This past Sunday, my family and I spent the day at Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison, Virginia along with four hundred registered guests. Hebron Lutheran Church is very special to Americans of German-speaking heritage – it is the oldest Lutheran church in continuous operation, and many of the attendees descended from the German colonists who married, baptized children, held funerals — and left records that have brought Americans spread across the continent back to their first church home in America.
Hebron Lutheran Church had its start as a German-speaking congregation that met in a chapel in London before emigrating as a group for America. This band of German Lutherans arrived at Germanna, Virginia in 1717, at what was then the westernmost settlement in the British Empire. There they made their homes near the little fort on the Rapidan River (now awaiting rediscovery by the ongoing archaeological work there), and worshipped with the Reformed families who had arrived in 1714 under the leadership of Rev. Johann Henrich Haeger.
After eight years at Germanna, the colony moved into the wilderness in what is now Madison County, Virginia. In 1734, a delegation of the Lutheran congregation sailed to Britain and German-speaking cities to solicit funds to build a church, establish a school, and secure an assistant pastor. Through God’s provision of friends and gifts, the congregation was able to construct Hebron Lutheran Church in 1740.
Through the families who are still rooted in the story of this place, I felt attached to a continuing community as well. At Hebron, my family and I met Jim Albin of Tennessee, a descendant of Rev. Georg Samuel Klug, long-time colonial pastor of Hebron, and Doug Harnsberger, descendant of Rev. Henrich Haeger, who ministered to the Hebron congregation on their arrival in America. Doug Harnsberger’s wife, Cynthia MacLeod, brought her own story of time and place: she is the National Park Service Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park, where since 2008 she has exercised careful stewardship over important symbols of American freedom: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
To ensure the long-term health of the Hebron Lutheran Church community and to keep Hebron families connected to each other through this historic place, the congregation established Hebron Lutheran Church Foundation (http://hebronlutheranchurchfoundation.com).
Hebron Lutheran Church Foundation and the community it helps sustain is just one site that is part of the nationwide German-American Heritage Survey that is being undertaken by the members of the German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA (GAHF). Many sites are associated with active local supporters – like the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein in Philadelphia or Park Edelweiss in Fort Wayne, Indiana – but other sites may be orphaned. Identifying sites important to the American story of German-speaking settlement and migration will be the first step in making them a revitalized part of the community.
Our current newsletter features the work of Dorris Keeven-Franke, Executive Director at Missouri Germans Consortium, who spear-headed the creation of the state-recognized Missouri German Heritage Corridor. She has been an inspiration to us, and I hope an inspiration to you to nominate sites and their historic significance to the German-American Heritage Survey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your on-going financial support and encouragement!
J. Marc Wheat