Where divine services became a motion picture

This year’s Pentecost festivities will take place in the United States. Historically, the New Apostolic Church in the US goes back almost as far as its European roots. Technically, the District Church was instrumental in making video transmissions a firm establishment around the world.

The New Apostolic Church in the United States goes back to 1864. Shortly after the break with the Catholic Apostolic Church, the prophet Heinrich Geyer called four further Apostles, including Heinrich Ferdinand Hoppe, who was assigned to work specifically in North America. He only went there in 1872.

He was sent on the express wish of Jakob Westphalen, who had immigrated to Chicago in 1866 and had gathered a small group of believers around him. First General Apostolic Church was the name of the small denomination with its fifty members, which Apostle Hoppe and Priest Westphalen looked after.

A division and a new start

In the ensuing decade there was a division, which historians evaluated differently. Some saw Apostle Hoppe—despite support from the members—in persistent economic difficulties, as a result of which he left the Church and found work as a pastor for a Free Church in New York. Others put this down to the division in the apostolic movement in Germany. Apostle Hoppe chose to side with the prophet Geyer and against the nascent New Apostolic Church.

Only in 1901 did North America receive another Apostle. The ordination of Friedrich Mierau is considered the actual birth of the New Apostolic Church in the USA. During his time, the New Apostolic teaching spread from the east coast of the country to the Great Lakes region right to the west coast—mostly driven by immigrants or families of German descent.

Official recognition as a church

When Apostle Mierau became seriously ill, John Erb was appointed as his successor in 1924. He was instrumental in advancing the official recognition of the New Apostolic Church in the USA. The registration went ahead state by state. In the year 1932, the Churches in the individual states were incorporated into a national body.

The periods that followed under his successors were very different in nature. Under John P. Fendt (from 1944) the emphasis was on the home mission, and the Church grew particularly within the United States. Under the two Canadians, Michael Kraus (from 1966) and Erwin Wagner (from 1994), the focus was on international missionary work. At the time, they looked after nearly five million members.

The first video transmission

The New Apostolic Church USA became independent once more in the year 2000, when Chief Apostle Richard Fehr divided the North American district. District Apostle Richard C. Freund was not only appointed to lead the Church in the United States, but was also given the responsibility for 37 additional countries—among them several countries in East Africa, which became autonomous in 2009. District Apostle Leonard R. Kolb has been leading the District Church USA since 2008, which includes regions in Central America and in the Caribbean.

When the Pentecost service is celebrated by Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider this coming Sunday and transmitted to the congregations in North America, the district is following a very long tradition. The first video transmission of a New Apostolic divine service took place in the USA on Easter Sunday in 1980. It was a service with Chief Apostle Hans Urwyler in New York. This is where he got the idea for transmissions, which have become a permanent establishment today.

Photo: Divine service in a cinema – Chief Apostle’s visit in October 1967 in New York (archive Bischoff-Verlag)

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Andreas Rother
North America, USA, Congregational life