His era: one of development and stability
For nearly thirty years, he steered the affairs of the New Apostolic Church in Australia: District Apostle Otto Gerke, who was born 110 years ago. Follow us as we take you back to an eventful period in church history.
Anyone who leafs through the Australia District News will come across the name Otto Gerke again and again, usually in connection with the anniversary of a congregation. In fact, in the time of District Apostle Gerke there was a great deal of growth and expansion in Australia. But this period was preceded by difficult times.
Otto Wilhelm Waldemar Gerke was born on 31 January 1908 in Brunswick in Germany. He was sealed in May that same year. Two years later, his family emigrated to Australia—together with the then Apostle Jakob Dietz. They were in a party of 237 mostly New Apostolic people. Apostle Heinrich Friedrich Niemeyer had organised their emigration.
The Australian schism
While Otto Gerke was growing up there was a schism in the Australian Church. As the eleventh Apostle of the New Apostolic movement, H. F. Niemeyer belonged to that generation of Apostles who worked entirely independent in their working areas. This collided with the leading role of the emerging Chief Apostle ministry.
Apostle Niemeyer separated himself from the unity of the Apostles, as Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus informed the Apostles in a circular in August 1912. The result of the schism was the creation of the Apostolic Church of Queensland. Today the two Churches foster respectful relations, including invitations and visits from the respective leaders on official occasions such as anniversaries.
From Deacon to Apostle
Following the schism, Priest Jakob Dietz—who became an Apostle starting 1926—looked after the few remaining families. In 1928, he ordained Otto Gerke as a Deacon and gave him the commission to establish a congregation in Brisbane. The young man worked closely with the Apostle. For many years, he accompanied the Apostle as an interpreter for his divine services—from German into English.
Starting in 1937, the ailing Apostle Dietz received more help in Arno Abicht, who eventually became his successor. Arno Abicht not only worked as a District Apostle in Australia as of 1947, but he was also responsible for South Africa from 1954 on and even for South America starting in 1957. In 1953 he received some help in Australia, a new Apostle: Otto Wilhelm Waldemar Gerke.
Rebuilding and expansion
When District Apostle Abicht died in 1957 as a result of a road accident, he left his successor a foundation on which it was now time to literally build on. He had motivated the many New Apostolic immigrants to not only settle in the country but also in the cities.
This is how many congregations came to be established in South Australia. But since the death of Apostle Dietz in 1941 no new churches had been built. But District Apostle Gerke was not easily put off by challenges and tackled this in spite of the limited means at his disposal. “Let’s work together and begin to build churches. We will keep the costs as low as possible by doing as much as we can ourselves,” he said to the brothers and sisters, asking them to help.
District Apostle Gerke not only managed to expand the Church in Australia but also outside. In the nearly thirty years that he worked as a District Apostle, his field of work extended to the countries and islands situated all around Australia. Following his retirement in June 1985, Otto Gerke and his wife were able to share another twenty years of well-deserved time together. He passed away in May 2005. The funeral was held by the current District Apostle Andrew Andersen.