Robert Schuller

  • Born: September 16, 1926
  • Died: April 2, 2015
  • Location: Artesia, California

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FILE - In this Dec. 24, 1997, file photo, Rev. Robert H. Schuller delivers one of seven candlelight Christmas Eve services from the Crystal Cathedral pulpit in Garden Grove, Calif. Schuller, the Southern California televangelist who brought his message of "possibility thinking" to millions, died early Thursday, April 2, 2015, in California. He was 88. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)

Crystal Cathedral megachurch founder dies

The Associated Press

GARDEN GROVE, California (AP) — A public memorial will be held for the late televangelist the Rev. Robert H. Schuller in a plaza outside the glass-paned Crystal Cathedral he built in Orange County.

Daughter Carol Schuller Milner said Sunday the service will be held on Monday, April 20 on the campus of Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove.

After the memorial, Schuller will be buried beside his wife in a private service at the campus cemetery.

Schuller died Thursday. The 88-year-old started preaching in 1955 at a rented drive-in theater. He began a television ministry in 1970 called the "Hour of Power" and later built the cathedral to house his booming ministry.

In recent years, the church was hit by falling membership and filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The Roman Catholic Church bought the cathedral.

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By GILLIAN FLACCUS and AMY TAXIN, The Associated Press
ARTESIA, Calif. (AP) — The Rev. Robert H. Schuller didn't wait for the faithful to flock to his upstart church in Southern California — he took his message to them.

As the car culture flourished in post-World War II California, the brash Iowa-born pastor began preaching from the roof of a concession stand at a drive-in movie theater, displaying a passion — and a marketing genius — that established him as a father of the megachurch movement that would soon sweep the nation.

But Schuller didn't stop there. In 1970, he reached out to the masses beyond his home base in the Los Angeles suburbs with his "Hour of Power" television program, which was broadcast into millions of homes every Sunday over the next two decades. He also constructed the soaring, glass-paned Crystal Cathedral that became the touchstone of his storied ministry.

The world-famous televangelist and author memorialized in decades of recorded sermons and books died early Thursday at a care facility in Artesia, daughter Carol Schuller Milner said. He was 88.

Schuller was diagnosed in 2013 with terminal esophageal cancer.

Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton said they were saddened by the passing of a man who offered them "unfailing kindness and wise counsel" during Bill Clinton's presidency.

"From the people who filled the pews of the Crystal Cathedral to the millions who embraced his ministry on television and through his books, Robert Schuller was a beacon of faith, hope, and love," the Clintons said in a joint statement.

A charismatic presence on the televangelist circuit, Schuller faded from view over the past decade after watching his church collapse amid a disastrous leadership transition and sharp declines in viewership that ultimately bankrupted the ministry.

The landmark Crystal Cathedral was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011 and Schuller lost a legal battle the following year to collect more than $5 million from his former ministry for claims of copyright infringement and breach of contract.

Schuller, who preached in a flowing purple robe and outsized aviator glasses, suffered a mild heart attack in 1997. But he was quickly back on the pulpit, saying "the positive person" is not afraid of life's surprises.

Schuller's evangelical Protestant ministry, part of the Reformed Church in America, was a product of modern technology.

He and his late wife, Arvella, started the ministry in 1955 with $500 at the drive-in theater. The church's motto — "Come as you are in the family car" — tapped into the burgeoning Southern California auto culture and the suburban boom of postwar America.

"Jesus went to the people. He didn't sit around in his temple and wait for them to come to him," said Bobby Schuller, Schuller's grandson, who took over the "Hour of Power" show. "The drive-in ministry was his way of doing that."

By 1961, the church had a brick-and-mortar home, and Schuller began broadcasting the "Hour of Power" in 1970.

In 1980, he built the glass-and-steel Crystal Cathedral in the Orange County city of Garden Grove to house his booming TV ministry, which was broadcast live each week from the 2,800-seat sanctuary. At its peak in the 1990s, the program had 20 million viewers in about 180 countries.

Schuller's message — that "Possibility Thinking" and love of God overcome hardships — was a uniquely American blend of Bible and psychology. It was inspired by late author Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking." Schuller also wrote more than 30 books, including several best-sellers.

Unlike other televangelists, the senior Schuller's message lacked fire-and-brimstone condemnations or conservative political baggage.

"The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person," he wrote in his book "Self-Esteem: The New Reformation. "Rather, we have started from the 'unworthiness of the sinner,' and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology."

Fundamentalists attacked him for statements they believed denied the need for personal repentance of sin.

Schuller had admirers that ranged from fellow evangelist Billy Graham to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

His friendship with President Bill Clinton raised eyebrows among the conservative Republicans in his congregation and prompted a deluge of irate letters and telephone calls.

In the start of a carefully choreographed leadership transition, Schuller's only son, then-51-year-old Robert A. Schuller, was installed as senior pastor in 2006. Although a father-son succession is rare in the Reformed Church in America, the Schullers considered the church a "family business" and the move was sanctioned by the national church, officials said.

The younger Schuller left amid a bitter family feud in 2008. His father had removed him from the "Hour of Power" broadcasts, and he quit as senior pastor a few weeks later.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, one of Schuller's daughters, took over as the church's top administrator, and preachers, including her and her father, handled the "Hour of Power." She, too, ultimately left.

The tumult in the pulpit worsened a pre-existing decline in viewership and donations. In 2010, Crystal Cathedral ministries filed for bankruptcy, citing debt of more than $43 million.

Bankruptcy filings indicated the ministry was paying significant tax-exempt housing allowances to Schuller family members and insiders. They were legal but raised concerns among creditors who had gone unpaid for months.

In 2012, Schuller and his wife quit the board of directors in a dispute over copyright infringement and breach of contract. That year, they lost a legal bid to recover more than $5 million from the ministry.

Robert Harold Schuller was born in Alton, Iowa, in 1926 and was ordained by the Reformed Church in America in 1950. He was pastor in Chicago from 1950 to 1955 before moving to California.

Besides his son, Schuller and his wife had four daughters: Sheila, Jeanne, Carol and Gretchen. Wife Arvella Schuller, a longtime ministry partner and organist, died Feb. 11, 2014, after a brief illness.


Condolence & Memory Journal

God is still God! Thank you Dr. Schuller for the beautiful sermons and your ministry. When I was going to Maui on business, I was sitting across from you and your wife - you reached into your pocket and gave me your personal beautiful pen - many, many wonderful memories of your life and teachings - Aloha, Bob Woodger-Honolulu, HI

Posted by Bob Woodger - Honolulu,, HI - Friend   April 02, 2019

I grew older on your teaching loved it.god bless your son.

Posted by Barbara Ross - dearborn heights, MI - cyber member   May 30, 2015

Thank you Dr. Schuller for all you have given me. I hope you save a good seat for me when I get my invitation. :) God loves you and so do I!
Big hugs,
Deborah Fry

Posted by Deborah L Fry - Fort Worth, TX - friend   April 08, 2015

Candle

Thanks for shining your light and reigniting us all Dr Robert Schuller. A life well lived.

Posted by Karen - Aberdeenshire, Scotland - Sister in Christ   April 06, 2015

Candle

You changed my life. What a powerful and positive man you were with such a vision.
~A. Daley

Posted by A. Daley - anaheim hills, CA - church attendee   April 04, 2015

You changed my life to become the positive thinking person.You are always in my heart.
dt

Posted by duc tran - Canyon lake, CA - friends   April 04, 2015

Dr Schuller ~ May Gods arms embrace you and may your soul be at peace. I wrote you often as a child asking for your guidance and support. You always responded, always made me feel a little closer to God. Thank you for providing me that pathway to believe in God! Please continue to look after us and continue to help guide us. Rest in peace and love.

Posted by Melissa Murphy Polson - Ozawkie, KS   April 04, 2015

God is God - Mahalo Dr. Schuller for the years of encouragement - Rest in Peace.

Posted by Bob Woodger - Honolulu, HI - Friend   April 04, 2015


Family Album

FILE - In this Dec. 24, 1997, file photo, Rev. Robert H. Schuller delivers one of seven candlelight Christmas Eve services from the Crystal Cathedral pulpit in Garden Grove, Calif. Schuller, the Southern California televangelist who brought his message of "possibility thinking" to millions, died early Thursday, April 2, 2015, in California. He was 88. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2006, file photo, Robert H. Schuller poses outside the Crystal Cathedral in Orange, Calif. Schuller, the Southern California televangelist who brought his message of "possibility thinking" to millions, died early Thursday, April 2, 2015, in California. He was 88. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 1997, file photo, Rev. Robert Schuller , right, leaves Los Angeles International Airport with his wife Arvella who helped her pastor husband found the Crystal Cathedral megachurch and hallmark “Hour of Power” televangelism program (AP Photo/John Hayes, File)
FILE - This Oct. 27, 2011 photo shows the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
FILE - This Feb. 9, 2006 file photo shows Robert A. Schuller, left, poses for a photo with his father, Robert H. Schuller, outside the Crystal Cathedral in Orange, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

Community Photos

What a great life you led. A very smart, charismatic man. I miss you.
Thank you Dr. Schuller for all you have given me. I hope you save a good seat for me when I get my invitation. :) God loves you and so do I! Big hugs, Deborah Fry
Three Robert Schuler's, while they were all so young.