Justus Falckner wrestled with his conscience. In 1703 there was a short supply of Lutheran pastors in the new world. One of the few pastors they did have was Andrew Rudman–and his health was failing. Andrew, a Swedish Lutheran working in the New York region had written to Justus, “What shall I do forsaking my little flock? Looking everywhere, I find no one better fitted than you to whom I may safely entrust my sheep.”

For 31-year-old Justus, an immediate yes or no wasn’t possible. Although well-trained for the task, he had come to America from Germany as a land agent and surveyor, apparently wanting to avoid the ministry. He had his doubts, too, whether he could be legally ordained, for there was no bishop in the colonies to lay hands on him.

Rudman was able to satisfy Justus on the ordination question, assuring him that his bishop in Sweden had authorized him to make ordinations. Furthermore, he could point to precedents. As to his other questions, Falckner found the answer within his own heart.

He wrote to one of his former teachers, August Herman Francke: “After much persuasion, also prompting of heart and conscience, I am staying as a regular preacher with a little Dutch Lutheran congregation, a state of affairs which I had so long avoided.”

On this day, November 24, 1703, Andrew Rudman and two other Swedish church leaders ordained Justus in a Philadelphia church. He was the first Lutheran pastor ordained in the region that became the United States.

Justus threw himself into the work. He learned Dutch so that he could preach in it. More than just the pastor of a single church, he sailed up and down the Hudson River visiting his extensive parish. His travels took him through New York, New Jersey, and even into Pennsylvania as a missionary and a pastor, teaching, organizing, and baptizing. His converts included blacks and native Americans. In addition to this missionary work, he prepared a textbook on Christian doctrine and wrote hymns. One that he wrote as a youth, while under the influence of the Pietists (a movement that called Lutherans to deeper spiritual life) looked forward to the Christian’s eventual triumph:

When His servants stand before Him
Each receiving his reward,
When His saints in light adore Him,
Giving glory to the Lord;
“Victory!” our song shall be
Like the thunder of the sea.

When another Lutheran pastor, Josua von Kocherthal, died, Justus took over his work, too. The upshot was that Justus wore himself out in a short twenty years of work, dying at the young age of 50.

His records of major ministerial acts–such as baptisms–were often followed by simple written prayers that bared his heart and showed his deep concern for souls.  Justus Falckner died in 1723 in Orange County, New York.

Bibliography:

  1. “Falckner, Justus.” Dictionary of American Biography. New York : Scribner, 1958-1964.
  2. Nelson, E. Clifford. The Lutherans in North America. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.
  3. Dave Pane-Joyce (August 2015). “Family of Gerritje Hardick & Rev. Justus Falckner”. This Pane-Joyce Report. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  4. Various internet articles and references.

Some information was retrieved from Christianity.com.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1555 – Catholics in Locarno, Switzerland order that all Protestants who will not embrace Catholicism must go into exile.

1836 – Ordination of Robert Murray McCheyne to the pastorate of St. Peter’s, Dundee. He became a leader in the ensuing Scottish revival.

1838 – Catholic missionaries François Norbert Blanchet and Rev. Modeste Demers arrive in Vancouver after crossing the North American continent to establish churches in Canada and Oregon.

1880 – More than 150 African American delegates meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to form the Baptist Foreign Missions Convention of the United States. Liberian missionary William W. Colley is chief organizer, and the Rev. William H. McAlpine were elected the convention’s first president.

1947 Peter Marshall offers the Bifocals of Faith prayer before the United States Senate.

*Information retrieved from Christianhistoryinstitute.org and Rhemalogy.com.

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