"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."