Pastor William Passavant had no money to care for the many sick people he had taken in. This was a normal state of affairs for the compassionate Lutheran minister. He went out of the house, saying, "The Lord will provide. I am going out to get some money and will be back to dinner." He returned with a man shaking with fever. "The Lord has not sent us money," he said, "but he has sent us one of His people to be cared for."
Whenever William saw a desperate need, he tried to meet it. In the nineteenth century, government charity did not exist on today's scale. Unless the church and private organizations met needs, people suffered. And so, without money, William opened Sunday schools, hospitals, orphanages, immigrant stations, libraries and colleges. He did so without fund-raising appeals or financial gimmicks. He believed that all such methods dishonored God. His work went on during times of great trouble. If the stock market plunged or plague left more people sick and orphaned, he took on more tasks despite fewer hands and smaller contributions.
All day he labored, and late into the night. Then, while others slept, he knelt praying. "What must we do that we may work the work of God?" he asked. "We must believe the declaration of Christ, 'This is the work of God that ye believe on him whom he hath sent'" (John 6:29).
"The church is not merely a sheepfold, but a workshop," he declared. His conviction led him to say, "How necessary, when death robs the child of its natural protector, that the church of the Redeemer should stand in his place."
And yet, people who thought of themselves as Christians harassed him. Some were terrified that they might catch diseases. Others resented him because his godliness showed up their spiritual anemia.
Through it all, William persevered. God rewarded his bold and loving faith with success time and time again. After he died on this day, January 3, 1894, people looked back with amazement at all that he had accomplished. The many institutions that he opened became foundational to the Lutheran Services Organization, the largest church social program in the nation.
Born in Western Pennsylvania, William Passavant studied at Jefferson College before training for the ministry at Gettysburg Seminary. Under the influence of S. Schmucker, he followed the new Lutheranism, but theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth drew him back to a more conservative Lutheranism. As a matter of fact, the Missionary, a monthly periodical that William edited, spread Krauth's theology. William helped found the Pittsburgh Synod.
William was a man who took to heart Christ's teachings and commands. In addition to all his other labors, he pastored in Pittsburgh and edited church magazines that he had founded. But despite his extraordinary faith, his name is almost unknown in the nation to which he contributed so much.
- Gordon, Ernest. A Book of Protestant Saints. Chicago: Moody, 1946.
- "Passavant, William Alfred." Dictionary of American Biography.
- "Passavant, William." Encyclopedia Americana. Chicago: Americana Corp., 1956.
- "William Passavant." http://www.ltsg.edu/sem/dev/lent/passavant.PDF
Last updated June, 2007