“We have not inherited the church from our parents, but have borrowed it from our children.”
Candour is his middle name, and the future of the Church is something very close to his heart. In a week from now, the world’s most senior District Apostle will go into retirement. Who exactly is this Wilfried Klingler?
“What did Daimler offer you?” This was the question put to Wilfried Klingler, manager of quality control at Volkswagen, when he resigned from the company. Born in June 1949 in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany he moved to the state of Lower Saxony to go to university, where he studied mechanical engineering. In 1987, then, he faced the greatest challenge of his life—not as a senior executive in the automobile industry, but as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
“Are you going to leave me alone?” This question was put to him only six years later, when he fought tooth and nail to avoid being ordained a District Apostle and appointed Church President—first for Lower Saxony and then later also for Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony/Thuringia (Germany). It seemed so inappropriate to have someone like him for a task such as this. But the man is passionate about the task at hand. It is something that has to be done.
A man for special cases
District Apostle Klingler, a man for special cases: he was a member of the Committee for Special Affairs just when the topic of Church dropouts was causing a big stir in Germany. He was one of those who smoothed the path for reconciliation with the Apostolische Gemeinschaft (Apostolic Community). And he was head of the Coordination Group, the central committee that is responsible for all work and project groups in the Church, during the tense period when the Catechism, the fundamental work of the Church, was being developed.
He has many gifts that qualify him for such tasks: warmth, articulateness, flexibility, broad interests, a quick analytical mind, and most of all openness and frankness. He has an open mind for the diversity of thought, faith, and life. Uniformity is a horror for him. “We are not chocolate Easter bunny Christians—all pretty and the same on the outside and hollow on the inside,” he likes to say
Creator and reformer
Wilfried Klingler is a creator. Two things in particular helped to contribute to this: the paper on personal responsibility issued by Chief Apostle Hans Urwyler. And the guideline Serving and Leading in the New Apostolic Church published under Chief Apostle Richard Fehr. A year after it was published, Wilfried Klingler initiated a reform process in his district. This was in 2002. Is the Serving and Leading guideline complete? What is still missing? What has to change? These questions were given to youth leaders, rectors, and district leaders in his district. Referring to this process in a divine service, he said, “We need lateral thinkers.”
What began as an organizational process resulted in spiritual development. A vision was created and a ten-point programme developed for the period 2010 to 2014 for the congregations, pointing the way forward. Among the points are: the congregation as the focus, anchor, and motor; Christian leadership based on inner authority rather than formal and external authority; dealing with conflicts and inadequacies in a sincere and kind way. With help from so-called resonance groups this programme is being continued at the base of the Church.
“Honour belongs to God alone!”
Yes, District Apostle Klingler is a reformer who, as only a few others, gave many forward-looking impulses to the Church. This did not please everyone. Sometimes he ended up in a painful balancing act—such as when our new conception of church as published and a wave of criticism arose against it from his own District Church. That leaves scars.
“We have not inherited the church from our parents, but have borrowed it from our children.” This is what drives Wilfried Klingler in his work. But there is something that is even more important for him: faith and rendering the kind of service that puts the focus on Christ. And this is also the theme of the upcoming visit of the Chief Apostle and the District Apostle’s retirement on 19 June 2016: “Honour belongs to God alone!”