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A German Lutheran Serves the Virginia Cause
“To find a person . . . in the Clergy of the Church of England, who is capable of Preaching both in the English and German Languages.” The vestrymen of Beckford Parish in Woodstock, Virginia, established these guidelines in 1771. These peaceful, German-speaking farmers who had moved south from Pennsylvania into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley sought a minister who could speak their language and help them in dealing with Virginia’s state church, the Church of England. When Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the distinguished Lutheran pastor in Pennsylvania, heard Virginia’s call, he prepared his son, John Peter, to fill the slot.
Born in Pennsylvania, Peter began studies in Germany but eventually joined a British regiment going to America. Back in Pennsylvania, he left the regiment, studied and was ordained in the Lutheran church. When Virginia called, he sought ordination in the Anglican Church in order to assist the Virginia Germans in accommodating to the state church requirements. Muhlenberg led Anglican services in both English and German and informed his German parishioners of revolutionary events stirring in the eastern part of the colony.