This past Wednesday, several of us from our church had the opportunity to go with fellow saints from our circuit on a bus tour to Perry County, Missouri. That area in southeast Missouri is full of history, for it was there that the first German Lutherans settled in the early days of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
Their story began in the early 1800's in the German Kingdom of Saxony, when a number of Lutheran pastors found themselves increasingly at odds with the rationalism and unionism of the established church there.
In the neighboring Kingdom of Prussia, the Prussian Union of 1817 sought to put into place one Protestant Church, which would have essentially non-Lutheran baptismal and communion practices. In order to freely practice their Christian faith in accordance with the Lutheran confessions outlined in the Book of Concord, nearly 1,100 Saxon Lutherans left for the United States in November 1838.
Their ships arrived January 5, 1839 in New Orleans with one ship lost at sea. After heading up the Mississippi to St. Louis to look for land, most of the remaining 750 immigrants settled in Perry County, Missouri. Though Martin Stephan was initially the leader (and self-appointed bishop) of the new settlement, he became embroiled in charges of corruption and misconduct with members of the congregation and was expelled from the settlement, leaving C.F.W.Walther as the leader of the colony.
Walther was one of the early Lutheran heroes in America, as he went on to become the first president of both the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and Concordia Seminary.
I continue to be struck by the firm faith, dogged determination, and core commitment of these first German Lutheran immigrants from Saxony. May God grant us a bit of their courage and resolve in these times.