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Perspectives . . .                                           Who were the Buffalo Synod Lutherans?

                                                                      by Martin Ederer                                            When Grabau died in 1879,
                                                                         ost of us have heard about the                           he left an important legacy.
      Tell your friends                                            MMissouri  Synod  Lutherans.                                    Not only did the Buffalo
                                                                   Most of us also are aware that there
                                                                                                                                      Synod constitute an
                                                                   are  significant  differences  between                          important chapter in the
                                                                   the Missouri Synod and the Evangel-
      and relatives!                                               ical Lutheran Church in America, the                               history of American
                                                                   ELCA Lutherans. The Missouri Syn-
                                                                   od is generally considered the much                            Lutheranism, but it also left
         by Martin Ederer                 Invite your younger      more     conservative-traditionalist                           an important local legacy.
               e  need  to  involve  the  relatives to dinner and talk.  wing of American Lutheranism.
               younger  generation  in    It’s a great German         The event that pushed many Lu-                             aus  Preussen  ausgewanderten  lu-
      Wour  German  heritage                                       therans  to  emigrate  from  Prussian                         therischen Kirche, which came to be
      stuff!  This seems to be a common  tradition.  Talk religion.  territories  was  Friedrich  Wilhelm                        known simply as the Buffalo Synod.
      lament among many venerable old    Talk about the family     III’s 1817 decision to unify the Lu-                          For a time the Buffalo Synod hoped
      societies, volunteer groups, clubs –  background. Talk about the  theran  and  Reformed  (Calvinist)                       to attract other Lutheran immigrants
      and most church denominations and  good, the bad and the ugly.  churches. Both were Protestant, but                        in the Midwest who had left Saxony
      communities.  It’s also not a lament  Talk politics.  Tell the stories.  both had differing doctrines, ecclesi-  A portrait of Johannes Andreas  because of similar grievances there.
      unique   to   German-Americans.                              ology  and  liturgy.  The  Prussian  August Grabau.           Those plans generally failed; sever-
      Analysis of the reasons could alone  Have a good (polite)    Union of Churches was an attempt to                           al groups of Midwest Old Lutherans
      result in a fascinating sociological    argument.            strengthen royal control over all the  to  submit,  incidents  of  force  and eventually  formed  synods  of  their
      study.                                                       Protestant  churches  in  his  realm  imprisonment multiplied.  own,  most  notably  the  Missouri
         Explanations  may  well  be  a then we’re all busy and distracted in  through  centralized  administration  Numerous  such  Old  Lutheran Synod.
      complex  combination  of  factors. so many ways.  All sorts of enter-  and liturgy.          groups  found  a  solution  to  the  Apparently, a major deal break-
      Certainly  for  German-Americans, tainment are pulling our attention in  In order to give the Union its best  problem – and their growing fears er was conflicting views over how
      many  descendants  of  German- many  different  directions.    Nice  shot, it rolled out on the 200th anni-  of how things might end for them – ministry  should  function.  Grabau
      speaking immigrants are now many problem to have – but still a prob-  versary of the Reformation. As orig-  in emigration. Thus began the story took  a  rigorous  approach  to  that
      generations removed from the im- lem.                        inally envisioned, the union was to  of Pastor Johannes Andreas August issue:  ministry  was  divinely  or-
      migration  experience.    Memories  Does that make things hopeless?  be  finessed  into  existence  through  Grabau.  Born  in  Olvenstedt  in dained  and  therefore  quite  patriar-
      and stories have grown dim.    Not necessarily.  But it does mean  the  unification  of  sects  in  Potsdam  1804,  Grabau  grew  into  a  serious chal.  He  believed  that  ministers
         Older generations may have al- that  we  cannot  simply  take  for  near  Berlin,  an  event  designed  to  opponent of the Union as the king could  demand  obedience  in  all
      ready  lost  the  stories  –  thanks  in granted that a cultural heritage will  serve as an example. Congregations  ramped  up  enforcement  of  the things  not  contrary  to  the  law  of
      part  to  social  embarrassment  over survive just because.  Don’t let chil-  elsewhere  were  encouraged  to  vol-  Union.  He  did  jail  time  twice  for God. The Saxons held a more con-
      coming from a place that America dren,  grandchildren  or  even  the  untarily follow that example. As the  his convictions.  gregational,  shared  decision-mak-
      had gone to war with – twice.  So greater community off easy.  If you  liturgical implications of the Union  Finally in 1839 he gained per- ing  view  of  authority.  Any  last
      often the stories from older genera- have stories, tell them.  If you have  became clearer by the 1820s, opposi-  mission to emigrate with Old Lu- hopes of collaboration between Buf-
      tions of German immigrants or even maintained traditions, explain them.  tion grew.          theran congregation members from falo and Missouri Synod Lutherans
      well-enculturated  German-Ameri-  Invite your younger relatives to  A movement for Lutheranism in-  Erfurt and Magdeburg. The major- ended in the 1860s when Missouri
      cans  went  something  like:    “Oh, dinner and talk.  It’s a great German  dependent of the Union finally erupt-  ity settled in Buffalo, as did Grabau Synod pastors insisted on providing
      that’s  the  old  country,”  or  “My tradition.  Talk religion.  Talk about  ed in Prussian Silesia. By 1830, such  himself. Other congregations of the pastoral care to Lutherans who dis-
      grandparents came from Germany” the family background.  Talk about  groups came to be called “Old Lu-  same  group  were  established  in agreed with Grabau’s pastoral ide-
      (whatever that meant), or “Nobody the good, the bad and the ugly.  Talk  therans”.  Royal  pressure  grew  on  New  York,  Albany  and  Milwau- als.  The  Missouri  Synod  regarded
      told  me  from  what  part  or  when, politics.    Tell  the  stories.    Have  a  these  new  groups,  first  by  decrees  kee.  Grabau’s  ideas  as  too  Roman,  i.e.
      and I never asked.”  The end.  Full good  (polite)  argument.    Invite  and  regulations;  when  pastors  and  In 1845 Grabau and four other too Catholic.
      stop.  No good stories.  A strangled them to some event now that spring  congregations  increasingly  refused  pastors established the Synode der
      heritage  –  except  maybe  for  beer. and  summer  are  (theoretically)                                                              Continued on page 3
      Many  don’t  even  remember  much coming and explain why their heri-
      about  the  neighborhoods  where tage  is  important.  Explain  how
      their families settled here after they much  of  mainstream  culture  has
      arrived, and they never asked.  German   roots.      Think   the
         We  have  also  sprawled  out. Beethoven  stuff.    Your  audience
      Ethnic  neighborhoods  and  settle- may not give a rip right now – but
      ments for older waves of immigra- they may remember something lat-
      tion are all but gone.  It may well er.  It’s worth the gamble.
      have been in the nature of things for  It’s never good for any genera-
      descendants of immigrants to move tion to think that everything started
      from their original poor or working- with them – if for no other reason
      class  neighborhoods  where  ethnic than it is simply not true. Such my-
      concentrations  could  much  more opia can disfigure us all intellectu-
      easily  maintain  their  religious  and ally,  culturally,  politically  and
      social  institutions  along  with  a socially.  Who would want that?
      strong  sense  of  community.    And

        � Saturday May 6 -  9 a.m. at St. Louis RC Church, 35 Edward St.:
          New York Chapter Palatines to America German Genealogy
          Society Program, "The German-American Experience during
          World War I" featuring  local German historian Bonnie
          Fleischauer, includes a tour of the historic St. Louis Church
          Museum, as well as a guided tour of Concordia Cemetery. See ad
          on page 3.

        � Wednesday, May 24 - Sproktoberfest - Rotary Club of
          Amherst - 6 - 9 p.m. Fox Valley Club, 6161 Genesee St.,
          Lancaster. Music by Auslanders, authentic German Cuisine,
          complimentary German beer - $75 per person.

        � Sunday, May 28 - Maifest - Spring Garden, 3838 Two Rod Road,
          East Aurora. www.

        � June 23-25 - German Heritage in Buffalo Weekend -
          10th Anniversary of Samuel Helm Unit of the Steuben
          Society. Members only events scheduled.
        � Saturday, June 24 - Lagers & Legerhosen - An Afternoon in a
          German Biergarten - Flying Bison Brewing Co., 2 - 6 p.m. - $20
          - 716-866-5837.

        �  Sunday, July 16 - Waldfest - Spring Garden, 3838 Two Rod
          Road, East Aurora. www.

        � Saturday, August 5 - German-Polish Celebration - Spring
          Garden, 3838 Two Rod Road, East Aurora. www.

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