is the mighty Hudson. Into the Valley of the Hudson the followers of Luther penetrated early in colonial times. They left their footprints here and there in the valley and on down the Mohawk. Some of the landmarks of these colonial Lutherans survive today. They are reminders of the oppression and hardship encountered by our forebears, and tell the story of their heroic endurance for the sake of the faith once delivered to the saints. Because of their heroism we have a splendid inheritance, and the rich legacy of their deeds and achievements is part of our treasure today.”
SEPT. 25, 2010