July 13: Conrad Weiser, Witness to Peace and Reconciliation, 1760

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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Conrad Weiser

Conrad Weiser was an eighteenth century American diplomat who

worked for peace and reconciliation between the European settlers and

the native peoples of Pennsylvania. Of Lutheran descent, he was the

father-in-law of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (October 7).

Born in Germany in 1696, he immigrated to the United States as a

child. At 17, Weiser went to live among the Mohawks in New York

in order to learn their language and culture. He later made his way to

southeastern Pennsylvania where he learned customs and language of

the Iroquois.

Weiser eventually settled in the area that is now Reading,

Pennsylvania. He designed the layout of the city of Reading, is

numbered among the founders of Berks County, and served a long

tenure as the local judge. Like many people of his time, he had to

work at a variety of occupations in order to care for his family:

farmer, tanner, merchant, and real estate speculator. For a time Weiser

was enamored with the Seventh Day Baptist movement and took up

residence at Ephrata Cloister.


His knowledge of the Iroquois language and his natural diplomatic

gifts made him invaluable during the years of the settlement. He

negotiated land deeds and other treaties not only between Native

Americans and European settlers, he also did diplomatic work

between the various tribes of Native Americans and was often, but

not always, successful in keeping the peace among them. He advised

William Penn and Benjamin Franklin on matters related to Native

Americans and played an important role in keeping the Iroquois

sympathetic to the British cause during the French and Indian Wars.

At the time of Weiser’s death, an Iroquois leader was heard to remark,

“We are at a great loss and sit in darkness…as since his death we

cannot so well understand one another.”

Collects

I Almighty God, of thy grace thou didst endue Conrad

Weiser with the gift of diplomacy, the insight to

understand two different cultures and interpret each to the

other with clarity and honesty: As we strive to be faithful

to our vocation to commend thy kingdom, help us to

proclaim the Gospel to the many cultures around us, that

by thy Holy Spirit we may be effective ambassadors for

our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the same Holy

Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

I Almighty God, of your grace you gave Conrad Weiser the

gift of diplomacy, the insight to understand two different

cultures and interpret each to the other with clarity and

honesty: As we strive to be faithful to our vocation to

commend your kingdom, help us to proclaim the Gospel

to the many cultures around us, that by your Holy Spirit

we may be effective ambassadors for our Savior Jesus

Christ; who with you and the same Holy Spirit lives and

reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lessons

Job 5:8–9,20–27

2 Corinthians 5:16–20

John 16:33–17:5


Psalm 122


Preface of the Epiphany

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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Conrad Weiser-Related Links

Conrad Weiser Homstead

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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26 Responses to July 13: Conrad Weiser, Witness to Peace and Reconciliation, 1760

  1. Philip G. Lewis says:

    I found this information on Conrad Weiser interesting and helpful. I have found the new commemoration and the increase diversity to be a very good thing.

  2. Pepper Marts says:

    ” Born in Germany in 1696, he immigrated to the United States as a child. ” There was no ‘United States’ when he crossed the Atlantic.

  3. Vicki Zust says:

    Some pronunciation help would be great – I used Hus last week and was planning on using one of this week’s new folk at my weekly service but I’m not sure how to correctly pronounce Hus’ name or any of the others for this week other than Benedict

    • I’m grateful for Vivkie’s comment. I did not say anything about pronunciation guides because I figured some “power beyond me” expected I would know how to look it up.
      Yes, may we please have a Pronunciation Guide?

  4. While Weiser appears on all accounts to have been a fine person, after having read his biography at Morning Prayer today, I see no compelling reason for his inclusion in the Episcopal Calendar.

  5. I used only the 2 Corinthians and John’s Gospel lessons at Holy Eucharist. I trust my instinctual choice of “In Christ there is no East or West” was a small contribution to the celebration. The words of the collect, “to the many cultures around us” took a Pennsylvania story into the heart of the cultures (Hispanic and Anglo) of Odessa, Texas—it was a moving moment for me.
    While I’m glad to know of Weiser’s Imitation of Christ, I wish I had read more about his attraction to the Ephrata Cloister—both before the Holy Eucharist this morning and before I started writing this comment.

  6. The many inclusions of persons in HWHM who are Native Americans (of members of the First Nation) or were missionaries to Native Americans, requires that we use the same nomenclature when referring to them. In this bio it says that Conrad Weiser worked for peace between European settlers and the native peoples of Pennsylvania. At least the word Native should be capitalized – but I urge uniformity through HWHM.

    2nd paragraph: “among the Mohawks of New York” Could we at least say New York State? as the Mohawks did not live in Manhattan.

    3rd paragraph: should it be “the” Ephrata Cloister? Or just Ephrata Cloiseer as written?

    And oh yes: He died in 1760.

    Collect: “to understand two different cultures and interpret each to the other …” Perhaps it should specifically refer to White Europeans and the Iroquois Nation?

    • Leonel Mitchell says:

      I had never heard of Weiser until this week. It sounds as if he would be a good addition, especially since laymen (who are not kings, queens, monks or nuns) are hard to find.
      i have no ral opinion about the propers, except that tyey seem to make sense.

    • Yes, it would have been colonial America at the time. There was no ‘New York’ state in America at that time, but the Mohawks did live in New York (so dubbed by the Dutch colony living there) and the Mohawks covered a wide territory including parts of Canada and Alaska.

  7. Sam Portaro says:

    Good suggestions all, especially regarding vocabulary/nomenclature. It might be helpful if a standard usage, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The New York Times Manual of Style be followed.

  8. John LaVoe says:

    This one needs to be fact checked and re-worked a lot, if it stays. The phrase “New York frontier” might be useful at one point, since, as one comment notes, this is pre-revolution. I grew leery of the bio when it said Weiser moved out of Mohawk country into southeastern Pennsylvania to learn about the Iroquois. The Mohawk ARE part of the Iroquois (a confederation of 4 (later 5) other tribes). By the time Weiser moved to Pennsylvania he had ALREADY learned his Iroquois background.
    Not knowing much about the tribes in Pennsylvania, I looked for background information. A good place to fill in the blanks about Conrad Weiser is http://www.berksweb.com/weisertext.html
    This HWHM description generalized so much, after reading it I felt I didn’t know if Weiser were a practicing Christian, and if so how so; whether he did all it says as a volunteer or in an official capacity; what education equipped him for this work; and whether he was a solitary or a family person. The “berksweb” site answers these questions, and I feel HWHM would be better if it explained, clarified, and included some of that detail, too. (Also, the anonymity of the concluding quote in HWHM seems so typically apocryphal, I think we’d be better off avoiding it, even though the berksweb site begins with the same quote!)
    OT Reading: Another Wisdom selection. “Choose God, and be safe from famine, war, and looting; have many descendents, be at peace with creation, and die at a ripe old age.” Yeah, that sure sounds realistic to me. (I’m beginning to formulate a paranoid theory that we’re letting moralistic ideals lead our theological judgments in these propers, rather than the other way around.)
    EPISTLE: Have we considered Rev 7:9-12, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb….”? (I’d see this as focusing on the fruit and object of Weiser’s work in Christian perspective, rather than simply copying his particular gifts and calling.)
    COLLECT: This one strikes me as a hodgepodge. It’s wordy, it’s all over the place, and I feel it asks us to imitate what Weiser did, rather than be inspired to carry on the gospel in our unique circumstances, with our unique gifts and abilities — which is what I can most profitably derive from honoring him. Could I do better composing a collect? I doubt it, but here’s what I came up with, just as a prayerful exercise:
    “Loving Father, Creator of all, you gave Conrad Weiser the gift of the Holy Spirit to work for reconciliation and peace with Native Americans and settlers alike; Let all peoples turn their hearts and hands to the goodness we learn in you, as together we strive, in our earthly life as in eternal life, to be people of your peace, your kingdom, your perfect city, in our communities and across all the lines that divide us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen”
    (One last thing. Did he have a cousin named Bud?)

  9. josh says:

    Today I have been in contact with the saint’s descendants, members of the Conrad Weiser Family Association, including the family historian Paulette Weiser. I have recommended that she get in touch with the Standing Commission and offer her services and archives to assist the Commission’s work.

    Her Association also has a website, which should be included here. I have suggested she visit your blog and leave her own comments.

    The family, some of whom are ELCA, had no idea Conrad Weiser was now included in our calendar. They are overjoyed.

    Josh Thomas
    dailyoffice.org

  10. Celinda Scott says:

    Much of what we read about relations between peacemakers such as Conrad Weiser and Native American tribes centers on the Iroquois. However, as the information in the paragraph below shows, there were unintended consequences resulting from apparent over-reliance at times on the Iroquois and their ability to speak for other tribal groups. As we read about and are inspired by the examples set by our new saints, it’s helpful to remember that saints were human beings, also, and we should be aware of their (and our own) limitations as well as their strengths.

    “Throughout his decades-long career, Weiser built on his knowledge of Native American languages and culture. He was a key player in treaty negotiations, land purchases, and the formulation of Pennsylvania’s policies towards Native Americans. Because of his early experiences with the Iroquois, Weiser was inclined to be sympathetic to their interpretation of events, as opposed to the Lenape or the Shawnees. This may have exacerbated Pennsylvanian-Lenape/Shawnee relations, with bloody consequences in the French and Indian Wars.” (This paragraph was from a Wikipedia article on Weiser, but is available from other sources).

  11. Michael Rich says:

    I agree with Tobias Haller, above, in his suggestion that it’s hard to see the specifically Christian example in Weiser’s life as described in HWHM. There’s a hint of his Christianity, presented as bouncing from one sect to another. Otherwise, merely a diplomat with good intentions and mixed results. How is “keeping the Iroquois sympathetic to the British cause” particularly worthy? There may be strong reasons for inclusion, but the biography does little to suggest why he has been plucked from history for our calendar.

    • josh says:

      I couldn’t disagree more with Tobias and Michael about Weiser’s worthiness; and it’s utterly wrong to question his Christianity. The majority of Episcopalians weren’t born in this Church, they came here from another one. Do we hold that against them? Do we claim they’ve “bounced from one sect to another?” Of course not.

      This is not to say HWHM’s description is the best it can be, though from what I know it’s accurate; these entries are always summaries. No, the main problem here is that “he’s new to me.” Let us not use our own unfamiliarity to attack someone our faithful and expert Standing Commission has deemed worthy enough for trial use.

      Specifically I would expand the description of the Ephrata Cloister, which is unknown to practically all of us too. Weiser’s Christianity was something he took with utmost seriousness, especially considering how limited were the worship opportunities in the wilderness.

      The man was a peacemaker of great significance to modern-day Pennsylvania, so that news of him even reached back to his German hometown.

      Let’s not use our own latter-day analysis of Indian/European politics to cast aspersions on his faith. We don’t have a lot of peacemakers in this calendar, and we need every one we can get.

      Josh Thomas
      dailyoffice.org

      • Josh, it is not a question of familiarity or Christianity, but connection with the Episcopal Church.

        As to the Commission, while I do value their expertise and wisdom, it is they who asked for feedback, and if we are simply to defer to them on all counts feedback becomes irrelevant.

        I stand by my earlier comment that I see no compelling reason — even after having seen the additional comments — for his inclusion in the Calendar. That is not to disparage him or his contributions, simply to wonder why him?

  12. Sam Portaro says:

    Arguably, the bio needs to be re-thought and strengthened. As for candidates for inclusion in HWHM being Episcopal/Anglican, is that truly a requirement? Given the large number of figures drawn from the Roman Catholic calendar and the status of present agreements with other Christian churches (Lutheran, Moravian), is “holiness” limited to a particular communion? That does not seem to have been relevant to inclusion in Lesser Feasts & Fasts (I don’t believe Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr. were ever confirmed/received into our communion though one could nudge the former in with his pre-Reformation RC credentials).

    But do continue to challenge (with documentation, please) the selections as they appear in order that the end result be enriched.

  13. josh says:

    Weiser’s association with the remarkable Ephrata Cloister should remove all doubts about his faith. Imagine a monastic community of 70 emphasizing celibacy and simplicity, supported by 200 families, in the wilderness of colonial Pennsylvania, while Weiser moved back and forth between public and private life, making peace with and among various Indian tribes, the only person for hundreds of miles who was a credible go-between.

    A peacemaker, a Christian. A family man; his descendants just held a family reunion back at his old homestead on the 250th anniversary of his death. And a layman, as Leonel points out. If not in our precious calendar (which also includes the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), he needs to be in someone’s.

    Besides, look at the context: the week starts with Benedict the monastic, then a Lutheran archbishop and ecumenist; Weiser followed by Samuel Occum, the great Mohegan Presbyterian; then the Righteous Gentiles (including an Episcopalian), culminating in William White of… Pennsylvania. It makes an interesting, teachable flow. That may not be the intent of the sequence, but “forward day by day.”

    Do we know if ELCA is studying Weiser for inclusion? The Commission might explain a little how they came to identify this man.

  14. Celinda Scott says:

    I think Conrad Weiser is an excellent choice for all the reasons mentioned above. About the dealings with the Iroquois I mentioned: it may be a “latter-day” discovery for me, but it was true at the time that since the Iroquois had such a strong organization, it was natural to think that agreements reached with them would involve most Native American groups. People acted in very good faith on that assumption, and much good was done. However (through no fault of Weiser’s) other Native American groups later took offense that they weren’t consuited when decisions were made by the Iroquois, and massacres (especially in what is now western Pennsylvania) occurred in the late 18th century despite the Treaties that had been made, initiating a spiral of violence which ended only with the defeat of Native American tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Peacemakers like Conrad Weiser need to be included in HWHM: things would be much worse without the teaching and example of people like him, then and now. Weiser was a strong Christian, a member of Ephrata Cloister (I think everyone who has had an 8th grade class in PA history knows about Ephrata Cloister–too bad it’s not part of the curriculum in other states). and the father-in-law of Muehlenberg, who strengthened not only the Lutheran church in the middle Atlantic states, but Christian witness in general over a very wide area. It makes quite a bit of sense to strengthen our ties with Lutherans. It also makes sense to strengthen our ties with Moravians (discussed in the articles on Jan Hus), and by extension with other “German pietist” groups welcomed to PA by Quaker William Penn in the late 17th century. These men and women lived out a strong personal faith in Christ in the actions which they took in their daily lives.

  15. Nigel Renton says:

    In the second paragraph, the sentence begins “born in Germany in 1696, he immigrated to the United States…” that should be “emigrated”. It is true that when one emigrates from one place one immigrates to another. However, in this instance the sentence starts with Germany as his place of residence: hence, we should use “emigrated”.

    In the same paragraph, a “,” after Pennsylvania would improve the text for the reader.

    The very long sentence (33 words) in the 4th paragraph would be improved if a “,” were added after “Native Americans”.

  16. john conrad weiser says:

    Delighted to have our ancestor acknowledged in this; it is fit and proper. Blessings, John Conrad Weiser

  17. April Dowd says:

    This is our 13th great grand uncle on our mother’s side (Good). Thank you from my two sisters and me for the information on our ancestor.

  18. Nigel Renton says:

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “at Affstätt,” for the first “in”.

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “on November 2, 1696” for the second “in”.

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “emigrated” for “immigrated”.

    Line 4, second paragraph: add “about the” after “learned”.

    Line 4, second paragraph: substitute “languages” for “language”.

    Line 1, fourth paragraph: delete “the”.

    Line 1, fourth paragraph: substitute “languages” for “language”.

    Line 4, fourth paragraph: substitute “but also he” for “he also”

    Line 10, fourth paragraph: add “in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, on July 13 1760” after “death”.

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