The Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia is the Northeast Regional Archives (Region 7) for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It is a part of an ELCA network of nine regional archives and a national level (churchwide) archives. Our service area is limited to Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Upstate New York, Metropolitan New York City, and New England. We carry on the work of our predecessors in the first Lutheran Church organization in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States, founded on August 15, 1748, by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. The archives was recognized as a part of the church organization in 1792.
The Archives has been housed on the campus of the Philadelphia Seminary since 1889 and is located in the undercroft of the Brossman Learning Center. The Archives includes a reference library with workspace for researchers and a large storage vault with compact shelving.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LUTHERAN ARCHIVES CENTER AT PHILADELPHIA
The Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia (LACAP) was organized in 1979 as an independent non-profit organization. Our mission is to document and preserve the history of Lutheranism in the Northeast; provide a secure yet accessible repository of historical records for the synods, congregations, and agencies of ELCA Region 7; and offer archival, educational, and interpretive services.
Prior to LACAP’s formation, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia provided archival services to constituent synods largely free of charge. A visionary seminary president, Raymond Bost, realized this was not sustainable, and worked with Walter Harrison, the administrator of the Lutheran Home at Germantown, seminary librarian Helmut Lehman, Theodore Bachmann, Clarence Lee, and others to establish the LACAP. Since 1970, LACAP has served as a model for other regional archive centers in the ELCA.
We house the oldest records of Lutherans in North America, including the journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and many of the congregations he helped to found. We have also been involved in the production of a new biography of the first Lutheran ordained in North America, Justus Falckner.
The last decade has been a period of particular growth for LACAP. The construction of the Brossman Center provided dedicated archival space in its undercroft. Since 2008, many congregations have closed and sent their records to us.
The Sutter Memorial Archives collection includes the records of the second oldest Lutheran organization, the New York Ministerium, its successors and relatives, including the Steimle Synod.
On October 15, 2005, the Archives moved from the basement of the Krauth Memorial Library to the “Undercroft” of the new Brossman Center. It was an enormous undertaking for such a small non-profit organization. To help in the transition the Rev. Dr. Kim-Eric Williams, a longtime member of the Board, was brought on staff part-time. It took two and one half years to move everything, organize the new Peterson Reference Library, paint the facility, and bring out many treasures for the walls. At last on April 29, 2008, the new Archives Center was dedicated. Prayers of thanksgiving were many for having a suitable facility at long last. The generosity of many friends was remembered, especially Dr. Ivan and Thelma Hess, whose major gift made possible a very practical and space-saving movable system of electronic shelving. The next month, a very welcome addition to the Library, a computer center was dedicated in memory of Pastor Anna Kalandova.
The enlarged space also made it possible for us to reach out to two partner organizations in need of archival space, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and the Swedish Colonial Society, both of which now lease space from the Archives.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to the Archives was the restoration of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg's journals. Given a $93,000 matching grant by the National Parks Service’s “Save America’s Treasures” the many loyal people in the Northeast raised slightly more than that required and the entire collection was restored for posterity at a cost of just over $200,000. The campaign began in 2009 and concluded in 2011 in time for the celebration of the Tercentenary of Muhlenberg's birth. At this time, the Rev. George Handley retired as President of the Archives after guiding its destiny for so many years with good humor and sage advice. A new chapter began when the Rev. Dr. Frank Watson of New Jersey became the new President of the Board.
The first challenge was to host the national conference of the Lutheran Historical Conference in October 2012. The conference was a grand event with historians from all over the country able to see our new Archives, hear stimulating lectures and have a bus tour of historic sites.
In the fall of 2013 the Metropolitan New York Synod became the sixth synod affiliated with LACAP. This now includes the Sutter Memorial Archives, formerly located at Wagner College in Staten Island. The addition of the Sutter Memorial Archives of the Metropolitan New York Synod means that LACAP provides services to all the synods of Region 7, as well as Lutheran Children and Family Services, the Lankenau School, and the Swedish Colonial Society.
With an additional synod, rental income and generous supporters, the financial condition improved even as synods were unable to increase their support. Seminary graduate James Ziebell was hired part-time to respond to research inquiries.
After hosting the Augustana Valedictory Celebration at Trinity in Lansdale, PA in 2016 the Augustana Institute became an affiliated partner of the Archives Center. They brought along with them a new Augustana Museum on the 3rd floor of the Brossman Center. This museum includes displays from the old New Sweden colony from the Swedish Colonial Society and 19th and 20th century items from the Archives' own collections.
The LACAP collection continues to grow with additions from the closing of congregations and the personal papers of such luminaries as Henry Horn and John H. Reumann. We are privileged to have one of the finest Lutheran history collections in the country.
LACAP is funded by in-kind contributions from United Lutheran Seminary, contributions from the partner synods, bequests, fees for services, and income from our endowment for the preservation of congregational and other records. In the near future, we look forward to increased hours of operation and making our collection more available to the public.
Click here to read more about the history of LACAP.