Piloting the Church through stormy waters

It was like a jump into the deep end: this is how his career as a communicator began—even before he began to work for the Church. Peter Johanning has now retired as media officer.

In the mid 1990s, a wave of criticism had swept over the New Apostolic Church. The buzzwords then were claim to absoluteness and authoritarian practices. The Church was being accused by former members. The accusations made it as far as the television studios and, for example, into a well-known talk show of a tabloid channel. Because of his media experience, Johanning was asked to officially represent the Church there.

An invitation with consequences

The trained journalist remained friendly, calm, and confident as he faced the attacks. This left an impression: he immediately received an invitation to Zurich in Switzerland—and returned home as an employee of the Church. Chief Apostle Richard Fehr had hired a media officer.

Not an easy job: “The Church was still very encapsulated,” remembers the current Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider. “We defended ourselves, we reacted to the attacks. Communication meant stress.”

A scout in the uncharted territory of the internet

Peter Johanning shouldered the mammoth task. He brought Church communication out of the Stone Age and into the present. He relied on the internet early on: the website nak.org, the mother of all NAC websites, was launched back in 1997, a good decade earlier than the news portal from the Church’s actual media company.

This work culminated in the establishment of NACI Communication Services in 2015. The team player, who worked closely with colleagues in the Regional Churches, now had his own team. And the portfolio expanded to include the news website nac.today, the member magazine community, and a whole range of smartphone apps.

Bearing in mind what was good

Johanning took attacks from outside the Church—not infrequently below the belt—professionally. A fatherly friend, psychologist, and his predecessor as District Elder had conditioned him.

Perhaps it was innate or it was acquired during this time, Johanning has an almost indestructible ability: no matter how his counterpart present himself, he only reacts once he has found something good in his counterpart—and he always finds the good in people.

An authority on the Church’s leadership

His capacity to adapt helped him in his work for three Chief Apostles: “Chief Apostle Leber, Chief Apostle Fehr, and with me, too,” said the incumbent Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider recently at the farewell ceremony in Zurich. “This was not so easy, because people are fundamentally different. But we all had complete faith in you.”

Peter Johanning was well connected in the circle of the District Apostles. No wonder, he had been the longest-serving participant in the District Apostles’ Meetings for quite a while. The Church spokesperson knew the ins and outs and could also afford to make a move now and then. In this way, he also found new opportunities for coverage in his new media.

Peter Johanning remains active as a Bishop, as well as in his pioneering ecumenical work. As the pilot of the Church’s communication, he disembarked after 26 years of service. Since the change of leadership in 2013, everyone knows: all brothers and sisters are now Chief Apostle helpers. In this sense, Peter Johanning is still a long way from abdicating.

Photo: Marcel Felde

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Andreas Rother
Personal data, Media, People/Personalities