GARDEN GROVE — Several hundred people filled the plaza in front of Christ Cathedral April 20 to join in a memorial tribute to the Rev. Robert Schuller, who was laid to rest just steps away in the memorial gardens of the campus that was the former headquarters of his thriving global ministry.
Several members of Schuller’s family and a group of clergymen—including Bishop Kevin Vann—who had become his friends during the course of his singular career offered personal memories and thanks for his vision, dedication and uncommon optimism.
Schuller died at age 88 on April 2 after suffering for several months with esophageal cancer. He was buried alongside his wife Arvella, who died in February 2014.
“He believed that God was our advocate,” said Carol Schuller Milner, one of the televangelist’s four daughters, in her remarks that began the two-hour tribute. “Today is a day of believing that you are validated by God.” She called her father “a dreamer, a pioneer, and a pastor to global millions,” as well as a “profound and pace-setting visionary. He saw this campus before it ever was.”
Schuller, who began his ministry by preaching from the roof of the snack bar at the nearby Orange Drive-In Theatre, expanded the ministry’s reach to include an estimated 20 million worldwide who viewed his “Hour of Power” broadcast on television. The weekly program first originated from the Arboretum, his first walk-in-drive-in church and, beginning in 1980, from the landmark edifice he called the Crystal Cathedral. He is credited with overseeing the first megachurch.
As a result of declining congregants and viewers, family disagreements, and legal and economic problems, Schuller’s ministry filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The Crystal Cathedral and its campus was sold to the Diocese of Orange, which renamed the main structure Christ Cathedral.
Schuller’s casket, topped by his familiar ministerial robe, sat in the shadow of that cathedral as Bishop Vann lauded Schuller as a “bridge builder” between faith traditions.
“This is how I have come to know Dr. Schuller since I have been here in Orange, and even beforehand,” Bishop Vann said, adding that Bishop Tod Brown “has told me often how much he esteemed and appreciated Dr. Schuller from all of their meetings and discussions during the time of the negotiations for the Crystal Cathedral campus.”
Bishop Vann recalled watching Schuller’s broadcasts in Springfield, Ill. with his parents on the family’s first color television.
“In the amazement of those colors I would catch a glimpse and listen to Dr. Schuller all the way from Southern California. At that same time, my grandmother would listen to Bishop Sheen and his program ‘Life is Worth Living’ And then all of the kids would crowd around the set on Sunday evenings for ‘Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.’ Another image of Southern California, and I would wonder if I would ever get to that faraway place with all its attractions and beauty. Well, through God’s providence I did come here to Southern California. And just last year when I mentioned to Dr. Schuller that I had seen him on television and that his way of preaching reminded me of Bishop Sheen, he replied, ‘He was a good friend of mine.’
“I was fortunate enough to see the video of Dr. Schuller’s words to the priests of the Diocese of Orange upon the acquisition of the cathedral campus He came to my installation in December of 2012 and I was fortunate to visit with him then, and since then. I would visit with him and Arvella on special occasions and she and I would reflect on Christian hymns, music and church organs.”
Bishop Vann concluded his remarks by quoting from a letter written by former diocesan legal counsel Mickie Schinderle shortly after the diocese acquired the cathedral campus.
Schuller, wrote Schinderle, “explained the diocese was keeping its promise to carry on the Gospel ministry from the campus. He noted the diocese offered gracious terms that were sensitive to the ministry’s 60-year history, that respected the spirit of the ministry’s purpose and that honored the significant contribution of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the ‘Hour of Power’ and their global supporters. He and Arvella extended an invitation to the diocese and made the charge: ‘Steward this campus. Keep it a light to Orange County that will never go out. A light that will always remind humanity how very much God loves them, and so do we.”
Other clergymen praised Schuller as a mentor and role model for their own ministries. The Rev. Dr. Dan Chun, the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu recalled Schuller’s early advice to him to expand his ministry. He noted that the ministry Schuller began on the cathedral campus still is lively, where “thousands continue to worship Christ here every Sunday in a true cross-cultural context.”
Bishop Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ recalled the inspiration Schuller provided at a church leadership conference early in Blake’s ministerial career. “We started believing more and more that great things were possible through us,” he told the crowd. “Robert Schuller was a mentor to me.”
Dr. Anthony Campolo, the founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, called Schuller “America’s pastor” in praising the global reach of his ministry. “He was a man who knew how to be a pastor to a world that needed to be loved,” said Campolo.
Many of Schuller’s children and grandchildren participated in the service as musicians, speakers or Scripture readers. The audience applauded several readings in which Schuller’s more familiar quotations were spoken.
The greatest applause, however, erupted after Schuller’s grandson, Pastor Bobby Schuller—who now oversees the weekly “Hour of Power” broadcast and ministry at Shepherd’s Grove near the cathedral campus—raised his voice in his grandfather’s familiar greeting from Psalm 118:24 that opened every “Hour of Power” broadcast: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”