From street child to founding father

Many contributed to the development of the Church by preaching or doing soul care, but Apostle John Erb also laid the legal foundations for the New Apostolic Church in the United States. John Erb was born 140 years ago to the day. He had his share of ups and downs in life.

John Erb was born in Volhynia in Poland, which is part of Russia today. His parents were of German origin. He was only six months old when his mother died. His father had great difficulty in caring for the small family on account of the hard economic times. When John was twelve years old, he left home to live on the streets.

A Bible as companion

But fate meant well with him. John Erb was taken in by an officer of the Fifth Don Cossack Regiment, where he grew up as a foster child. At the age of 18, John joined the regiment. His first leave took him to the United States of America to visit his sister in New York. Since he did not have money for the return trip, he ended up being stranded in America. Again he had to see about making ends meet. For five years, hunger was his daily companion before he finally managed to find a job.

During this time, the young man spent a lot of time reading in the Bible his father had given him when he had left home. Sometime around the turn of the century, John Erb came into contact with the New Apostolic Church, which was then registered under the name First General Apostolic Church, which had originally been founded in Chicago. The congregation in New York was small. The members were mostly elderly ladies. In November 1899, Apostle Ruff came and sealed 32 people, among them John Erb. He was ordained as a Deacon at the same time.

A crisis of faith

But things were far from easy. Only a few years before, Apostle Heinrich Ferdinand Hoppe—who had been sent to America to establish the Church there—had resigned from his ministry for private reasons. An Evangelist from Germany was posted to America to continue with the work, but the situation did not improve. He met with opposition, which went so far that the congregation dissolved, and the place where they had gathered for services was cleared out and the furniture sold.

At this point, even Deacon Erb began to have his doubts. But he stuck to the vow he had given and continued to write to Chief Apostle Friedrich Krebs. Things began to look up when Evangelist Edward Mierau was sent to America. In April 1901 he was called as an Apostle: the New Apostolic Church in North America had come into being.

Growth and recognition

John Erb was a keen and eager worker and helped Apostle Mierau where he could. He was ordained as a Priest for the congregation in Brooklyn. Later, he was ordained as an Elder for the District of Buffalo. Only a few months after his wedding in 1906, he became very ill. He lost a kidney and regained his health only very slowly. Only five years later—and after a treatment in Germany—could he resume his work of establishing the Church in America. By then he was in the Chicago district.

When Edward Mierau fell ill and went into retirement, John Erb succeeded him in 1924 as District Apostle for North America. Under his ministration, the Church in the United States grew. By the time he went into retirement, the Church had grown from 28 to 61 congregations and 11 missions. Apostle Erb was also 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, then, the Churches in the individual States were incorporated into a national body.

On 22 October 1942—five years after his beloved wife’s death—Apostle Erb passed away. The funeral was held by the later District Apostle John P. Fendt. He used a Bible text from the second letter of Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Captions: Apostle John Erb (2nd row, 3rd from the right). Apostles ’ conference in Bielefeld in the year 1926 Apostle John Erb (left) at the home of Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus (right) and his wife, Johanne 1938: Apostle John Erb at his desk Apostle John Erb

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Andreas Rother, Alfred Krempf
North America, USA, District Apostle, People/Personalities, Institution