He was a congressman, a senator and commander of all the forces in Virginia as a Revolutionary War general. But Peter Muhlenberg is perhaps best remembered for the last sermon he gave as a Lutheran minister.
In was 1776, and the colonies were struggling for independence when Muhlenberg climbed into his pulpit in Woodstock, Va., one Sunday and preached a sermon that ended with something like this: "In the language of Holy Writ there is a time for all things . . . There is a time to pray and a time to fight . . . and that time has now come."
With that, Muhlenberg ripped off his clerical garb to reveal a uniform underneath, then led 300 parishioners into battle.
On Sunday, members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church here dedicated a memorial to John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, fulfilling their 54-year-old plan to immortalize the "fighting parson."
"Now he belongs to all of us as our Major General Peter Huhlenberg," eulogized the Rev. Russell D. Zimmerman on Sunday, "a giant among giants of the American fight for justice, liberty and independence." Zimmerman is the former pastor of Augustus Lutheran Church in Trappe, Pa., where Muhlenberg was born and is buried and where Muhlenberg's father, Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg, the founder of the Lutheran Church in America, once was pastor.
Peter Hermes, West Germany's ambassador to the United States, praised Muhlenberg on Sunday for founding the oldest German-American Society and called him an "exceptional man for having the conviction to be a preacher and soldier."
The $100,000 memorial, on a triangle of land in front of the church at Connecticut Avenue and Ellicott Street NW, consists of a bust of Muhlenberg atop a pedestal flanked on three sides by a low wall with three plaques that tell about Muhlenberg's life as a clergyman, soldier and statesman.
Born on Oct. 1, 1746, Muhlenberg was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1768. He later was ordained as an Episcopal minister, so that he could collect the church taxes his congregation had paid the British government.
Following his sermon, Muhlenberg commanded the Eighth Virginia Regiment, which came to be known as the "German Regiment" of the Continental Army. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1777 and to commander of all forces in Virginia three years later. In 1783, the year he retired from military service, Muhlenberg was promoted to major general.
Muhlenberg's political career began in 1787 when he was elected vice president of Pennsylvania. The following year, he was elected to the first national House of Representatives, where he served three nonconsecutive terms. In 1801, Muhlenberg became a senator and also served as collector of customs at the port of Philadelphia. aHe never preached another sermon. In 1807, on his 61st birthday, he died.
In 1926, St. Paul's Lutheran Church donated the land to the federal government as a site for a future memorial to Muhlenberg. However, it wasn't until 1958 that the congregation established a fund to raise money for the memorial. It had hoped to have the memorial completed in time for the Bicentennial, but fund-raising took longer than expected.
Eventually, the congregation plans to add a reflecting pool and walkways at the memorial site.