More than 250 people gathered at the Episcopal Cathedral in Philadelphia Nov. 23 to celebrate the life of Justus Falckner (1672-1723), the first Lutheran ordained in America three centuries ago.
Falckner was ordained Nov. 24, 1703, at Gloria Dei Church, Wicaco (Philadelphia). He served nearly 20 years as pastor of the Dutch Lutheran Church in the English province of New York. His ministry began with congregations in Manhattan, Hackensack, N.J., and Albany, N.Y.
He baptized a number of Africans and American Indians as members of the congregations and founded Zion Lutheran Church in Oldwick, N.J., in the home of a freed African whose children he had baptized in Manhattan. Today this is New Jersey's oldest continuing Lutheran congregation.
The service in Philadelphia, in which bishops Charles Bennison of the Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia and Roy G. Almquist of the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod participated, was also a gathering of the clergy of eight original Old Swedes' churches for the first time in 220 years.
Two other celebrations commemorating Falckner's life were held at Lutheran churches: Oct. 26 at Zion, Athens, N.Y., and Nov. 22 at Holy Trinity in Manhattan.
"Falckner's ordination reminds us that the mission of the church is always greater than nationalistic boundaries," said Kim-Eric Williams, author of The Journey of Justus Falckner (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2003) and At the Door, a chancel drama staged at the Philadelphia event.
"[Falckner is remembered as] a man of excellent gifts, of fine acquirements, of lovely temper and of fervent disposition."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers