The father of personal responsibility

Soft yet firm, someone who blazed the trail and someone who guided others on it, that was Chief Apostle Hans Urwyler. Today he would have turned 90 years of age.

“He put his whole heart into every divine service. You could feel his soul in every line he wrote. His mind grappled with every decision, and every glance and handshake breathed love and warmth,” is how Chief Apostle Richard Fehr characterized his predecessor.

A happy childhood

Hans Samuel Urwyler was born on 20 February 1925 as the first of three boys. The parents were New Apostolic. He described his childhood and youth as loving and beautiful. On completing school he did an apprenticeship as an engine fitter and then trained for a diploma as an automobile technician. Later on, he set up his own business as a merchant.

His received his first ministry, that of a Sub-deacon, in 1949. Other ministries followed before he was ordained as a Bishop in 1969. In 1978 Chief Apostle Ernst Streckeisen entrusted him with the Apostle ministry and appointed him to succeed him as District Apostle of Switzerland. When Chief Apostle Streckeisen passed away unexpectedly during a trip to South Africa, his succession had not been settled. In an extraordinary Apostle Meeting in Zurich on 18 November 1978, Hans Urwyler was elected as the new Chief Apostle.

A trend-setting circular

His time as Chief Apostle is inseparably linked with the notion of personal responsibility. This goes back to a circular from the year 1986 that he addressed to all ministers: “Instructions for the members concerning cohabitation and homosexuality, and the exclusion from Holy Communion connected with this”. In essence, the paper dealt with the question whether members of the Church living together without being married or living in a homosexual relationship, should be denied Holy Communion and whether the Church even had a right to do so.

The answer given in the six-page elaboration was as follows: “The responsibility whether brothers and sisters partake of Holy Communion does not rest with the Chief Apostle, the Apostles, or the ministers; we cannot decide about the worthiness or unworthiness of the members. Rather, the responsibility falls to the individual himself.” This is how the principle of personal responsibility originated in the New Apostolic Church, a principle that has been built on by his successors.

Numerous impulses

Also beyond this Chief Apostle Urwyler gave numerous impulses that led to the development of the Church. He shifted the high point of the church year from New Year’s Day to Pentecost. He saw to it that missionary work was done throughout the world. He instituted Pre-Sunday School for children aged four to six. And following his suggestion, District Apostle Hermann Engelauf (Germany) made contact with the Apostolische Gemeinschaft (Apostolic Community) and set a process in motion that recently reached a historically significant point: both churches signed a Statement of Reconciliation.

When Hans Urwyler assumed the ministry of Chief Apostle, the New Apostolic Church counted some 1.5 million members. When he handed the reins over to his successor, there were 4.5 million members. The many overseas journeys Chief Apostle Urwyler undertook seriously affected his health. In 1987 he had to abort a trip while in Africa. Shortly thereafter he suffered a stroke from which he recovered only slowly. After a second stroke, Hans Urwyler passed away at the age of 69.

A Bible text was his life’s motto. It was something he found in the letter he received at his Confirmation, he read it on a wreath of his predecessor’s funeral, and it was the text that his own funeral service was based on: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20: 6).

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