He loved to be in the middle of things

The great shepherd’s heart has stopped beating. District Apostle (ret.) Markus Fehlbaum of Switzerland passed away yesterday after a long and serious illness with many ups and downs. As a tribute, here is his portrait once more.

As you stepped into the Fehlbaum’s home, you immediately noticed children’s drawings on the walls in the stairwell. And in the couple’s flat there were Bibles everywhere—in various languages. Both tell a story.

By nature, Markus Fehlbaum was a technician. Born in September 1951, he qualified as a civil engineer and became a surveyor—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 was anything but a technocrat. His church career began in 1971 as a Sub-deacon. In 1983 he was ordained as a Shepherd. In 2004 he became a District Evangelist. Already at that time, the focus was 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 loved to be in the middle of things: even in concerts, which he was the host of, he would sit in the middle of the audience instead of in the front row. In pictures that show him with members one found him right in the middle of the brothers and sisters. His favourite spot was always in the middle of a crowd, his face beaming.

It was with children that he experienced his most moving divine service: looking into the eyes of children in an orphanage in Romania. On this and the subsequent visit they stole his heart. He would never forget them, neither that night nor in subsequent charity drives.

He was also in the middle of the new world of social media: hardly any other District Apostle was as active on Facebook as he was. There too he was himself. He did not present a neatly polished image of himself, but was a person like you and me.

Hardworking, flexible, and an early bird

He was full of ideas. Sometimes they gushed out of him at half past four in the morning in an email. District Apostle Fehlbaum was not only an early bird but also a real workhorse. And he could be as flexible as he was creative.

It could happen that he forgot his passport on trips abroad. But his ability to improvise stood him in good stead in such situations. In fact, he managed to pass through all airport checkpoints with just 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 in Washington were just a little surprised when a Swiss walked to the altar to serve in Spanish: Markus Fehlbaum travelled extensively in Spain and Italy already as a District Evangelist. Soon he was able to conduct divine services in both languages, in addition to German, French, and Romanian.

One of his fundamental traits helped him in his active time in ministry: his search for consensus. This is not to say that he dodged conflicts, but his big shepherd’s heart always doggedly sought a solution so that all were content.

His voice has now fallen silent. All those who wish to pay their last respects are cordially invited to do so in an online service on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 at 2 p.m. (CEST) by the New Apostolic Church Switzerland. The website of the New Apostolic Church nak.org will publish a report on the reactions of the Church leadership to his death.

Photo: Jonas Spengler

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Andreas Rother