Development work—between pastoral care and bookkeeping

They were both tireless workers: but one was more of a caregiver, while the other was more of an organizer. And in the next few days, their birthdays will come around for the 150th time. Following is a look back on the activity of District Apostles Wilhelm Oehlmann and Martin Lax in the regions that are now part of Eastern Germany, Poland, and Russia.

Photo from the year 1924 (first row, from left): District Apostle Lax, Chief Apostle Niehaus, the Oehlmanns, and Chief Apostle Helper Bischoff


The two District Apostles even had the same predecessor in ministry: Ernst Traugott Hallmann. However, he had preceded them in two different regions: Wilhelm Oehlmann assumed the care of East Prussia when District Apostle Hallmann was sent away to Berlin, whereas Martin Lax took on the lead ministry after the latter's death.

Setbacks and new beginnings: Wilhelm Oehlmann

Wilhelm Oehlmann was born on 6 April 1865 in Darlingerode/Harz in very poor circumstances. Since he had a strong constitution, he already had to help along in providing for the large family at an early age. His creativity suffered a sudden slump owing to a serious accident and several months' stay in a clinic. Although it was there that He occupied himself with the New Apostolic faith, with which he had become acquainted in a number of divine services, his professional life suppressed these thoughts following his recovery.

But fate struck him a repeated blow when he moved to Berlin in search of work. Once again he was the victim of a serious accident, and once again he was confined to hospital for months. But this time, his preoccupation with faith led him into the New Apostolic community. In 1888 Wilhelm Oehlmann was sealed, and two years later he received his first Church ministry as a Sub-deacon. He went to work with great dedication. In 1905, Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus ordained him as a District Apostle for the newly established working area of Königsberg.

Minister and helper in need

Here too his joyful commitment had its effect: after three years, the number of congregations had more than doubled. Then the First World War spread its misery over East Prussia. Many of the members lost loved ones or were forced to flee enemy troops. Dozens of churches were destroyed. It was then that the strengths of Wilhelm Oehlmann as a minister and helper in need really began to show. He accommodated and cared for refugees, and provided care to prisoners of war in far distant camps. And he wasted no time in getting to work on reconstruction efforts.

When he was ordained a District Apostle, he had assumed the care of less than 2,000 members in eighteen congregations. But his working area numbered more than 21,000 souls and 150 congregations when he died on 8 February 1937 after a brief but serious illness. Owing to his gentle nature and devoted care, the members considered Wilhelm Oehlmann to be the epitome of love.

Enthusiastic and competent: Martin Lax

Martin Lax was born on 7 April 1865—in Drewitz, a small village in the vicinity of Spreewald forest. His childhood was likewise characterized by poverty and need. It was also for this reason that he was at first unable to attain his dream profession, but he made up for what he lacked after performing his military service: in Berlin he pursued a career in commerce and worked his way up to a high position. Chief Apostle Niehaus made use of this expertise in building up the administrative structures: Martin Lax assumed the accounting and bookkeeping duties of the Apostle district of Berlin, and later took on the office management of the International Apostles' College.

Martin Lax had become New Apostolic prior to that: his wife had attended some divine services and was very enthused by them. At first he did not think too much of this, but for her sake he decided to attend church with her on Christmas 1889. This was the start of an intimate life of faith. He was sealed only a few months later and, still in the year 1890, was entrusted with the ministry of a Sub-deacon. With fiery zeal he told acquaintances, neighbours, and colleagues of what he had discovered.

The starting beat of a choral academy

Martin Lax at first supported Apostle Hallmann as an Apostle Helper as of 1919, but later took over his role as District Apostle after the latter died in 1923. Over the course of time, his working area came to incorporate not only the region of Berlin, but also Brandenburg, Pomerania, and parts of Mecklenburg. He restructured Elder districts and moved the divine services from members' backyards into newly constructed church buildings. He was not granted a long stay in ministry, however: in 1934 he resigned this task owing to a serious illness, to which he surrendered on 27 April 1935.

One of his most enduring legacies is the Berlin "choral academy": with the goal of unifying the music structure, District Apostle Lax convened choir leader meetings, from which a collective practice choir later emerged. Some 500 singers took part in the first choir practice. With the support of the professional musician Emanuel Gohle and the composer Max Hölting, this eventually resulted in the so-called "Unity binder" and the annual singers' festival. To this day, the Berlin choral academy still gives regular performances.

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Andreas Rother, Alfred Krempf
6.04.2015
District Apostle, People/Personalities