World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Press centre / News / Kobus Gerber, South African ecumenical leader, passes away at 69

Kobus Gerber, South African ecumenical leader, passes away at 69

Kobus Gerber, South African ecumenical leader, passes away at 69

Photo: Die Kerkbode

12 August 2020

Dr Kobus Gerber, the first general secretary of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, passed away in the early hours of 6 August, following heart surgery.

Expressing heartfelt condolences to the family and the church, Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, interim general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), highlighted how Gerber placed high importance on integrity and ecumenical unity.

“We thank God for his life and ministry, always committed to the importance of conciliar fellowship as an expression of the churches’ response to Christ’s call for unity. We honour the role he played in bringing the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa back to this unity,” said Sauca.

Gerber, who served as general secretary from 2005 to 2015, is credited particularly for the role he played in leading the process of reintegration of the Dutch Reformed Church into various ecumenical bodies. This included being accepted as a member of World Council of Churches in 2016, the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Gerber served on the leadership of World Communion of Reformed Churches and the South African Council of Churches.

The Dutch Reformed Church was present at the Amsterdam Assembly in 1948 when the WCC was founded. The church broke its relationship with WCC in the 1960s, due to harsh criticism from the ecumenical fellowship on its involvement in and support of apartheid. Beginning in 1986, the Dutch Reformed Church rejected all forms of racism and opened its membership to all believers.

The Dutch Reformed Church was readmitted in the confessional family of  the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1998 and became, for the first time, a member of the All Africa Conference of Churches in 2012, as well as a member of the South African Council of Churches.

Gerber often expressed that the many years where the Dutch Reformed Church was separated from the ecumenical body was a source of pain.

He led the process of the readmission to the WCC starting in 2012. In the letter that accompanied the application for readmission, Gerber motivated the application of his church as follows: “We apply because we believe that after 51 years since we left we have so transformed that we can take our seat with integrity in the family of WCC.”

WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri received the news with great sadness. “Dr Gerber was a strong believer in ecumenism at a local and national level. May his soul rest in peace,” said Phiri.

Dr Andre Bartlett, moderator of the Highveld Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, who served with Gerber in various leadership structures, commented: “I could always confidently approach him for advice and guidance.  He played a significant role in guiding the Dutch Reformed Church in innovative thinking around many important issues and he represented the church with distinction in various international ecumenical bodies.”

Gerber is remembered for his warmth and his deep convictions about church unity. He is survived by his wife, Marti and daughter, Cari.

Tribute to Dr Gerber on the website of the Dutch Reformed Church (in Africans)

WCC member churches in South Africa