Keeping the ship on course

“The programme is called: Maranatha – O Lord, come!” With these words, Chief Apostle Richard Fehr officially assumed office thirty years ago. A look at some of the highlights in the seventeen years he led the New Apostolic Church.

“Arise and let us hasten.” There are few words that characterise the activity of Chief Apostle Richard Fehr better than the first line of this hymn. Richard Fehr, small in stature, but big in heart; strong in faith, but also vulnerable.

During the interview, several months before his death, he was already marked by his illness. He was at peace with himself and his faith, deeply content with his Church, and cheerfully looked into the day. If the questions became too serious he smiled them away, as though he wanted to say: “That’s not really all that important.”

He had come a long way. Hardly anyone who experienced his first service as Chief Apostle on 22 May 1988 has forgotten his motto: “Maranatha”. When you watch the video clip, you want to jump up and call, “Yes, O Lord, come!” But it startles one to hear him say, “Whoever aspires after high goals …”, even in retrospect. He knew already then what all he would have to deal with.

Walking through an open door

It is undoubtedly the fate of great reformers that they have to deal with low blows from all sides as well as setbacks: from the die-hards as well as the impatient and progressive modernists. That such attacks hurt, Chief Apostle Fehr occasionally let on, something which was apparent even to church back-benchers during transmission services.

There was no doubt about it, he was a reformer. Of course Chief Apostle Hans Urwyler had opened the door and made way for personal responsibility. But Richard Fehr walked through the door, stating: “Regulations and all these little human rules have made the narrow way even narrower. Now take the hoe and weed out everything that has overgrown the path.”

On a theological level, acknowledging the properly performed baptism of other Christian churches was the mother of all reforms. Many subsequent doctrinal changes were based on this. But this was not the only way Chief Apostle Fehr renewed the Church: he said goodbye to the 144,000 as a fixed number, he specified the power of the keys of the Chief Apostle, he introduced the Guideline “Serving and Leading in the New Apostolic Church” as an objective standard of conduct, and he systematically introduced experts in project groups. These are only some of his many initiatives.

The age of media revolution

Ironically, it was this very man who was publicly attacked like no other before or after him. But this had less to do with his person or his administration than with a media revolution: the advent of the Internet. The downside of this new freedom of expression was—and still is—that critics settled their personal score in public and celebrated it.

But Chief Apostle Fehr refused to be deterred by this. He held course, as he said in his opening service as Chief Apostle: “Whoever aspires after high goals must remain calm at the helm, unaffected by praise or reproach.”

His legacy as teacher and example

“No superficiality when it comes to the gospel.” This is one of those catchy phrases he was known for. And it is one of his legacies which he passed on to his successors, Wilhelm Leber and Jean-Luc Schneider.

Counsellor and advocate, friend and comforter—such attributes can be found in the obituaries following his death in June 2013. But two other terms keep coming up again and again even now: a great teacher and a great role model.

“Enough of all this flattery,” Chief Apostle Fehr would respond in acknowledging such tributes. But there is one thing we can certainly still say: “Thank you!”

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