Rev. A. W. Tozer

Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Theologian, lecturer, and writer Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897–1963), a preacher known as a twentieth-century prophet to millions of followers by more than forty books, including Christian classics The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy, was born in La Jose, later renamed Newburg, a farming hamlet in western Clearfield County, twenty-two miles southeast of the county seat of Clearfield. Because of his father’s chronic illness, Tozer, the third of six children, left school after the sixth grade to help support the family. While in his teens, Tozer and his family moved to Akron, Ohio, where he found work at the Goodrich Tire Company. When asked by one of his new neighbors if he was Christian, the young Tozer replied, “I don’t know but I’ll think about it.”

Walking home from work one day in 1914, the teenage Tozer lingered to listen to an elderly street preacher who had attracted a crowd. “If you don’t know how to be saved,” he exhorted, “just call on God.” Struck by these words, Tozer continued home, secreted himself in the attic, and ruminated for several hours. He emerged forever changed.

He sought solitude in the basement of the family home where he sat for several hours each day reading the Bible and praying. He began attending a local church where he met Ada Cecelia Pfautz, whom he married in 1918. Eschewing material goods, the couple — parents of seven children — did not own an automobile and traveled by bus and train.

Tozer took to street preaching and in 1919, five years after his conversion and without formal theological training, accepted the pastorship of a small storefront church in Nutter Fort, West Virginia, as a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Formed as a cross-denominational missions society in the 1880s, the Christian and Missionary Alliance evolved into a world evangelizational movement in the early twentieth century and became an evangelical missions and church-planting denomination in 1974. There are more than two thousand Alliance churches in the United States today.

In 1928, Tozer transferred to the Southside Alliance Church in Chicago, where he remained for thirty-one years, until 1959, during which the congregation grew from eighty to eight hundred members. While in Chicago, he broadcast a weekly program Talk From a Pastor’s Study on the Moody Bible Institute’s radio station WMBI. In 1958, he was elected editor of the Alliance Weekly, now Alliance Life, the official publication of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a position he held until his death. Under his leadership the magazine’s circulation doubled.

In 1959, Tozer moved to Toronto, Canada, where he served as pastor of the Avenue Road Church. In his final years he believed the church was on a perilous course toward compromising with “worldly” concerns. He died of a heart attack on April 12, 1963, and was interred in Ellet Cemetery, Akron, Ohio. His grave is marked with a simple headstone bearing the inscription “A. W. Tozer – A Man of God.”

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) installed a state historical marker commemorating Tozer in 2007 near the entrance of the Mehaffey Camp Summer Bible Conference, several miles north of the theologian’s birthplace, in Clearfield County, where he was a featured speaker in the 1940s and 1950s. PHMC is observing “William Penn’s Legacy: Religious and Spiritual Diversity” as its annual theme for 2011.