Feast of William Passavant (January 3)   4 comments

Passavant

Above:  William Alfred Passavant, Sr.

Image in the Public Domain

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WILLIAM ALFRED PASSAVANT, SR. (OCTOBER 9, 1821-JANUARY 3, 1894)

U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND EVANGELIST

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the service book-hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, lists William Passavant as a saint, sharing the feast day of November 24 with fellow pastors Justus Falckner (died in 1723) and Jehu Jones (died in 1852).  However, my denomination, The Episcopal Church, celebrates Passavant’s life on January 3, without Falckner and Jones.  I choose to follow the lead of my church as it has expressed itself in Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010).

Holy Women, Holy Men (2010) lists Passavant as a “Prophetic Witness.”  That description is succinct and accurate yet too vague.  Our saint, an ardent evangelist, laid and helped to lay the foundations of Lutheran synods in Canada and in the Midwest and the West of the United States.  His influence in this realm was both direct and indirect.  He also founded hospitals and orphanages, homes for epileptics, and homes for elderly people.  He raised funds for the support of these institutions of mercy and encouraged the founding of other such institutions.  Passavant proved instrumental in bringing the order of deaconesses, revived among German Lutherans in the 1800s, to the United States.  (Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe, a Bavarian Lutheran minister, whose feast day is January 2, also worked on that aspect of church work in the 1800s.)  Deaconesses worked in institutions of mercy.  And our saint founded and helped to found educational institutions.

William Alfred Passavant, born at Zelienople, Pennsylvania, on October 9, 1821, was a son of Fredericka Wilhemina Basse Passavant and Philippe Louis Passavant, a merchant.  Our saint grew up in a pious Lutheran family with his parents and siblings.  He attended Jefferson College, Canonsburg, Pennyslvania, before preparing for the ordained ministry at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennyslvania and Adjacent States, or the Ministerium of Pennyslvania for short, licensed Passavant to preach in 1842 and ordained him during the following year.

Our saint spent two years (1842-1844) at Luther Chapel, Baltimore, Maryland.  During that time he edited the Lutheran Almanac, completed Hymns, Selected and Original, for Sunday Schools of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and fell in love.  Eliza Walter (1823-1906) married Passavant in 1845, after he had relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to become pastor of the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church.  The couple had five children:

  1. Philip (1846-1847),
  2. Virginia (1849-1858),
  3. Frank H. (1856-1967),
  4. William Alfred, Jr. (1857-1901), and
  5. Dettmer L. (1859-1932).

united-lutheran-church-in-america

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

At Pittsburgh Passavant began to make his greatest contributions to the Lutheran Church.  In 1845 he organized the Pittsburgh Synod, known as the “missionary synod.”  From Pittsburgh missionaries fanned out across Canada and the U.S. Midwest and West.  The Pittsburgh Synod, part of the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the U.S.A. (1820-1918) from 1853 to 1864,  helped to found the more conservative General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (1867-1918).  The Pittsburgh Synod divided in 1867, with the older body remaining an affiliate of the General Council and the second Pittsburgh Synod joining the General Synod.  Over time the General Synod became more conservative and the General Council shifted to the left.  The two federations moved toward each other.  Reunion in 1918 meant that the new United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962) had two Pittsburgh Synods, which merged in 1919.

The missionary legacy of Passavant’s Pittsburgh Synod is impressive.  That legacy includes the Texas Synod (1851), the the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Minnesota and Other States (1860), the Canada Synod (1861), the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the Northwest (1891), and the Nova Scotia Synod (1903).  The Minnesota Synod (1860), now part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, grew out of a scouting mission to St. Paul, Minnesota.  Passavant was interested in starting English-language congregations, for many English-speaking Lutherans who moved westward could not find any linguistically compatible Lutheran congregation.  Other denominations were gaining members because of this fact.  Passavant realized the necessity for German-language missions also, so he enlisted the aid of “Father” John Christian Frederick Heyer (1893-1873), who had served as a missionary in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana (1820-1840) and India (1842-1845 and 1847-1857).  Heyer founded the Minnesota Synod (1860).  English-language missions of the General Council also took root, becoming the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the Northwest (1891).  The General Council’s Pacific Synod branched off from the Synod of the Northwest in 1901.

Passavant was also helpful to the Swedish and Norwegian immigrants who founded the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod, later simply the Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod, in 1860.  (The Norwegians broke away in 1870.)  He, as the editor of The Missionary (1848-1861), encouraged his readers to support Swedish immigrant congregations financially in the 1850s.  Passavant also facilitated a speaking tour for Pastor Lars Paul Erbjorn (1808-1870), leader of those immigrants, to raise funds for the new churches.  Our saint continued to have a relationship with these congregations after they left the General Synod’s Synod of Northern Illinois (founded in 1851) and started the Augustana Synod in 1860.  He encouraged the new Augustana Synod to found orphanages.  They followed his advice, starting in 1865.

Related to missionary work was education.  Passavant helped to found Thiel Collge, Greenville, Pennyslvania, in 1869.  He also helped to found Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois, in 1891.  Our saint understood the importance of having an English-language seminary to supply ministers for English-speaking congregations in the Midwest and the West.  The presence of the English Synod of the Northwest (also founded in 1891) and the new seminary in Chicago alarmed many in the Augustana Synod, also a member of the General Council.  Were the new English-language synod and seminary competing with the Augustana Synod on its turf?  Or were these Swedish Americans unduly sensitive?  Regardless of the answers to these questions, Passavant was prescient.

Passavant was active in the related fields of institutions of mercy and the revived order of deaconesses.  He founded hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged, and homes for epileptics from 1849 to 1871 and raised more than $1 million for their support.  Those who were less fortunate deserved the best of care, our saint affirmed.  This man, who founded more such institutions than any other Lutheran in the United States, started the first Protestant hospital (at Pittsburgh, in 1849) and the oldest Protestant orphanage in continuous existence (also at Pittsburgh, in 1852) in the United States.  Among the workers in these institutions of mercy were deaconesses, heirs to an ancient Christian order historically stronger in the Eastern Orthodox Church than in Western Christianity.  Pastor Theodor Fliedner (1800-1864) had renewed the order among German Lutherans.  He and four deaconesses came to America in 1849, having accepted Passavant’s invitation.  Fliedner toured the United States then returned home.  The deaconesses worked in the new Lutheran hospital at Pittsburgh.  The following year our saint consecrated the first American deaconess of the new Institution of Protestant Deaconesses.  That institution experienced slow growth through the early 1890s, for there were only twelve American deaconesses through 1891.  Nevertheless, the deaconess movement in U.S. Lutheranism grew elsewhere during that time.  The Ministerium of Pennsylvania established its deaconess motherhouse at Philadelphia in 1887.  Also, the deaconess movement in U.S. Norwegian Lutheranism began in 1883.  The Passavant portion of the deaconess movement gained new life in 1893, with the founding of the motherhouse at Milwaukee.

These “inner missions,” Passavant wrote in 1848, were just as important as formal education, Sunday School, catechesis, and good liturgy.  Church members, he wrote, had temporal needs.  Fulfilling them was a sacred task, one which William Alfred Passavant, Jr. (1857-1901), also a Lutheran minister, fulfilled.  Our saint’s son also founded institutions of mercy and was active in the deaconess movement.  The younger Passavant, who served as the General Superintendent of Home Missions for the General Council, died of apoplexy in 1901.  He was 44 years old.

Our saint, a vocal opponent of slavery before and during the Civil War, and a U.S. Army Chaplain during that conflict, lived according to a strong moral compass.  He encouraged faith-based good works and confessional Lutheran doctrine as editor of The Workman, of which William, Jr., was a publisher, from 1881 to his death in 1894.  In late December 1893 Passavant, Sr., attended the funeral of a fellow minister in Milwaukee.  There he came down with a severe cold.  A week later our saint died in Pittsburgh.  He was 72 years old.

His legacy continues, however.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KARL OTTO EBERHARDT, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER

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Compassionate God, we thank you for William Passavant,

who brought the German deaconess movement to America so that

dedicated women might assist him in founding orphanages and hospitals for those in need

and provide for the theological education of future ministers.

Inspire us by his example, that we may be tireless to address

the wants of all who are sick and friendless;

through Jesus the divine Physician, who has prepared for us an eternal home,

and who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Isaiah 29:17-24

Psalm 147:1-7

Revelation 3:14-22

Luke 13:10-22

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 155

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