The English District is one of 35 districts of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. At one time the English District was an independent Lutheran Synod in North America, organized in 1888 as the "English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri." Its history goes back to colonial times.
In the early days of Lutheranism in the United States, the Henkels, a prominent Lutheran family, provided pastoral leadership for the church in Virginia. The family was concerned about Lutheran confessional teaching. In 1851, the Henkel family published the first English edition of the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions. Members of the family were responsible for establishing several synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. One of those synods, the Tennessee Synod, was organized in 1820 by Pastor Paul Henkel. The Tennessee Synod believed firmly in the authority of God's Word. It insisted on strong catechetical training within the congregations.
Immediately after the American Civil War, Pastor Polycarp Henkel, grandson of founding patriarch Paul Henkel, served as pastor of Zion Church, Gravelton, Missouri. The leaders of the Tennessee Synod learned of the existence of the Missouri Synod, a strong confessional synod headed by Dr. Carl F. W. Walther, with headquarters in St. Louis. Tennessee Synod pastors and laymen in Missouri invited Dr. Walther to meet with them. In August of 1872, representatives of the “German Missouri Synod” met with the pastors and congregations of the Tennessee Synod at Zion in Gravelton. Dr. Walther presented sixteen theses that expressed the confession of the Missouri Synod. While the theses were in English, the discussions were conducted both in German and English since the Tennessee Synod members did not speak German. As a result of the meeting "The English Evangelical Lutheran Conference of Missouri" was organized. In 1888 the English Conference of the Tennessee Synod in Missouri was organized as a separate synod, the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri. However, the new English Synod continued attempts to become one organically with "The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States."
Finally in 1911, the English Synod was accepted into the “German Missouri Synod” as a non-geographic synodical district. The “English Synod of Missouri” did not want amalgamation, but it did want to be part of the Missouri Synod because of its confessional and scriptural Lutheran stance.
When the union of the two synods was effected, the sainted Dr. Harry Eckhardt, then President of the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, said, "We come here to join ranks with you and march with you, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, bearing farther and farther, into the world of lost sinners the one saving Gospel, whether it be by means of the German language or the English or any tongue, just so it be the old Gospel. We have been one in faith. Now we are one in organization. May we ever be one and inseparable."
Prior to Dr. Eckhardt, Pastors F. Kuegele, William Dallmann, and Adolph Meyer were Presidents of the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri. When the English District was established, Dr. Harry Eckhardt was elected its first President. This District has continued to the present day.
There are English District congregations in one Canadian province and in 21 U.S. states, from Naples, Florida to Minneapolis, from New York to San Diego, from Pembroke, Ontario, Canada to Lincoln, Nebraska, to Arizona, cities and suburbs. English District congregations minister in 29 different languages including: French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Tigrian, Urdu, Amharic, Nuer, and Sign. The English District serves campuses, human care and other types of ministries.
In 1911, there were fifty-three congregations. However, during the life of the English District over five hundred congregations have been members of the Conference/Synod/District. Today, the District numbers 161 congregations, mission starts, and social ministries.
Most of them have been transferred to the geographic districts of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Thirty-three of the oldest and largest congregations were released to form the Southeastern District in 1939. In 1946 another group of congregations was released to form the Montana District. So it has gone through the years.
When the English Synod joined the Missouri Synod, it presented to the Synod two colleges for ministerial education: Concordia College at Conover, North Carolina, and St. John's College at Winfield, Kansas. It also turned over to the Missouri Synod several publications: "The Lutheran Witness", its official magazine; and "The Lutheran Guide", a magazine for youth. The Missouri Synod was given the publishing rights for "The Sunday School Hymnal". The English Synod also turned over to the Missouri Synod the full manuscript for the first English hymnal of the Synod. In 1912 that manuscript became "The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal" which served the Missouri Synod until 1941. The idea for the Church Extension Fund was also generated by the English Synod. The District's program from the beginning has been to provide for pastoral education, to assist congregations in parish education with materials and programs, and to do mission work within the borders of the United States and Canada.
The English District sees itself in the role of the servant. It is a servant to the congregations, servant to other districts, and servant to the entire Synod. The English District seeks to help in situations and circumstances where other districts cannot carry out their goals and need help. For the Synod, we promote our mutual faith, one in purpose and in organization. Where others will not, or can not, we are ready to serve.
What Dr. Eckhardt said in 1911 still holds, "We have been one in faith. May we ever be one and inseparable with Missouri. We are all contending for the same sound Lutheranism for which he (Walther) so unflinchingly stood. We add to all this the old motto of Missouri: Soli Deo Gloria! (To God alone be all glory)."