Twenty years ago while doing research into the Pan-American Exposition and Buffalo New York's German population, a fellow student researching hospital history asked, "Why two German hospitals? Wasn't one enough?" I've never been able to find a clear-cut answer to these questions, but the search led me to a history of religious rivalry, feuds and intrigue well-worth several years of translating over seven hundred pages of primary sources plus a few hundred pages of secondary texts. Each version was unique to its narrator based on his life experiences.
~ Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks
A Brief History of the Old Lutheran Immigrants and the Buffalo Synod: 1838 - 1867
In September 1839, one thousand Lutherans under the leadership of Pastor Johannes Andreas August Grabau left Hamburg, Germany in five ships headed for the New World. They left their homes, their livelihoods, and often, members of their families for the sake of their Lutheran profession. Once released from the watchful eye of government and ecclesiastic authorities, this profession changed, at least for a significant portion of the German immigrant population. By the year 1866 three separate churches existed, all of which claimed adherence to Lutheran doctrine. The process of religious evolution over that twenty-seven year period was not peaceful. There were public protests, personal intrigues, accusations of heresy, court cases and family feuds.
This history is reconstructed from original texts, written by the immigrants, and secondary sources, written by their descendants and religious scholars. The focus will be upon the Buffalo Synod, established in 1840 in Buffalo, New York, however in order to understand what happened in 1866, it will be necessary to go beyond this geographic boundary.
The Reasons for Emigrating
In 1817, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Reformation, Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III announced his intention to unite the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of his kingdom under one United Agenda. For 13 years various measures were introduced, however it was not until June 25, 1830, the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, that the United Agenda was formally decreed. Children would all receive religious instruction at United Church schools, celebrations of the eucharist would be performed according to one United Agenda text, religious leaders would operate under the auspices of civil authorities, and a United Church police force would see to it that the decree was heeded by the populace. Dissenters were fined. If they could not pay, property was confiscated. Repeat offenders faced prison terms. If couples refused to be married in the United Church, their marriages were not deemed legal and valid. Children, who were born to couples married outside the United Church, were considered illegitimate and thus unable to inherit their fathers' property.
In reaction to the United Agenda, doctrinal Lutherans found it necessary to perform their church services in peoples' houses, in barns, in the forest, in secret corners outside town walls. Testimony of such activity comes from a letter written by Christian Bierosch, a Silesian weaver from the town of Juliusburg and dated March 18, 1838:
A year ago we came to the forest together to fortify ourselves in our almighty faith. I especially found the third Sunday after Easter remarkable where they held morning church service in a corner of the forest, were hunted down, and 53 people were charged. They met me in the afternoon in yet another corner of the forest, adults and children coming from all sides of the woods, like sheep when they are chased by a dog. There were about 70 souls at the gathering and we verily felt the living word of our Savior, as He said then to His first companions in the same Sunday gospel, "You will cry and howl, but the world will rejoice." It was the day and the time in which they would sell half their clothes and earthly goods in order to perform their service to God, and for this the world rejoiced.
Although I was never seen at a church service there, I dared not go back, for on the 12th of March, I was arrested by the village authorities and transported back to Trebnitz to the local magistrate. I was caught at a meeting of about 30 people who were busy signing a power of attorney. On the following day, 46 people were supposed to appear before the local magistrate. Their cases were handled jointly but I had been arrested on a warrant. I couldn't lie to the magistrate about having composed the power of attorney, so I was transported to the Oelsner magistrate for financial investigation. He was willing to let me go provided I'm never caught in his district again. If I am, it'll be a long time before I can leave. (1)
The power of attorney documents, which Bierosch collected, were used to negotiate ship passage and land purchases by the congregation's representatives in North America. It should be noted that it was necessary to obtain government permission to emigrate from the Prussian Empire. Congregations could not emigrate without a pastor to lead them. One usually had to apply well in advance of one's intended departure date and application did not guarantee that an emigration pass would be issued. Individuals were brought before their town magistrates, in order to testify to the reason for the emigration request, in order to supply proof that the individual could afford the cost of passage for himself and his family and then support his family once arriving at his final destination. If the head of a household could not guarantee that family members remaining in Germany would also be provided for, the pass was not issued.
With reference to the United Church Schools, Bierosch's letter continues with news concerning children of Lutheran parents, forced to attend the schools and suffering corporal punishment at the hands of their teachers. The weaver considered the children offerings to a stateunenlightened by true teachings, which redeem the soul. As a postscript, Christian Bierosch asked that the details of his letter, giving the reasons why his group had chosen to emigrate, be related to the Ministerium in Breslau.
Already by 1838, Christian Bierosch, as chairman of the Silesian congregation's emigration committee, had received his pass to leave Germany along with the head of the congregation, Pastor Leberecht Friedrich Ehregott Krause, and fellow committee members, Johann Gottlieb Faude and Carl Benjamin Schulthes. Bierosch remained in Hamburg while Krause, Faude and Schulthes sailed on to find a suitable place for the congregation to settle.
Lutherans throughout Prussia experienced similar persecution, being forced to conduct their church services in out of the way places and being fined for refusing to have their children baptized by United Church ministers. Lutheran ministers were imprisoned for conducting secret services. The Biography of the Reverend J. An. A. Grabau, written by his son two months after the pastor's death, sheds some light on the doctrinal differences behind the Lutherans' reluctance to accept the United Agenda. On August 30, 1836 Pastor Grabau responded to a series of questions submitted to him in writing by the United Consistory Council concerning his allegiance, or lack thereof, to the Union Agenda. Pastor Grabau wrote:
1. That he could not serve under the United Agenda in the administration of the Holy Eucharist because he acknowledged that the formulas of faith of the Lutheran Church and their symbolic books, to which he was duty-bound, were not properly observed. The faith of the symbolic books was in accordance with scripture and this took precedence over the Berlin agenda.
2. That he could also not serve the United Agenda with regard to holy Baptism because Lutheran faith in this sacrament had been stifled and enfeebled by contemporary modifications.
3. He could not serve the United Agenda at funerals, for the scriptural faith in the power of salvation through Jesus' death and his wondrous resurrection was enfeebled through the prayer of the United Agenda - 1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3, 21.
4. Also at weddings he must hold to the old Lutheran Church Agenda because there are vows in the United Agenda's wedding ceremony, which are not in accordance with Matthew 5, 37 and the simple "I do," which is afforded the bride and groom at the altar of God, is sufficient as the desired oath.
5. He still had not used any church prayers, which had been proscribed by the United Agenda, because they were quite insufficient and he must extend to the congregation the right to use the old church prayers in the church service after the sermon, as given by the old Lutheran church order of the Reformation era and befitting its proper place in God's service; additionally the confession of sins with absolution belongs not before but after the sermon concerning repentance and forgiveness of sins. Pastor Grabau based this on 2 Samuel, 12: 1 - 13; Esra 9; Matthew 3: 2 - 6; Matthew 6: 9 - 12; Luke 24: 47; Acts of the Apostles 2: 37, 28, and other places.
6. Concerning the question, "What understanding Pastor Grabau had with his congregation," it was answered: "This is not a witless mob, which will tolerate decisions not based on Holy Scripture in its church service, as once the Pharisees said; "The people who know nothing of the law are damned." (2)
Grabau further declared that the United Agenda was a faith derived through human invention, meant to serve two masters, the Kaiser and God. In September 1836, the St. Andreas Church of Erfurt in the province of Prussia, one of the two congregations Pastor Grabau served, was taken over by the United Church Police. Grabau was banned from the pulpit and forbidden to enter the church. The following Sunday the church was empty but the pastor's house was filled with congregation members. With the ever-growing number of church members coming to the manse each week, it became necessary to find a larger meeting place. A flour mill just beyond the town gates became the new church.
On March 1, 1837, Pastor Grabau was taken into police custody and arraigned before the magistrate in Erfurt. The next day he was taken to the prison in Heiligenstadt. Grabau petitioned the courts for 6 ½ months before an upper court in Hallerstadt signed his release. However the magistrate of Erfurt contested the release and continued to hold Pastor Grabau. With the assistance of a former Captain of the Kaiser Alexander Grenadier Regiment, Heinrich von Rohr, and a careless prison guard Pastor Grabau escaped but was apprehended again in September 1838.
The pastor's health had significantly declined because of the ordeals he had faced. He became grievously ill during his second incarceration and his wife was permitted to care for him in a house provided by the Erfurt government. She had also petitioned the Kaiser for her husband's release, asking if the Lutheran Church would be tolerated in Prussia. She, along with many Lutheran congregations, which had sent petitions to the Kaiser, received the response, that the Lutheran Church was part of the United Agenda and outside of this context the Kaiser would not suffer the Lutheran Church in his country (3). According to his biography, Pastor Grabau had not considered emigration an option up to this time. Until the Kaiser's response, he had believed that the Lutheran church must withstand persecution and wait until the government rescinded its agenda. Now he actively advocated leaving Germany, sending Heinrich von Rohr to make arrangements and contact other emigrating congregations.
Further insight into the profound influence, which Lutheran teaching had upon the lives of many Germans, may be seen in an examination of the life of Heinrich von Rohr. Born in Billerbeck, Pomerania on March 27, 1797 to a family, which for generations had served Prussian monarchs, Karl Georg Heinrich von Rohr was a page at the Prussian court as a boy and trained to become an officer in the Kaiser Alexander Grenadier Regiment. As a lieutenant, he took part in the Battle at Waterloo. He was a lover of dance, gambling, theater and hunting. This changed when he married at the age of 32 and he and his wife became deeply religious. The death of his wife led him to find comfort in a deeper study of Lutheran teaching.
In 1834 von Rohr was promoted to captain and he remarried. In October 1836 he refused to have his son baptized in the United Church and he held Lutheran services in his home. When he formally declared his intention to leave the United Church, he was ordered by his division commander to see Bishop Draeseke of the United Church. The bishop asked von Rohr why he considered the United Church false. The Captain replied that the United Agenda misinterpreted the holy scriptures, in particular, Ephesians 4, 5 - "One Lord, one faith, one baptism."(4) The Captain was dismissed from his military commission in February 1837. This left the Captain and his family destitute. In March his wife and son died in Magdeburg during the cholera epidemic.
Having heard about the imprisonment of Pastor Grabau, von Rohr and the oboist Friedrich Müller, who had been a member of the former Captain's military company, devised a plan to help the pastor escape. Rohr sold his furniture and purchased a buggy and team of horses for the task. Grabau's biography supplies a colorful description:
|Captain von Rohr took the route to Pomerania passing through Heiligenstadt. Mr. Müller, who accompanied him on the trip, went to Pastor Grabau in prison and communicated to him that Captain von Rohr waited with his wagon just beyond the gate and he was prepared to lead him to freedom. Pastor Grabau recognized this as the work of God and went with the guard for his customary stroll. When they reached the gate Pastor Grabau took his leave of the guard with the words: "Today I leave for wherever God wishes me to go, as you have so often advised me." (5)|
Heinrich von Rohr separated from his companions. He was arrested January 8, 1838, held in Magdeburg, and questioned about Pastor Grabau's whereabouts. He remained in custody for 1-½ months but steadfastly refused to cooperate with the authorities. Only the influence of former colleagues in Berlin saved him from imprisonment. Upon his release, with Pastor Grabau back in prison, von Rohr began to organize those congregations willing to emigrate. He contacted Lutheran groups from other provinces preparing for emigration.
It is not certain whether Pastor Grabau's biographer is mistaken in his claim that the pastor did not consider emigration an option until October 5, 1838, at which time Grabau petitioned the Erfurt government for permission to leave Germany (6). Wilhelm Iwan's Die Altlutherische Auswanderung um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts indicates that von Rohr was organizing for the emigrating congregations at least as early as May 1838, when he negotiated with the Saxon pastors to join with their emigrating congregations (7). Under the leadership of Pastor Martin Stephan with his fellow pastors Löber, Walther, Bürger Sr., Bürger Jr. and Keyl, the congregations came to Magdeburg on their way to Bremen, where they boarded four ships. Their final destination was St. Louis, Missouri. Heinrich von Rohr sought the possibility of his groups' joining them. Rohr traveled all the way to Bremen with the Saxons but was unable to negotiate a merger. According to von Rohr's account in Kirchliches Informatorium, the monthly bulletin of the Buffalo Synod, the negotiations failed.
At the same time von Rohr was supposed to secure a unification agreement with the 700 Saxons, who were emigrating from Bremen to America under Stephan and his 5 to 7 pastors and just as many pastoral candidates. He attempted this orally and in writing but was frustrated by Stephan's arrogance. Stephan did not consider the Prussian pastors fully vested and insisted that they be ordained again. Von Rohr was also taken aback by the apparently erroneous and confused opinions expressed against him by the 5 pastors, Brothers Walther, Keyl, Loeber and Bürger when he conferred with them for a few days in Bremen and on the steamship at Bremen Harbor.
They were so blinded that they protected Pastor Stephan not only from all police and judicial charges filed against him for his conduct, they also chose him for their Esra, to be their archbishop and their judge and even made him the administrator of their communal funds.
Astonished by their blindness, von Rohr told them that they had delivered themselves into the hands of a seducer and a false prophet, who desired from them the blending of the physical and spiritual regimes in contradiction of the 28th Article of the Augsburg Confession. It is his hope that God the Lord will soon expose this seducer through a mighty fall so that the righteous among them will open their eyes. (8)
Preparations for the Journey
In November 1838, Pastor Krause, representing the Silesian congregations, along with master tailor Carl Benjamin Schulthes of Festenberg and garden designer Carl Gottlieb Faude of Breslau, left Silesia for Hamburg. From there, they booked passage to North America, with Buffalo, New York as their final destination. Their task was to ascertain whether the area would be a suitable location for the congregations to settle. However while in London Pastor Krause met with Mr. Angas, president of the Australia Company and discussed possible terms for transporting the Silesian congregations to Australia. Back in Hamburg, the emigration committee said that it wished to stick by its plan to settle in America. Pastor Krause and Mr. Faude sailed on to America but Mr. Schulthes remained in London.
Once in America, Pastor Krause sent letters to Hamburg reporting his doubts that America would be a suitable place for settlement. Some of the Silesians decided to reconsider Mr. Angas' terms for passage, which stated that if 200 people could come up with 7000 Reichs Dollars, the remaining costs for passage would be absorbed by the Australia Company. Another portion of the Silesians wanted Pastor Krause and Mr. Faude to go on to Montevideo. When Heinrich von Rohr met with the group and suggested that it join Pastor Grabau's congregations, plans for Montevideo were cancelled and negotiations with Mr. Angas were postponed.
Pastor Grabau was released from custody in Heiligenstadt on June 7, 1839. He received police escort all the way to Hamburg, since the Erfurt government had made it a stipulation of his release that Grabau was not to return to Erfurt or Magdeburg. According to his biography, when Grabau arrived in Hamburg, approximately 100 Lutherans from Erfurt and Madgeburg waited for him to lead them to America. However, passage was booked in London by Heinrich von Rohr for over 1000 Lutherans. Included in this number was the Silesian congregation of Pastor Krause. According to the emigration list for 1839 found in the appendix of Die Altlutherische Auswanderung um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts, there were 570 Pomeranians, 265 Silesians, 230 Saxons and 91 people from the Mark, for a total of 1156 people (9).
Having heard of the negotiations, which the Silesians had made with Mr. Angas, Pastor Grabau stated that if Mr. Angas insisted on upon it, the Silesians would have to honor the contract and emigrate to Australia. The Silesians disagreed. Chronicle of the First Trinity Evangelical-Lutheran Church, derived from written and oral testimony of the original Silesian immigrants, states that the Silesians were excommunicated:
|Pastor Grabau ardently persisted in acquainting himself with the transactions of the agents with the power of attorney and he insisted that if Mr. Angas pressed the contract they would have to travel to Australia. Pastor Grabau composed a letter and sent it to the Silesian congregation for its signature. Many had the desire to go to Australia and they signed willingly. Others were hesitant, saying why should we ask Mr. Angas for terms of payment if we don't want to go to Australia. In short, they didn't want their Christian freedom encroached upon and explained to Pastor Grabau that they would stand by their decision and fulfill their original plans to emigrate to America. Pastor Grabau imposed himself on this congregation, which had its own spiritual leader, but when a circumstance arose, which was not acceptable to him, he excommunicated them. (10)|
|Pastor Grabau's biography makes no mention of excommunication for this time:|
|Pastor Grabau and his congregation asserted that these people [the Silesians] should accept the offer if they were to properly satisfy the terms of the agreement with Mr. Angas. With this, they were in general accord however they were not satisfied with specific terms of the agreement. Soon after the wealthy members traveled on to America and left their poorer brethren with Pastor Grabau's congregation. (11)|
The Journey to America and the First Years in Buffalo
The first group of Lutherans departed from Hamburg via steamship on June 28, 1839. They were transported to Hull, in England and had to travel overland to Liverpool. This portion of the trip took approximately 17 days. In Liverpool, five ships were commissioned to take them to New York. The journey took approximately 5 weeks. Pastor Grabau's biography supplies commentary on the transatlantic crossing:
|The first half of the journey proceeded peacefully but during the second half, there was a terrible storm. The sails ripped, the masts broke and no one could turn the rudder. Despite the pastor's warning, one of the two helmsmen and a few of the sailors were given brandy and these drunken men could not secure the ship when a heavy gale occurred. God severely punished this wantonness. The ship filled with water. Everything seemed lost. A Lutheran tasted the water and found that it was fresh water. The powerful turbulence had broken the kegs holding the drinking water, which were stored below deck. The captain sealed off the cabins and the lower decks and awaited death. "We can do nothing," was all he said. Many prayed for a peaceful demise. Then God showed what He can do. Pastor Grabau, fully confident in God, encouraged the fearful: The Lord Zeboath will attest to our faith; he stands at the rudder with his holy angels. Whoever has faith will see God's majesty." He manifested himself even in the storm winds, which flowed over the little ship of His Church. Miraculously the battered craft held together. On September 18th, they landed in New York. (12)|
Once in New York, the immigrants went by steamer to Albany, where they boarded canal boats and sailed the entire length of the Erie Canal to its terminus, Buffalo. Many of the Lutheran immigrant families separated from the main group at various points along the canal, especially where work was plentiful at the junction to the Genesee Canal. Many of those who arrived in Buffalo continued their journey, traveling northward into Canada or farther west to Wisconsin under the leadership of Heinrich von Rohr.
Footnotes to the Trinity Chronicle state that 72 Silesians separated from Pastor Grabau and arrived in Buffalo on September 6, 1839, a month before Grabau's congregation. Pastor Krause celebrated their arrival with a church service in the house on the southwestern corner of Main and Eagle Streets, which had been rented by the pastor and Lutheran families, who had immigrated to Buffalo in 1835 and 1836. Christian Bierosch related to Pastor Krause what had happened in Hamburg.
Pastor Krause continued to minister to the congregation, even holding a confirmation ceremony 10 days after the Silesians' arrival in Buffalo. One boy and three girls were confirmed, including 13-year-old Sam Binding, who supplied some of the oral testimony used to compile the Trinity Chronicle in 1889. It was believed that Krause disagreed with Grabau's ban and had rescinded it. Bierosch and seven families traveled to Wisconsin two days later. The next day Pastor Krause secretly left Buffalo, traveled to New York and then returned to Germany.
According to the Trinity Chronicle, Krause met with Pastor Grabau, who had just arrived in New York, on October 14th. Grabau's biography gives the date as October 5, 1939. Krause gave Grabau a letter and asked that it be given to his congregation in Buffalo. The letter stated that Krause was returning to Germany to help other members of the Silesian congregation. Iwan's history assembled an entire list of reasons Krause gave various people: "he had to travel back to Europe in order to improve his health, or he could not follow his people into the less civilized and homeless land of Wisconsin, or because he wanted to marry his fiancée in Silesia. These were the reasons given, as well as the other one, which he sent in writing to his abandoned congregation from New York when he met with Grabau, namely that he wanted to protect his congregation in Germany from blood-sucking ship brokers. He also declared that the truest reason was that huge doubts concerning the administration of his ministerial office had driven him." (13)
Krause arrived in Germany in December 1839, and discovered that his fiancée had called off the engagement since she did not wish to emigrate to America. Krause went to Breslau but felt ignored by the brethren there. Fearing arrest for his part in assisting the Silesians with their emigration, Krause turned himself over to the police. In hopes of gaining his release, in January 1840 Krause gave information to the authorities, which led to the arrest of two other Lutheran pastors. In May 1840, Krause was released. He sent a written apology to the Ministerium in Breslau, acknowledging his godless activities and asking forgiveness. The Ministerium decided it would be best for Krause to return to America. Pastor Grabau sent word to Krause, stating that he could come back to Buffalo provided he would have nothing further to do with the Silesians. Krause agreed to this and returned to Buffalo July 23, 1841.
When Pastor Grabau arrived in Buffalo, he took over the house, which was used as a church, and the ministry of Pastor Krause. From the pulpit Grabau declared, "Hail to you, America. To you the Church has come!" (14). It was also reported that Grabau referred to the Silesians as a gang and refused to administer the eucharist to them.
After this event, the Silesians held their church services in the home of Ferdinand Langner on Cherry St. Their catechism teacher, Mr. Meyer, and Mr. Faude administered the sacraments.
In November 1840, portions of Grabau's congregation from Pomerania disagreed with the pastor in what became known as the Roggenbuck Dispute. A tailor by the name of Ameryn began to preach the gospel. A farmer named Roggenbuck supported him. In his first Pastoral Letter, dated December 1, 1840, Pastor Grabau explained the situation as follows:
|An important article of the Augsburg Confession, which is recognized and misinterpreted by many here in America, is the 14th, which states: Concerning church hierarchy (de ordine eccesiastico) it is taught that no one in the church may publicly (publice) teach or preach or administer the sacraments without ordained vocation (nisi rite vocatus). Yet there are still some among us who have been allowed to teach and preach and appoint themselves to the ministry among the Methodist and rebaptising sects, including some adolescents as well as a married couple, a master farmer and two journeymen in the trades. It's also been said of a journeyman tailor named Amereyn, who revolted against the church, that he preached and that the farmer Roggenbuck, as the head of his gang, gives many people private instructions, which then become public among his gang since he holds discussions concerning text. There's always one or more spokesmen in every gang. Now if the members of the church recognize the great importance of public preaching and ordained vocation with regard to teaching, isn't it similarly the case with the recognition of the priestly part of office concerning the proper administration of the holy sacraments. (15)|
For a brief time the Pomeranians joined with the Silesians, who had established their own church. However, doctrinal disputes between the two groups soon ended this union.
In the summer of 1841, the Silesians attempted to resolve the issue with Pastor Grabau. Meetings were held at Grabau’s church but by this time the original issue, whether the Silesians were wrong in refusing to honor their agreement with Mr. Angas, was compounded by a charge of false doctrine in that they had transgressed against the 7th and 14th Articles of the Augsburg Confession by setting up their own church and administering the sacraments. Pastor Grabau stated that the Silesians must first admit this transgression before any discussion could be held concerning the original charge. The Silesians, represented by Johann Gottlieb Faude, Teacher Meyer [Mayer], Christian Gräser and a Mr. Keller, insisted that the original charge must be dealt with first. They questioned whether Pastor Grabau had the right to interfere in their transactions in the first place since their emigrating congregation was not under his auspices but under the assigned leadership of Pastor Krause. By this time Pastor Krause was back in Buffalo and under the terms of his agreement with Grabau, he had to support any decisions Grabau made.
On September 12, 1841, Pastors Grabau and Krause jointly signed the following ecclesiastic ban against the Silesians:
|The Evangelical-Lutheran Church as manifest through us, the undersigned pastors, committee members and appointees, inform you, Faude, Sr., Faude, Jr., Gräser, Grottke, Hanschke, Langner, Mayer, Pelzer, Sieffert, Toy, Widow Bindig, that you have willfully severed yourselves from the motherly comfort of the Holy Christian Church. No warnings, instructions or corrections have been heeded and your blasphemy against the Church of our Lord has prompted that on the 6th of September of this year we publicly declared: You will never again be united with our Evangelical-Lutheran Church, - You will remain an outcast sect, - By the law of Our Lord Jesus Christ as found in Matthew 18,17 you are a blasphemous gang and rebel sect; in the name of the Trinity, endowed by the Church to bind and to absolve (Matthew 18,18.), you are cast out of the communion of the Holy Christian Church (taken from the preaching of God's Word) until such time as you prove yourselves worthy and escape from the clutches of the Devil (2 Timothy 2,26). May God grant that you receive his forgiveness, which is still available to you, so that you may not suffer the judgment to be rendered against the unrepentant. Amen. (16)|
On September 15, 1841 while Pastor Grabau celebrated church service, the Silesians burned the letter of ecclesiastic ban outside the church. The Trinity Chronicle described the action as a public protest against the slandering of an entire congregation. “Papist chaos could not be better punished than through imitation of the burning of the Papal Bull issued by Leo X against Luther.” (17)
On September 18, 1841 a letter explaining the action was published in the Buffalo German language newspaper, Der Weltbürger. The initials "G. P." appeared after the article.
|An Ecclesiastic Ban burned - Last Sunday in the so-called Prussian church of this city an order of excommunication was issued against another old Lutheran congregation, which calls itself Silesian, and the ban pertains to all members of that congregation, both those living here and those living in Wisconsin. The bull of excommunication, issued by Messrs. Grabau, Krause and company against the Silesian congregation, was publicly burned on a fire in an open place in front of the Prussian church amid a large crowd of people by the Silesian congregation members. If they had burned these insane clerics along with it, they would have performed a better service for the deluded old Prussian community and exercised sound judgment. The reason for this ban lies, as I see it, in the fact that the members of said Silesian congregation no longer wish to be led around by the nose by the above-named clerics. (18)|
In October 1841, Pastor Ernst Moritz Bürger passed through Buffalo on his way back to Germany. Pastor Bürger was a member of the Saxon group of Lutherans, which had left Germany in 1838 under the leadership of Martin Stephan. His traveling companion, who was acquainted with some of the Silesians banned by Grabau, persuaded the pastor to investigate the matter. Becoming convinced that the Silesians had been treated unfairly, Pastor Bürger agreed to remain in Buffalo as their pastor. Under his guidance and with his financial assistance, a church and school were built. The first trustees of the church included those, who had been banned by Pastor Grabau - Carl Gottfried Faude, Ernst Faude, John Ch. Sieffert, Gottfried Grottke, Ernst Mayer, Ferdinand Langner, Joseph Hanschke, Daniel Keller, Christian Gräser, Carl Toy, Ignatz Pelzel, Wilhelm Stern (19). In 1844, the church was incorporated under the name The First Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church UAC. The acronym stood for the term “Unchanged Augsburg Confession.” In 1847, the Lutherans in Missouri incorporated their congregation as the Missouri Synod. At that time, First Trinity became a member of the Missouri Synod.
In order to understand the depth of doctrinal differences between the Lutherans from Missouri and Pastor Grabau’s Buffalo Synod, it is necessary to look at the history of Saxons’ crossing to North America. The following history comes from The Stephanite Emigration to America with Documentation, written by Dr. Carl Eduard Vehse, a member of the Saxon emigrating congregation. On January 14, 1839, six days from New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico, Martin Stephan declared himself bishop, stating that it would only last until the immigrant congregation was settled in its new country. He also dismissed the congregation’s treasurer and took control of the community funds. Stephan instituted a pledge of obedience, which all men and women of the congregation were forced to sign under threat of excommunication.
Once in Missouri, Stephan did not relinquish the title of bishop. He built a large house and employed a large number of young women as domestic staff and seamstresses to make new garments appropriate to his office. His financial needs increased as he ordered his house stocked with fine wines and extravagant food. There were allegations of misconduct made by the young women in his household. Missouri authorities suggested to key members of the congregation that Stephan flee to Illinois before he was apprehended in Missouri and possibly lynched. On May 30th, members of the congregation formally deposed Stephan and transported him to Illinois.
The clergy found that Stephan had committed two acts contrary to the symbolic confession of the Evangelical-Lutheran faith. First, he had evoked a secular ban against a member of the congregation who had refused to sign the pledge of obedience and second, he had ordered obedience to himself as bishop in worldly as well as spiritual matters (20). The result of this experience was the reevaluation of the status of the clergy within the Lutheran congregation and a new emphasis on the Christian freedom of the congregation:
As it has ever been the case in the history of the Christian Church, so it is also taught in the church history of the present that the office of Christian ministerial office should neither be placed too high or too low. When it is placed too high, it becomes quite easy to shift the balance of rights and duties to the side of the clergy over the congregation, establishing an infringement of their Christian freedom, a misuse in the handling of church hierarchy and other evils.
When, however, the status of the priesthood is placed too low, usually the emphasis shifts to the side of the congregation with a depreciated esteem for the ministry and public service to God, tied together with a proud, separatist existence, an overstepping of Christian freedom, a great hindering in the exercising of spiritual caregiving and church discipline, and thus confusion and all kinds of sectarian disorder.
We, the Saxons of the immigrating Lutheran ministry and community under our leader, the former Pastor Stephan, learned first hand of both of these so-called deviations. We experienced many highly painful incidents because of it and we more or less bore the guilt, but through God's mercy and help, we overcame it and now use the experience to our salvation. (21)
In the first Pastoral Letter of December, 1841 Pastor Grabau warned the Missouri Lutherans that if they wished to remain a church, Christian freedom must not be misused. The letter emphasized the importance of ordained vocation and the necessity of the Christian congregation’s obedience to its clergy. The Missouri Lutherans, in their response to the first Pastoral Letter, declared, "[t]he congregation owes us obedience only and in so far as we preach to them God's word. However if we desire to make obedience an unconditional thing, such as when we wanted to build a church or a school, this is certainly not in and of itself contrary to God's word, but we would undeniably be laying claim to something to which we are not entitled." (22)
Pastor Grabau called Missouri’s written response to his pastoral letter “a hateful critique” (23). The response was not received until a year and a half later in July 1843 and it contained a counterpoint for each and every item Grabau produced in defense of his interpretation of doctrine. What may have rankled Pastor Grabau as much as their response to doctrine was the message included for Pastor Krause, who was by that time in Wisconsin.
|May Pastor Krause not think ill of us that we have not yet answered his last letter, sent from Perry County. Let what is written here be considered our response to him. - We would still be happy to discuss several things with him, for example, whether he makes a distinction between schism and sect (or gang) and what the difference is. But we must defer this until another time and many of these points will resolved themselves, we have no doubt, as we come to understand one another more closely in fraternal unity…I hope that you, beloved ministerial brother Krause, with God's help, will carry out your plan to pay us a friendly visit and at least speak once with our friend and your neighbor, Brother Walther, who incidentally has had a great deal of trouble with separatists and has had to let many, very many things pass in patience, prudence and love; he too has taken his stand against the bitterest of enemies so that in the end the most decisive evidence of the word of God and the truest and best church teaching may prevail, so that many of his enemies may become his best friends and once the obstinate ones are driven off a wonderful, ever clearer relationship may be established between himself and his congregations, in which the ministry is highly honored and acknowledged in its unalienable rights with freer conviction and on the other hand the congregation, in its proper attitude towards the pastor, is strengthened in the acquired knowledge of its true right to grace and thus church judgment is exercised on both sides, which has been very instructive and edifying for me and my brother in office, Gruber. (24)|
Pastor Grabau took another year to prepare his rebuttal to their response, stating that their critique lacks ecclesiastic proof in that it only quotes Luther and what it quotes it misunderstands. “I also have to point out that you use ‘when or if’ in many of your interpretations, as it thus often states: if this is meant this way or that, then it is not right; and you often critique your own interpretations but not those in the pastoral letter. This method could only be disillusioning for you and mislead you from the true content of the pastoral letter. It would have been better merely to ask me questions such as what does this or that sentence mean?” (25) Grabau wrote out questions and then provided the answers as though he were composing a catechism.
Further Disputes within the Buffalo Synod
In 1846 through 1848, several congregations of the Buffalo Synod in Wisconsin and Michigan experienced disputes. However, these disputes were often not based on doctrine but on other factors. Iwan’s book, Die Altlutherische Auswanderung um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts, introduces one point of dispute, which is not mentioned in any of historical texts examined thus far. This was a church tax levied on congregations in order to help finance the synod’s churches and schools. Some congregation members believed that the tax would be used by Pastor Grabau to start a bank or outfit a pastoral militia, which would put down any future congregational disputes. Whereas this would be considered a worldly matter, since the dispute demonstrated an unwillingness to surrender oneself to Grabau’s interpretation of obedience to ecclesiastic authority, disputers were excommunicated for professing false teaching and being unrepentant.
A party opposed to the church levy arose in St. Peter’s Church in Eden, New York, 20 miles south of Buffalo. In July 1848, Pastor Grabau excommunicated the leaders of this party. They called upon Pastor Ernst Moritz Bürger to become their pastor. In October, the group broke into the church and held its church service there. Although it physically held the church, it wasn’t until December that the group held it legally. All members of the church were called upon to vote for which party they favored. A justice of the peace tallied up the votes. The opposition party received the majority of votes and thus obtained legal ownership. Before handing over the church, the portion of the congregation, which had remained with the Buffalo Synod, “took away all movable church goods such as the altarpiece and cloths, the baptismal font and the books and brought them to Teacher Hoge for safe keeping. For this they were charged with theft. On May 8, 1849 in the evening three of the men, who were banned, forced their way into Hoge's residence with a constable, opened up the chests, seized items to recoup their costs and carried away the books and the other goods. Hoge was taken as prisoner before the justice of the peace. Those who had taken him into custody were much more frightening than the Prussian gendarmes in the time of persecution.” (26)
In New York State, several pieces of legislation were passed during the early 19th Century to limit the influence of clergy. By 1855 it was necessary for churches to incorporate with a duly appointed board of trustees. The decisions of the trustees were legally binding. Clergy were not legally permitted to own or control church property and the congregation had to act through its trustees.(27). In St. Johnsburg, New York, 25 miles north of Buffalo, there was a dispute over the church tax [“Centauflage”] in 1855 and the disputers had the support of the church trustees. When the disputers were excommunicated, they were legally able to withdraw the church from the Buffalo Synod and call upon the Missouri Synod for spiritual leadership.(28).
In 1853 Pastor Grabau and Heinrich von Rohr, now a Lutheran pastor for the Bergholz, New York congregation, lodged a formal protest, calling upon all Lutheran churches in America and Germany. The protest was titled Tell It to the Church! and it gave the Buffalo Synod’s version of how the Missouri Synod had interfered into its affairs:
|The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Buffalo, 12 pastors and 16 Lutheran congregations with their 11 synodal deputies reverently request all Lutheran Churches to warn the Synod of Missouri to discontinue the blatant sin of seizing estranged ministries, whereby it takes in all rebellious, excommunicated members of our congregations, tells them they are right in their transgressions, and teaches them to despise our synod and not to listen to it; it has also through synodal decree agitated them and placed upon them the duty to separate themselves from us; furthermore it has sent preachers to certain mutinous members of our congregation, who stand within the church order, and it has received them as Lutheran congregations in its synodal assembly and thus constructed mutinous altars in opposition to the altar of our Lutheran churches and congregations. (29)|
The text also accused the Missouri Synod of accepting preachers with Calvinistic inclinations and ordaining mutineers - this included Pastor Krause, who refused to accept the appointment given to him by Pastor Grabau. According to the 3rd Synodal Letter of the Buffalo Synod, Krause did not want to live in a blockhouse while serving as pastor to the congregation in Martinville, New York. The Missouri Synod's journal, the Lutheraner, quoted Krause in its December 5, 1850 edition: Through God's grace I have come to the realization that the Buffalo Synod has a false point of view concerning the spiritual priesthood, the ban, etc. while the Synod from Missouri has a proper understanding of it. (30)
Tell It to the Church! claimed that Missouri joined with the Chicago Synod, created by Lutherans from Franconia in 1846, in order to increase its ability to perpetrate hostile devastation upon congregations of the Buffalo Synod in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
In summary, the text listed twelve "injustices" or congregational takeovers committed by the Missouri Synod against the Buffalo Synod. Since 1840, the Lutherans of Missouri had requested a personal meeting with Pastor Grabau in order to see if there was common ground by which doctrinal differences could be resolved. Grabau had refused each offer. The following reason was given in Tell It to the Church!
|During this time in 1846 and again in 1852, they requested a colloquium with the Senior member of our church ministry in order to discuss doctrinal differences with him in person. However Pastor Grabau could not accept this invitation after a decision made by our Synod in 1845, which stated: that we would hold no communion with them until such time as they respected us as a Lutheran church and called back the rogue ministers from our excommunicants. (31)|
A footnote added that Pastor Grabau thought it would be beneficial to meet with the Lutherans in Missouri but his brethren in office did not agree.
On July 13, 1853 Pastors Grabau and von Rohr began their trip to Germany in order to achieve three goals: to tell the Lutherans in Europe how they had been persecuted by Missouri for the past 10 years; to reestablish ties with the High Church College in Breslau; to ask for financial support for the Martin Luther College, the Buffalo Synod's theological seminary. The trip was not an overwhelming success. The High Church College in Breslau said that Grabau and Missouri must work harder to come to an understanding. Conferences in Fürth, Leipzig and Neumark produced no decisive support. However, 600 lithographs taken from portraits made of Grabau and von Rohr were donated in Germany for fund-raising efforts back in Buffalo for the building of a seminary.
The Dispute within Grabau's Church
Whereas the disputes, which whittled away at the Buffalo Synod in 1840s and 50s, happened outside of the Buffalo, New York area, the events of 1865 and 1866 led to the internal unraveling of the synod. In August 1857, Pastor Grabau appointed Christian Hochstetter deacon of the German-Lutheran Trinity Church of Buffalo to be his assistant and possibly, to become his replacement when the pastor decided to retire.
In January 1865, Pastor Grabau accused Deacon Hochstetter of being a pulpit babbler and purveyor of dark and false teaching. The relationship of deacon to pastor rapidly deteriorated. According to Clarifications on the General Meeting held by the Synod of Buffalo, Pastor Grabau believed:
1. That Deacon Hochstetter believed he had seen me misuse power (after he had been warned by me often about his sermons). Neither he nor Rohr had sent me proper communiqués about this misuse of power.
2. That Hochstetter wished to quietly withdraw from the Synod but he was moved and compelled by Rohr to begin a public battle against me.
3. It is thoroughly clear that Rohr played with Hochstetter in the name of confessor and incited him to take on the role of agitator and mutineer against me.
4. We have never before heard of a confessor who incited open battle against a ministerial colleague when he should have been a brother mediating towards peace.
5. While Rohr, in the role of confessor, was inciting Hochstetter to rebellion against me in 1865 and 1866, he suggested to me that I remain silent about Hochstetter's sermons in the hope that Hochstetter's preaching would improve. And I remained silent.
6. The time of Rohr's instigation ('65 and '66) was the same as the period in which he thought I had insulted him about his son's appointment to Winona; but he said nothing to me. It was also the time in which he believed that, among other things, I had insulted his daughter in a warning I had issued. (32)
Heinrich von Rohr's daughter, Maria, was married to Pastor Grabau's son, Wilhelm. However, it is not certain if the daughter Grabau warned was Maria or one of her sisters. In any case, it certainly would have created a great deal of tension within both families.
In February 1866, Deacon Hochstetter accused Pastor Grabau of false doctrine presented in a sermon given on January 25, 1866. According to Pastor Grabau's account, Hochstetter accused him of stating that preaching may be based on pure teaching rather than Holy Scripture. According to an account titled What Grabau Teaches and Professes by G. Henning, a shoemaker and trustee of the Martin Luther College who supported Deacon Hochstetter, the false doctrine concerned making the power of God's word conditional to the skill of the minister:
|Unfortunately, it was not Grabau alone but the earlier Synod of Buffalo with him that had made the force and realization of God's Word through the sacrament of the Eucharist dependent upon the just vocation of the minister. From the first Grabau taught in his pastoral letter: "On this point we are convinced, that an appointed member of the congregation can not give absolution nor can he distribute the Body and Blood of Christ. He merely gives bread and wine." (33)|
In March 1866, the Church Ministry declared that Pastor Grabau may have preached false doctrine and in April it suspended him as senior minister of the Buffalo Synod, because he refused to answer a summons issued by the Ministry. Grabau refused to accept the Ministry’s verdict and called upon the entire synod to come to Buffalo and examine the issues.
According to Pastor Grabau’s account, Deacon Hochstetter abandoned his post as deacon on April 14th and set up a counter-church in the Martin Luther Seminary. According to G. Henning’s account, Pastor Grabau convinced four of the church trustees to close the church to the deacon. There’s a bit of irony here because in 1849 Pastor Grabau wrote a pamphlet condemning the trustee laws. In 1866, Pastor Grabau was able to maintain control of the church property because the trustees remained loyal to him.
The Synod was scheduled to meet at the end of May. In the months of March and April, letters from what Pastor Grabau called the “Henning Gang” circulated throughout the synod in an attempt to poison the synod against him. One such letter, published in Clarifications, is attributed by Grabau to Peter Brand, a pastor of the Buffalo Synod’s St. Andrew’s Church. Grabau insisted that the letter was written at von Rohr’s urging. Along with stating the various aspects of the charge of false teaching against Grabau, the letter states:
|How often over the years have I sighed with Hochstetter about this man's obstinacy! Unfortunately, we have been too weak over the years to oppose him as should have been done for the Honor of Christ. Often we have protested but unfortunately, we've often let ourselves be intimidated. Now Grabau brings himself out into the open. Perhaps it would have been better for his soul if people hadn't become accustomed to his terrorism and practically idolized him. (34)|
Concerning Pastor von Rohr’s involvement in the dispute, the letter adds, “Rohr says that for years he has been punished by the hatred, the deceitfulness and the obstinacy of the Senior and he has born it with love, but now with one foot in the grave he can no longer remain silent, although at one time he was Grabau's greatest friend.” (35)
Pastor Grabau affixed this footnote to the statement: Thus steeped in his own sins he must admonish me in vain; this arrogant, pietistic hairsplitter Rohr will now do his best work before he dies! Standing there humble and pious so that people believe his sovereign lies, which are the products of his soldier's thirst for revenge. (36)
On May 28th, the synod began. Pastor Grabau assumed that the synod’s agenda would be to deliberate on his teachings first and then consider his comportment as senior minister. Instead, the first item of business was to decide who could judge in matters of doctrine and whether Hochstetter should be reinstated. The second item was whether the Senior pro temps, Pastor Wolläger of Milwaukee, should have called a meeting of the Church Ministry to deliberate on a verdict and whether the deliberations were legitimate. The third item was whether Pastor Grabau’s suspension was legitimate. The fourth item was to be the election of a new senior minister. The fifth item on the agenda would be deliberation on whether Grabau was guilty of false doctrine. The sixth and last item would be consideration of the letters of complaint by Hochstetter and von Rohr. Pastor Grabau complained that items five and six were the original reasons for the assembly of the synod and yet these reasons were relegated to fifth and sixth place. He insisted that matters of doctrine must precede ecclesiastic matters.
On the third day of the synod, May 30th, the trustees were brought before the assembled clergy and questioned concerning the dismissal of Deacon Hochstetter. The synod’s decision on this issue was, “The trustees should recognize their offense, Pastor Grabau should acknowledge the hatred and violation of the church ministry!” (37)
On the fifth through seventh days, a Peace Commission was established so that the synod could proceed in an orderly fashion. Up to that point so many suits and countersuits had raged along with insults that the synod found it difficult to render any decisions.
On the eighth day of the synod, the church trustees came again before the synod. They revoked the dismissal of Deacon Hochstetter on the condition that the suspension of Pastor Grabau also be revoked. Pastor von Rohr requested that the church be opened to all parties so that a group church service could be held. The trustees agreed.
On the tenth day, June 7th, Grabau intended to deliver testimony concerning Hochstetter’s sermons. Hochstetter protested that Grabau was morally and physically incapable of transcribing his sermons. Pastor Döhler also protested and called Pastor Grabau a papist. A recess was called, after which Pastor Grabau resigned from the synod:
|I wish to announce to the assembled synod that I have been here for 11 days now and have been oppressed on all sides. I will allow Pastor Wolläger (as he wished) to present a copy of this response concerning doctrine as well as a transcript of the conversations, which arose after Hochstetter's sermons. I further declare that to my reckoning for the past 11 days if you include Sunday, June 3rd, I have encountered nothing other than hatred for myself and my views from the greater portion of the assembled ministers. I am convinced that conspiracy exists around me and I have proof of it. I have heard myself dreadfully insulted as a man, who is morally and physically incapable of transcribing Hochstetter's sermons; as a papist, who proclaims himself pope in the church; as a man who has turned away from the grace of God like a Stephanist. Thus, I find it necessary to separate myself from a synod, in which such a malevolent spirit presides, and I will remain apart until I see that a better spirit returns. (38)|
|The younger of Pastor Grabau's two sons, John A., who wrote his father’s biography, was at the synod. When his father was insulted by Pastor Döhler, he protested but his father apparently didn’t think he protested enough. In Clarifications on the General Meeting held by the Synod of Buffalo, Pastor Grabau wrote, “Pastor Johannes Grabau took exception to the treatment of his father, using the same words Rohr had used against Döhler, as though he still supported his father, but reluctantly.” (39) Wilhelm Grabau, who was four years old when his family left Germany and who was married to von Rohr's daughter Maria, is not mentioned at all in Clarifications. He is however mentioned in the last paragraph of Henning’s What Grabau Teaches and Professes:|
|During the Marilla trial it was demonstrated how well Wilhelm Grabau had learned to testify under oath from his father. He had sworn that since his ordination he had been assigned to work with his father and that he had been a member of the Synod, of which his father was Senior Minister. It is well known and can be attested to by hundreds of individuals that at the time of the dispute he stood against his father, that he had come before a meeting of the Synod with tears, that he wished to distance himself from his own misdeeds. He resigned from his appointment as minister and took up the carpentry trade. Then he moved to Detroit and earned his bread as a painter. (40)|
On June 8th, Pastor Grabau met with the other pastors and deputies, which had withdrawn from the synod with him. The group decided that they would keep the name “Buffalo Synod,” since theirs was a legitimate group while the assembly they had withdrawn from was a false synod.
On November 20, 1866, a colloquium was held between those, from whom Pastor Grabau had withdrawn, and the Missouri Synod. Eleven of the twelve pastors agreed to join Missouri. The one dissenting vote came from Heinrich von Rohr. The eleven pastors and their congregations joined the First Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, U.A.C. G. Henning became a trustee of the church in 1867. “After this colloquium twenty-five years of doctrinal dispute and years of sectarian hatred between ministers and congregations were resolved as the representatives of both Synods extended hands in brotherhood. (41)
According to Eugene W. Camann, a descendant of Prussian immigrants, who arrived in Bergholz in 1843, “[w]hen in 1867 two-thirds of his Holy Ghost Congregation in Bergholz, N.Y. also voted to join the Missouri Synod, von Rohr and the minority group resentfully left Holy Ghost. They immediately established Trinity Congregation as the second Lutheran church in Bergholz...The venerable Pastor von Rohr's three decades of invaluable service to Wheatfield ended with his death in 1874. The following year, 1875, a split occurred also in his Trinity Congregation. The major portion of its members left and formed the third Lutheran church in Bergholz which joined the revived Grabau Buffalo Synod." (42)
In November 1867, Pastor Grabau won a civil suit for the ownership of the Martin Luther Seminary on behalf of his Buffalo Synod. His son, Wilhelm Grabau, became a teacher there in the 1880s, after his father’s death. The seminary ceased operations in 1928. In 1930 with the help of its president, Dr. John N. Grabau - son of John A. Grabau , the Buffalo Synod merged with the American Lutheran Church. The Missouri Synod remains a distinct Lutheran entity to this day .
Going back to the original question "Why two German hospitals?," I suspect the feud between the Buffalo and Missouri Synods was somehow involved. Whereas the German Hospital, as described on page 69 of Buffalo and it's German Community was a joint effort by many different groups of Germans, the Deaconess Hospital, described on page 70 of the same book, was primarily the work of the Missouri Synod.
Two books concerning the Missouri Synod were not discussed in the above article. The Destinies and Adventures of the Stephanists who emigrated from Saxony to America, written by a lay member of the immigrants who later became members of the Missouri Synod, describes the journey from Dresden to St. Louis under the leadership of Martin Stephan. History of the first German Lutheran settlement in Altenburg, Perry County, Missouri with special emphasis on its ecclesiastic movements written in celebation of the 25th anniversary of Altenburg's founding, written by a Missouri Synod pastor, describes the events leading to a schism in 1857 caused by disputes over chiliasm and charges of heresy against the congregation's pastor. Both texts are interesting reading.
And just in case you think Lutherans were the only contentious group of 19th Century Germans, take a look at coverage of the excommunication of the trustees of St. Louis Catholic Church on Main Street in Buffalo in the June 1855 issues of the Daily Buffalo Democrat and World Citizen.