Doggedly harmonious – the heart of a shepherd
He is easily underestimated. But if you bother to look a second time, you will clearly recognise the spiritual leader and a big heart. District Apostle Markus Fehlbaum is retiring this weekend.
As you enter the Fehlbaum’s home, you immediately notice children’s drawings on the walls in the stairwell. And in the couple’s flat there are Bibles everywhere—in various languages. Both tell a story.
By nature, Markus Fehlbaum is a technician. Born in September 1951, father of two children, grandfather twice over, surveyor, civil engineer—and as such a specialist for road construction. First he worked for the city of Bienne, then for the canton of Berne, and finally for the corresponding federal agency in Switzerland.
As a District Apostle, however, he is anything but a technocrat. His church career began in 1971 with the ministry of Sub-deacon. In 1983 he was ordained as a Shepherd. In 2004 he became a District Evangelist. Already at that time, the focus is on him as a possible successor to District Apostle Armin Studer. And then things went very fast: Bishop in 2006, Apostle in 2007, District Apostle in 2008.
In the middle of his flock
He loves to be in the middle of things: even in a concert of which he is the host, he will sit right among the audience instead of in the first row. And in pictures that show him with members you will find him right in the middle. For the chronicler, it is hard to come up with a classic portrait of him. His favourite spot is right in the middle of a crowd, his face beaming.
Markus Fehlbaum has a soft spot for children and young people: for his retirement from active ministry he has asked for the contribution by a junior choir. And it was because of children that he experienced his most moving divine service: standing at the altar and looking into the eyes of children from an orphanage in Romania. On this and the subsequent visit they stole his heart. He would never forget them, neither that night nor in later charity drives.
He is also in the middle of the new world of social media: hardly any other District Apostle is as active on Facebook as he is—sometimes in ways that a PR professional would not necessarily recommend. But that does not bother him in the least. Even there he is himself. He does not present a neatly polished image of himself, but his natural profile—a person like you and me.
Hardworking, flexible, and an early bird
He is full of ideas. Sometimes they gush out of him at half past four in the morning in an email. District Apostle Fehlbaum is not only an early bird but also a real workhorse. And he can be as flexible as he is creative, which demands a lot from his staff in order to be able to keep up with the boss.
He is neither a stickler for principles nor is he particularly pedantic when it comes to being organised. He has been known to forget his passport on trips abroad. But his ability to improvise stands him in good stead in such situations. In fact, he managed to pass through all airport checkpoints with his driving licence.
A gift for languages and missionary zeal
In the USA, a Spanish contribution in a divine service is nothing unusual. But people were just a little surprised when the Chief Apostle called on a Swiss to assist in Spanish in the Pentecost service in Washington: Markus Fehlbaum worked in Spain and Italy already during his time as a District Evangelist.
Today, he is able to conduct divine services in both languages— in addition to German, French, and Romanian. Proclaiming the gospel is not a burden for him, but a joyful mission.
A cosmopolitan outlook and missionary zeal—these are two traits which have made it possible for him to open a door for the New Apostolic Church in Cuba: after decades, divine services are now officially possible there.
One of his fundamental traits helped him in achieving this: his search for consensus. This is not to say that he dodges conflicts, but his big shepherd’s heart always doggedly seeks a solution so that all are content.