From the Crystal Cathedral to Costco, he’s a familiar face
July 2, 2004
Ira J. Hadnot
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday July 5, 2004
One of television’s most famous ministers sat behind a wall of books inside the Costco in Plano.
Dr. Robert H. Schuller was almost engulfed by a vast leather chair, near a leather sofa — a makeshift living room in a warehouse of merchandise.
For nearly 35 years, Dr. Schuller has come into America’s living rooms through his Hour of Power, broadcast from the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. (The show airs locally at 6 a.m. on Sundays on WFAA-TV, Channel 8.)
Next year will be his 50th as a minister, but he’s not waiting until then to celebrate.
The 77-year-old preacher was in a festive mood as he held up a copy of his latest book, Hours of Power: My Daily Book of Motivation and Inspiration (HarperSanFranciso, $19.95). “It took me 36 books to write this one,” he said. “Don’t bother about those other books. The best advice in them is condensed right in here.”
In his half-century of ministry, Dr. Schuller has achieved many firsts. In the 1950s, embracing California’s car culture, he opened the world’s first drive-in church, in Orange County. In 1968, he founded the first church-sponsored, 24-hour suicide hotline.
In 1970, he began TV broadcasts from his church. The Hour of Power has since become the longest-running televised church service. According to Trinity Broadcasting Network, the show is carried on more than 200 stations in the United States and Canada, reaching an audience of more than 30 million.
In an interview, Dr. Schuller reflected on his years of service in the Reformed Church in America, a Protestant denomination that traces its roots to Dutch Calvinism in the 17th and 18th centuries. He also spoke lovingly of his family.
“I’ve been married 54 years. I have five children, 18 grandchildren,” he said. “I am blessed that one of my sons (Robert Anthony) is a minister in the Reformed Church and will take over my work, and one of my grandsons has announced he wants to be a minister, too.
“It looks like for the Crystal Cathedral’s 100th anniversary, the Schullers will still be leading it.”
He said he had not yet turned 5 when he felt the calling to ministry. “An uncle who was a missionary in China came home and put his hands on me and said I was going to be a minister,” he recalled.
He didn’t become a child preacher, however. After graduating from Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, both in Holland, Mich., he was ordained into the Reformed Church in 1950.
He served a small Reformed congregation in Chicago for five years before moving to Garden Grove, Calif., where he rented a drive-in theater and led Sunday services from the roof of the snack bar. His congregation grew rapidly, and in 1961, he opened a permanent chapel — one that still allowed drive-in worship — that was designed by the noted architect, Richard Neutra. Eventually, Garden Grove became home to the Crystal Cathedral, one of the country’s first megachurches and the base for the international Crystal Cathedral Ministries.
Inspired by a visit to the Fort Worth Water Gardens, Dr. Schuller hired its architect, Philip Johnson, to build a cathedral with more than 10,000 silver windows in a frame of white steel trusses. When two 90-foot doors behind the pulpit are opened, the interior is bathed in sunlight.
While the cathedral, dedicated in 1980, is a dramatic place to worship, it’s the TV ministry that has made Dr. Schuller one the country’s most recognized ministers. “We’re televised around the world, are the only [church service] program broadcast in Russia and 1 million Muslims tune in weekly,” Dr. Schuller said. “I cannot take credit for any of this. It has been a fantastic blessing.”
He had a word of advice for those TV ministers who politicize their pulpits: Don’t.
“I have learned that one key to … success is that I keep things focused on positive messages, how to motivate people,” he said. “Politics is invading religion, and I don’t want any part of it. People don’t come to hear political statements.”
He said his popularity is rooted in a middle-of-the-road philosophy. “I live comfortably,” he said, but not lavishly. All royalties from his books go to the Reformed Church, he said.
He calls the ability to generate positive energy “possibility thinking.” It’s a theme that permeates his preaching and his books.
As he spoke, Dr. Schuller appeared content with where he was after 50 years in the public eye. “God keeps me motivated,” he said. “I don’t really get tired of what I am doing.”
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