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Menlo Park: Presbyterian Pastor Walt Gerber dies at 79

 

"The ultimate heresy is making God boring."

– Pastor Walt Gerber, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

Walt Gerber, who presided as senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church – now called Menlo Church – for 28 years before retiring in 2002, died on April 4 at age 79.

During his 28-year tenure at the church, the number of church attendees grew from from approximately 2,000 to 5,500, according to previous reporting by the Almanac. He is credited with expanding the church's missionary initiatives and broadening outreach to single or divorced people and younger families.

The Rev. Gerber originally wanted to be a veterinarian before deciding to pursue ministry as a senior at Occidental College, according to his wife, Metta Gerber. He later graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey and the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

He would spend the next 15 years in ministry in Southern California, working eight years in San Gabriel and Redondo before serving as senior pastor to the First Presbyterian Church in Malibu for seven years. In Malibu, the number of congregants grew from 75 to 700.

He came to Menlo Park in 1974, at age 37, to become the senior pastor at the church.

When he arrived in Northern California, he didn't feel like he fit in at first, he said in a 2002 Almanac interview. His more relaxed, beach-going and skateboarding personality, and noisier, more contemporary style of worship seemed out of place. After six months, he almost went back to Malibu, but ultimately decided to stay in Menlo Park.

Throughout his ministry work, said his wife, Metta Gerber, he crafted a legacy of demonstrating "his love for people, his passion for demonstrating God's grace, and his belief in the power of prayer."

The Rev. Gerber's family, friends and parishioners remember him widely for his sense of humor. One of the church's members, Stephanie Kirtland, said the Rev. Gerber "presented his God as he knew Him: full of love, grace, kindness – and fun," she said.

One of the Rev. Gerber's biggest messages, according to an email by the Rev. John Ortberg, the church's current senior pastor, was, "The church is not a museum for saints, it is a hospital for sinners."

Another topic he preached about was the "joy and love and grace of God," said Associate Pastor Frank VanderZwan, who was mentored by the Rev. Gerber.

"Walt helped me experience Jesus in a way that was so richly and authentically congruent with how Jesus comes across in the Bible," said Menlo Park church member Michael Dittmar.

The Rev. Gerber especially affected people through his one-on-one interactions and as a committed mentor, said his son Paul Gerber, a Menlo Park pediatric dentist. "He just connected with people in a way that was remarkably deep in a remarkably short period of time," he said.

After he retired in 2002, Mr. Gerber said, "He spent retirement focused on family, trying to laugh and play as much as his health would let him."

He liked cars, motorcycles, and visiting places like Catalina Island, Balboa Island, Oregon and Lake Tahoe, said Metta Gerber.

The Rev. Gerber suffered from vascular dementia, and struggled with the loss of his mobility and the ability to exercise over the last five or six years of his life, but never complained, Paul Gerber said. Instead, he'd repeat another of his core beliefs: "The best is yet to come."

Six weeks before he died, he moved into Silverado Belmont Hills, a memory care facility in Belmont. He died surrounded by friends and family at Stanford Hospital.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Marilyn. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Metta Shields Gerber, his children Dan (Susana) Gerber, Tara (Dave) Brees, Leslie Luff, John (Joan) Gerber, and Paul (Tammy) Gerber, and his grandchildren Tristan Gerber, Matthew and Benjamin Brees, Megan and John Luff, Rachel and Sara Gerber, and Emily and Peter Gerber.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at Menlo Church, 950 Santa Cruz Ave.

To honor his life and ministry, the family asks that any memorial contributions be made to a fund established in his name. Please make checks payable to: "Fuller Theological Seminary" with 'Walt Gerber Doctor of Ministry Scholarship" in the memo line. Mail donations to Fuller Theological Seminary, Office of Development, 135 North Oakland Ave., Pasadena, CA 91182. Donations may also be made online at fuller.edu/giving under "make a gift." For designations check "other" and type into the comments section "Walt Gerber Doctor of Ministry Scholarship."

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by John M. Loria
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Presbyterian Pastor Walt Gerber, who died at 79, was an amazing human communicator.
In 1999, I attended the morning service after being absentee to any services of Menlo Church for few years. When I heard Pastor Gerber, by attitude started to change.
I was confused as I was divorced and in a legal battle for child custody.
When I heard pastor Gerber saying, " By giving, you will be more profitable than receiving!" I gave him a false smile, thinking that it was a poaching cliche.
Nevertheless, in time, I was thinking and thinking about that preaching statement until I found the truth. Walt, May god bless you so much for giving your all life to
all of us at Menlo church. indeed, i found out that you were right. Million of people don't realize that by giving to others, they are giving to themselves.
one day I dropped a $5.00 and the mother told her 10 year old boy to give back to
me. I was so impressed and heart touched about the honesty of the little boy that
I gave the five dollars back to him. the mother was hesitant but I convinced her to give the money to the little as a symbol of honesty.
Well, you would not believe it! few hours later while I was crossing the street,
I saw a $5.00 bill laying on the ground. I was shocked!
I remembered what pastor Gerber said was real!!!

I in the name of all Christians, I thank you for given your life to God!
John M. Loria.


1 person likes this
Posted by MPPC Parisioner
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 9:19 am

I had the opportunity to attend Walt Gerber's memorial service and it was beautiful just as I remember Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). I had just been reminiscing about the profound preaching that I used to witness at MPPC and was wishing I could experience it again and the memorial service was all that and more. All I can say is Wow God is great! Walt was an incredible pastor and intuitive preacher who somehow always knew what to say to each individual and it was always bible based. I feel that I was very fortunate to have had found Walt and MPPC in 1995. When he retired the loss was felt and again in his passing it's our loss as Walt once again leaves.


3 people like this
Posted by MPPC Parisioner
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 15, 2016 at 9:19 am

I had the opportunity to attend Walt Gerber's memorial service and it was beautiful just as I remember Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). I had just been reminiscing about the profound preaching that I used to witness at MPPC and was wishing I could experience it again and the memorial service was all that and more. All I can say is Wow God is great! Walt was an incredible pastor and intuitive preacher who somehow always knew what to say to each individual and it was always bible based. I feel that I was very fortunate to have had found Walt and MPPC in 1995. When he retired the loss was felt and again in his passing it's our loss as Walt once again leaves.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Mwaniki
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Oct 23, 2016 at 10:24 am

RIP Rev.Walt Gerber, I recall Rev. Gerber at one time commenting on the song "This world is not my home I'm just passing through". He emphatically said "This world is YOUR home",do what God meant you to do here. I was also surprised- we once sang Cat Stevens song - "Morning Has Broken" all during the main worship at the sanctuary.

I wish I could have been there to bid farewell to Rev. Gerber who influenced me to worship at MPPC for more than three decades, baptized my kids, and made MPPC a spiritual home for so many, opened MPPC for so many innovations: missions, domestic and overseas, Praise & worship cafe, kid's Thursday evening kickback, what do young men & women do on Saturday nights? districts worships ... all these were beneficiaries of Rev. Walt Gerber clear and forward thinking.

We shall miss you Rev. Gerber, you'll be kindly treated as you kindly treated us. To Rev. Gerber family remain with all that strength and goodness that was Rev. Walt Gerber.
God keep and bless you.

To good friends I'm now back to Kenya, drop me an email when you plan to be in Kenya. I was very embarrassed when Rev. Ben recounted how one Christmas he was very lonely on the streets of Nairobi, and to make it worse, he got mugged, there are many Presbyterians in Nairobi, I would never want to hear any memeber of MPPC going through this again.

Your work and that of Rev. Gerber shines brightly in Kenya, I'm very proud of MPPC and of having been associated with you.

God bless you & continue to guide you.


2 people like this
Posted by randy albin
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2017 at 2:52 pm

walt was really great. may God let him enjoy heaven


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on Jul 30, 2017 at 11:33 am

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a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Sep 21, 2017 at 12:45 am

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