Finding Our Roots: Postcards from a Sabbatical
Aug 21, 2019
By The Rev. Sonja Maclary, Dean of the MNYS Hudson Conference
Part I. The Amsterdam Consistory
Before New York was "New York," it was, of course, "New Amsterdam." While it might seem odd for us as New York Lutherans - as diverse as we are! - to think ourselves as having Dutch roots, the first Lutherans in what was to become the Metro New York Synod were first supported by the Lutheran Consistory of Amsterdam, which was housed in the Oude Lutherse Kerk, built in 1632-33.
As early as 1649, leaders of the Lutheran community in what was then “New Netherland” began petitioning the Consistory for a pastor. Their requests were delayed by the unfavorable view the Dutch, in general, and Governor Peter Stuyvesant, in particular, had toward the practice of any but the Reformed religion.
However, in 1657, The Rev. Ernestus Gutwasser was ordained by the consistory and sent to serve as pastor to Lutherans in New Netherland. Pastor Gutwasser's arrival in Manhattan, however, was not welcomed by the authorities, including Stuyvesant, who viewed his presence as a violation of policy and law. Consequently, it was quickly ordered that the new Lutheran pastor should be deported. However, the Lutherans, still hopeful they might influence the Directors of the West India Company, instead sent Gutwasser to hideout on a farm located on Newtown Creek, Long Island. Gutwasser would remain there for two years, without pay from the congregation or reprieve from local or WIC authorities. Eventually, even the Amsterdam Consistory counseled the Lutherans to comply with the authorities and send their would-be pastor away. Gutwasser had to borrow money for his return voyage to Europe and subsequently enrolled in the German Lutheran Consistory at Dresden. It was not until control of New Netherland was turned over to the English that the Lutherans received "the privilege to enjoy publicly free exercise of religion" in what became New York.*
Just over 125 years later, the Amsterdam Consistory would ordain another pastor who would eventually make his way to New York. The Rev. Frederick Henry Quitman was ordained in 1783 and called to serve the Lutheran Congregation in Willemsted, Curacao.
By 1795, Quitman had gone on to New York where he served congregations in Schoharie, Cobelskill, Rhinebeck, Wurtemburg, Germantown, Livingston, West Camp and Woodstock. He also served as President of the New York ministerium from 1807-1825.
Today, as the pictures show, the Oude Lutherse Kerk still stands in the lovely Spui neighborhood of Amsterdam. It is now part of the University of Amsterdam. Prominently located on a corner near Spui square, it is visible from the Tram and the Singel canal. If you are ever in Amsterdam, it's an easy find and worth a stop!
The Rev Sonja Tillberg Maclary is Pastor of Christ’s, Woodstock; transitional pastor at Atonement, Saugerties and Dean of the Hudson Conference. She has been on sabbatical this summer with the support of a Lily Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant. The theme of her sabbatical explorations is “Finding Roots.” She shares some of her findings, reflections, and pictures.
*If you are interested in reading more about these events, check out "The Beginnings of Lutheranism in New York" by Harry Kreider.