Lutherans in 19th and 20th Century Indiana
The majority of the German Lutherans who migrated to the American Colonies settled in Pennsylvania, although there were significant numbers who found their way to South Carolina, New Jersey and Delaware. The most notable of these early Lutheran settlers was Pastor Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg. Pastor Muhlenberg immigrated to Philadelphia in 1742 and spent his life traveling throughout the colonies, organizing small groups of Lutherans into congregations. In 1748, Muhlenberg and 50 Lutheran pastors established the Synod of Pennsylvania. By 1771, 81 congregations had been founded in Pennsylvania and the surrounding colonies. In 1820, the Synods of Maryland-Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina formed a loose confederation of synods called the General Synod. Almost immediately trouble began as Pennsylvania withdrew and New York never officially joined. Lutherans in America could not seem to reach common ground. Individual Synods were formed across the country, each reflecting the theological beliefs of a particular area. (Rudolph: 139 - 140)
The principal conflict centered in the basic traditions and theology of the church, such things as the use of the German language for worship and education or adherence to the Augsburg Confession. Liberal Lutherans wanted to worship in English, support the Sunday School movement and benevolent societies, and give up doctrines such as the real presence in the Eucharist, considered to be too "Catholic" by other Protestants. The goal was to become like the Baptists and Methodist and other revivalist faiths, using only the Bible as the rule of faith. The presidents of Gettysburg Seminary and Wittenberg College were leaders in the "American" faction of the church. On the conservative side German was to be retained as the language of worship and catechism education, all Lutheran confessions were to be adhered to, the real presence in the Lord's Supper was sacrosanct. Recent German immigrants were shocked by the liberal stance of many of the American churches and flocked to areas were a more conservative version of the faith was practiced. They were especially concerned about the use of German for worship and religious instruction. Retention of the language was extremely important. (Rudolph: 140-141)
This "push-pull" situation was in full tilt as the earliest Lutheran settlers arrived in Indiana. Most were German or of German descent. St John's Church was founded by a group of German Lutherans who settled in Fayette and Union counties in 1804, although it survived only a short time. Missionary riders found Lutherans in Harrison County in 1805 and Mt. Solomon Lutheran Church was founded there in 1810. But most of the scattered settlements of Lutherans had to fend for themselves as the church had only 153 pastors in the whole US in 1820 and only one, a part-time missionary who lived in Ohio, served in Indiana. Slowly, throughout the 1820s this situation began to change. Missionaries from synods in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and North Carolina sent circuit riders into the state to minister to the growing numbers of Lutherans. Some, like 3 members of the Henkel family, were educated and ordained pastors with a true missionary zeal. Others were poorly educated and even worse speakers. There were also documented cases of impostors assuming the role of missionary for fraudulent gain! (Rudolph: 141)
As congregations were formed in the early years of Indiana statehood, they fell into one of 2 groups--those aligned with the Tennessee Synod and those associated with the Synod of the West. The Tennessee Synod viewed Luther's Catechisms and the Augsburg Confession as the yardstick of faith. These churches, which were primarily German Lutheran, eventually formed the conservative Synod of Indiana. The liberal Synod of the West felt that worship should be in English, that Lutherans should align with Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians to share communion and support all the interdenominational benevolent societies. These congregations consisted of Germans from both Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Sometimes this "Americanized" theology was reflected in the inclusion of "English" in the name of the church. (Rudolph: 141)
The differences between liberal and conservative Lutherans would become the basis for the creation of the two main bodies of Lutherans in 19th century Indiana. As these doctrinal divisions were coming into being, a young German pastor arrived in Fort Wayne to aid Pastor David Hoover with the several congregations that he had founded. Ft Wayne had a thriving German community and German immigrants were arriving almost daily. When Pastor Friedrich Konrad Dietrich Wyneken arrived in May of 1838, he discovered that Pastor Hoover had died only days earlier at age 28. Pastor Wyneken surveyed the situation and immediately wrote for help. The Pennsylvania Ministerium sent 4 additional pastors, but the need was far greater and Pastor Wyneken returned to Germany in October of 1841 to recruit young pastors and seminarians for work in America. Here he lectured, wrote articles and even entertained with a rude parody of a Methodist camp meeting to illustrate the dire need for trained pastors in the United States. His most important work was The Distress of the German Lutherans in North American, known in Germany simply as "Notruf". The work explained the plight of the newly immigrated Lutherans in the New World and was first published in a German church newspaper. Wyneken's time in Germany motivated many pastors to immigrate to America. It also motivated many ordinary Germans to immigrate also. While in Germany, Wyneken also studied and read about a movement in Germany called "Old Lutheranism" meant to return the doctrines and practices instituted by Luther to the faith. The practice of Lutheranism in America had become non-liturgical and austere, much like Presbyterian worship. Upon his return to Ft. Wayne in 1843, Wyneken was filled with a determination to purify the Lutheran practices of the churches under his care. He immediately began to purge congregations of German Reformed members that were not willing to become Lutheran, renewed the idea that worship and Lutheran instruction should be in German and began writing about his ideas prolifically. He re-instituted the use of wine and wafers for communion, vestments for pastors and the sign of the cross at benediction. He broke with the Western Synod and aligned those under his pastoral care with Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther. Together they drafted a constitution forming the Missouri Synod in 1847. Fort Wayne was the center of synodical activity in Indiana with a seminary, Concordia, and the best German Lutheran schools in the state. Men who had come directly to Ft Wayne from Germany to be part of the new Synod ran both. Now the new Missouri Synod was ready to receive the huge influx of German immigrants that occurred between 1847 and the early 1870's. During those years, the 5 original Missouri Synod congregations in Indiana became 48. (Rudolph: 146-152; Distress: i - iii)
Not all German immigrants joined the Missouri Synod upon arrival. German Lutherans had undergone a series of theological and political changes in Germany that made some of the immigrants more in tune with the liberal strains of the faith. Besides, Germans were not the only immigrant Lutherans to arrive in Indiana during the mid-19th century. Swedish Lutherans arrived in Indiana by way of Chicago and Norwegian Lutherans soon followed. Most of those remaining in the state settled in the northern half of Indiana. Like the Missouri Synod Germans, most of these Scandinavian immigrants were disturbed by the liberal strains of the faith and they joined the Augustana Synod comprised of Swedes, Norwegians and some Danes. (Rudolph: 1853)
In spite of the influx of Lutheran immigrants, especially German, after 1848, the liberal wing of the church continued to grow. In 1845, Darius Hoyt arrived in Lafayette to minister to Lutherans there. He was sent by the American Home Missionary Society, an interdenominational society formed to spread Protestant Christianity in the West. A letter to the Society described the difficulties faced by Lutheran pastors in the West. Hoyt explained that one man thought Lutherans were "a set of Dutch who have no religion but to christen their children and take the sacraments." Lutherans were so scattered in some areas that they simply joined other churches. Others were wary of joining the church because they did not want to have to make a financial commitment for the construction of a church building! (Rudolph: 154)
In 1835, a missionary rider, Rev. Ezra Keller reported there were 12 families of Lutherans living on Little Eagle Creek, northwest of Indianapolis. When Abraham Reck arrived to minister to the capital city in 1836, he found 3 settlements of Lutherans. In 6 months, Reck had organized Ebenezer Church, north of the little town and Hopeful (later called Salem Lutheran Church), in the settlement Keller had noted a year earlier, northwest of the capital. He raised a 30'x30' log church on his farm and confirmed 15 people. All of this transpired, in spite of suffering from the ague and bilious fever. He ended his first missionary report, "We need, dear brother, many pious minister and believing prayers as well as money to build our wasted, our neglected, Zion in the West." In 1837 Reck formed Mt. Pisgah Church (later known as First English) in Indianapolis. This congregation fostered another church, north of the town in 1844. Called Zion's Church it was later renamed Pleasant View. In spite of the obstacles, by 1850, there were 11 Lutheran congregations in Marion County, most were, like Pastor Reck himself, of the American type. As the 1850s wore on, the influx of German immigrants to the city began to have an effect. They wanted to keep their German traditions, liturgy sung in German, and the catechism as established by Luther. These new German Lutheran citizens founded St. Paul's that aligned with the Missouri Synod in 1847. St. Paul's was the mother church of several more Missouri Synod congregations in the county. (Encyclopedia: 938 - 940; Salem: 3-11)
The Civil War finally brought some agreement to the many Synods of Indiana--all wholeheartedly endorsed the cause of the Union. In September of 1861, the Miami Synod passed a resolution stating that Lutherans of the Synod must defend the Constitution and the Union with both prayers and arms. The 1862 resolution read much the same but added that monetary support and manpower were needed as much as prayers. The dark year of 1864 found Indiana especially torn by political upheaval between the Democrats' wish to end the war at all costs and the Republican desire to crush the rebellion and reunite the country. The Miami Synod left no doubt as to their stance on the matter. The resolution of 1864 declared the righteousness of the war "expressing unqualified condemnation of the course of those who attempted to prove from scripture that American slavery was a divine institution." The churches of the Olive Branch Synod, a liberal synod formed in Indianapolis in 1848, where loyal supporters of Lincoln and his policies throughout the war. Their resolutions were all lengthy condemnations of slavery and the bloody war that raged because of it. They prayed for a permanent "peace that can only come of Justice and mercy." The Synod also supported the Indiana Freedman's Aid Society, deeming their work of clothing, feeding and educating "large numbers of contrabands" (i.e. runaway slaves) as just and worthy of congregational financial support. Lutheran chaplains served the spiritual needs of the troops, while Lutheran pastors spoke out against slavery and the Confederate cause from the pulpit. One pastor paid for his outspokenness with his life. Pastor Peter Glenn, a pastor near Corydon, was killed during Morgan's Raid in 1863. His parishioners claimed he was targeted because of his especially vitriolic condemnation of slavery and slave owners. At war's end, the Synodical resolutions of 1865 all echoed the common theme of joyous thanks to God for a return to peace in the land. (Tedrow: 70-72; Defenderfer: 50-51; Butt: 6)
With the end of the Civil War and stabilization of the economy church growth began again. One church formed after the peace actually had its beginning in a construction project begun just prior to the war. St. Paul's in Indianapolis contracted with a Cleveland firm to construct a new sanctuary in late 1860. Workers arriving from Cleveland included two recently emigrated Danes. The men were so taken with the city that they sent to Cleveland for their families and settled in the city permanently. After the war ended one of them, Hans Peter Weis, returned to Denmark and brought back 40 young Danes to settle in the city. All Lutherans, they wanted to worship in their own language. With the help of St Paul's pastor, the group located a Danish seminarian to serve as their pastor and in 1868 formed the first Danish Lutheran congregation in the United States. Originally named Trinity Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, it survives today as First Trinity. (Encyclopedia: 493)
Lutheran social services in Indianapolis grew from the formation of the Lutheran Orphanage Association in February1883. The Association was formed through a cooperative effort of Bible Study groups at St. Paul's and Trinity Church. The association was originally meant to care for Lutheran orphans and elderly. During its first year of operations the Association collected $698.23 for the aid of young orphans. The first facility opened that year with 9 rooms located on east Washington Street near Trinity Lutheran Church and School. By 1893 the Association had constructed a new building for the agency farther east on Washington Street. Here children were cared for and educated. When residents reached their teens, they were placed in vocational training programs. The Association continues operations to the present as Lutheran Child and Family Services. Other Lutheran social services agencies around the state have their roots in agencies much like LCFS. (Encyclopedia: 939 - 940; Dedication: 1-4)
Parochial schools were especially important to the German churches. As both rural and urban congregations were founded many also conducted a grammar school with all classes taught in German. As the century wore on this became the special domain of the Missouri Synod congregations. The German language schools served a dual purpose. First, it helped perpetuate the use of German in the German-American communities and, secondly, it reinforced the liturgical and confessional differences between Lutherans and non-Lutheran Germans. Recent immigrants especially favored these schools. St. Paul's Lutheran School in Indianapolis was especially designed to serve the needs of the new German immigrants to Indianapolis as were Lutheran schools in other urban areas that attracted German immigration. (Encyclopedia: 940)
The emphasis of German as a language for church and family came to a sudden and extremely unpleasant halt in 1918. With the United States' entry into the World War, German-Americans, anxious to show their patriotism and support for the United States, almost overnight, ceased to use German in worship, education, and work. Simultaneously, the Scandinavian congregations began to stop using their native language for worship and catechetical education, for much the same reasons. With these changes immigrant Lutherans were absorbed into the mainstream of American culture, much as other immigrant churches. Now, little divided the "American" Lutherans and the immigrant Lutherans and the way was opened for the merger of many of the small synods into larger groups. Today, Hoosier Lutherans are the 4th largest Protestant denomination in the state with more than 400 congregations belonging to the 3 major Lutheran church bodies.
Bodenhamer, David and Robert G. Barrows, eds. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Butt, Wilford C. "History of Mt. Solomon Evangelical Lutheran Church". n.p., 1969.
"Dedication Service of the New Lutheran Children's Home". 1956
Defenderfer, C.R. Lutheranism at the Crossroads. n.p., n.d.
Rudolph, L.C. Hoosier Faiths. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.
"Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church 1836-1986". n.p., n.d.
Tedrow, William L. Our Church. Ann Arbor: Inland Press, 1894.
Wyneken, Friedrich Konrad Dietrich. The Distress of the German Lutherans in North America. Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1982.