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Johann Kaspar Kirchner
1758 1772  

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Johann Kaspar Kirchner
1758 1772  

On July 9, 1758, the Rev. Johann Caspar Kirchner presented his credentials to the elder of the Baltimore congregation.  His annual salary for preaching and administering Holy Communion was fixed at six pounds Pennsylvania gold. As the contracts with his other congregation in York County were originally drawn, only for one year, the Baltimore congregation also engaged Kirchner for one year. In July 1759, this contract was extended, since his services had proved very satisfactory.


When Pastor Kirchner held his first service in the church it was a day of happy thanksgiving. The flock, scattered and without a home a few years earlier, now gathered for the first time in a church of its own, built by the members with their own hands.  

Pastor Kirchner would stand before the simple altar, lead the congregation in a prayer and begin his sermon. He had no great zeal for liturgical worship and, he sometimes spoke of the liturgy as "the exercises preparatory to the sermon." Most Lutheran services of those days were lacking in form and content. Thus, the people got used to a simple worship service, of which the sermon was the core on Sundays when no communion was offered.

By the end of 1762 Pastor Kirchner received a call to serve as resident pastor from Shuster's Lutheran Church in York County, where he could improve his material welfare, but where he would be too far away to attend to the congregation in Baltimore. In January 1763, he assumed his duties at Shuster's. The Rev. Eager again agreed to visit Baltimore. A number of Lutheran ministers had recently arrived from Germany and taken over charges which up to that time had been held by Eager, thus enabling him to take over the eight services a year at which Kirchner had officiated in Baltimore. Again he faithfully served the people whom he had assisted in their first organization, until he was called to New York.

Probably upon the request of Pastor Kirchner, other preachers filled in at the small Baltimore congregation and of these: one turned Zion down for a permanent position and moved on, while others presented themselves to the congregation, but met with the disapproval of the parishioners: including the Rev. Nikolas Hornell, a Swede.  The church, however, was still hoping to find a pastor who would take residence in Baltimore and through his continuous and regular ministry give stability to the congregation. But the congregation was not kept waiting very long.

The news of Pastor Johann Caspar Kirchner's return to Maryland from Pennsylvania was received with great hope and joy by the church. The valuable contributions that the Rev. Kirchner had rendered to them half a decade prior were still remembered with gratitude by the people. Pastor Kirchner, however, had to dampen their joy. During the Christmas season of 1767 he had performed his last services at Shuster's Church in York County, and because of his age and condition of health decided to retire. In the Barrens, near Baltimore, he bought an estate where he settled in 1768 to enjoy a few years of rest from his tedious labors in the ministry. Upon the request of his old flock in Baltimore he agreed to serve them temporarily, admonishing them to find a younger man who would finally take full charge of the church. To be sure, Charles F. Wiesenthal turned to the Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania

In spite of his previous resolution, Pastor Kirchner decided to yield to the entreaties of his faithful people in Baltimore, when he saw that no one else could be obtained. He moved to town, gave up the idea of a restful life on his farm, to which he would have been well entitled, and from now on served as their first resident pastor. The congregation allowed him a salary of 50 a year, "which in view of our small numbers was considerable," the annalist stated, but continued that it was hardly enough for the pastor. "He could hardly eat his fill. Yea, we have found him at times eating his bread with tears. He was poor, which made him shy and despondent. But he was thoroughly honest and attended to his sacerdotal office with dignity and without hypocrisy."

At once Pastor Kirchner presented to the congregation his plans for a reform of the organization of the church. Elder's duties were not defined, and the records of the church were kept on loose slips of paper, likewise the accounts. All these matters Pastor Kirchner was determined to take up and settle to the best of his abilities. Truly a great task ahead for a man who had just previously entertained hopes of retiring!

Although the congregation was firmly established, the fact that it had existed for fourteen years without any written rules and regulations had necessarily led to considerable disorder and neglect. Tasks had remained undone because nobody wanted to take the responsibility on his shoulders, without proper authorization. Pastor Kirchner, now being the resident minister, also felt that it was best to have his own duties and responsibilities clearly defined at the outset of his work with a congregation which had so far never had a resident parson. After some deliberations with leading members of the congregation, he composed the draft of the first constitution which the Lutherans of Baltimore were to have. On June 10, 1769, he read the fifteen articles to the full assembly of the congregation, and after it was formally accepted by all the people present, every male communicant who was of age subscribed to the same with his own hand. 

Pastor Kirchner also insisted that communion records be kept. All members intending to take Holy Communion were to give their names to him at least one day before confession. He entered these names in his communion record book, and only after having inquired into the conduct and Christian character of the applicants, would he admit them to communion. Minor offenses, such as enmity toward others, required that the persons in question should appear at least one week before Communion Sunday and be reconciled with each other. However, "those who through gross and shameful sins give offense to the Christian congregation shall be excluded from Holy Supper until they publicly do penance."

According to the constitution it was the pastor's duty to keep a record of all births, baptisms, and funerals. Thirty-five men signed the constitution, which Pastor Kirchner himself wrote into his parish register which he called the Kirchen Archiv.

 

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