A ‘glimpse’ of the seminary’s 150-year legacy: Karl Krueger

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The Rev. Dr. Karl KruegerFrom time-to-time we’ll offer readers snapshots of the web-based multimedia history timeline now under development. LTSP Professor of History of Christianity and Krauth Memorial Library Director Karl Krueger offered these insights in a February 2013 “history “tour” for the timeline.

Lutheran Patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg had no handbook or special training for planting the Lutheran Church along Pennsylvania’s colonial frontier. His inventiveness at ministering within the colonial context of his day continues to receive emphasis in the teaching seminarians receive at LTSP.

Witness this remark by LTSP 2010 graduate Rozella H. White, who became the new Program Director for Young Adult Ministry for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on March 11. “I realized at LTSP I was meant to be a public theologian. I learned from the seminary’s faculty – professors like Katie Day (Church and Society), Wil Gafney (Old Testament), and Nelson Rivera (Systematic Theology) – the importance of the context where you are serving. You need to know your context, go beyond the surface...” (You can read about White and her new ministry challenge in an upcoming issue of PS magazine.)

A creative administrator adept at networking, Muhlenberg organized the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, the first Lutheran organization in North America, to hold together the early congregations he established from Lancaster to Philadelphia. Other examples of Muhlenberg’s organizational “glue”include a constitution, liturgy, and hymnody for the fledgling churches in the expanding Lutheran church network. “He realized he could not do this alone,” Krueger said. “He needed the partnership of his sponsors in Halle and of lay people in new congregations if he was to go against the frontier. He was ingenious, a phenomenal administrator.” (Note: LTSP throughout its history has been a mainstay in contributing to the church’s hymnody and liturgical resources.)

Karl Krueger holding a Muhlenberg bookMuhlenberg carried on a tradition dating to the Roman Empire of Christians being well-regarded as healers. In the summer of 2012, Krueger came across a rare book from Muhlenberg’s personal collection entitled Biblical Physics, which not only explored the Bible but also related Scripture to the natural world. Krueger tells of discovering in the frontispiece a then new “recipe” in English for a medicinal formula written in the Patriarch’s own hand. Muhlenberg was regularly called upon to dispense such formularies because colonists trusted him. The recipe features St. John’s Wort (used by many today), herbicides, and other ingredients ingested “for whatever ails you,” Krueger said.

Muhlenberg’s dream of a seminary in Philadelphia during his lifetime was briefly realized when in 1773 a relative, Johann Kuntz, established a school for the training of indigenous leaders. The “seminary” was closed after only three years, however, when the British invaded the colonies. Muhlenberg personally trained many early Lutheran pastors in the colonies, using the Bible and European books he had brought with him from Germany. His dream of a seminary in the city ended with Muhlenberg’s death in 1787.

Early LTSP faculty member William Julius Mann was Muhlenberg’s first biographer. Also a pastor in Philadelphia, Mann founded the seminary’s archives and in 1881 wrote the biography making use of Muhlenberg’s considerable journals and correspondence.

In his history of the first 100 years of LTSP, Professor Theodore Tappert briefly references one way the seminary carried on Muhlenberg’s persevering legacy for organizing and networking. In 1937, the Krauth Memorial Library became part of a network of 150 regional libraries to establish a union catalog using index cards to record the location of books of the day. The cards were collated in a center city Philadelphia location. “If someone wanted to get hold of Erasmus’s 1519 translation of the New Testament, someone could find out it was part of our collection by writing a letter to those maintaining the catalog and see it by visiting our library,” Krueger noted. In 1972, the union catalog was published in 754 volumes. The Krauth Library’s copy is now part of the some 47,000 rarely requested books from the library’s more than 200,000-volume collection stored in the The Brossman Learning Center’s Undercroft. Today, the library is part of “Worldcat,” a massive electronic online catalog.

“The Krauth Memorial Library was a ‘wonder of the world’ when it was constructed in 1908,” Krueger maintains. “The library was illuminated with gas lights during nighttime hours,” Krueger says. “During the day, skylights filtered natural daylight into the space. The library was outfitted with glass floors so that even on a cloudy day a visitor could see titles sufficiently through natural light on the lower level to retrieve a desired book.” The floor, encased in iron, made the structure virtually fireproof.