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Schuller continues family of faith

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Posted: Saturday, November 17, 2007 1:54 am | Updated: 7:49 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

And Robert Harold Schuller begat Robert Anthony Schuller who begat Robert Vernon Schuller — and the succession of power of “The Hour of Power,” through the divine House of Schullers, seems secure.

Read Lawn Griffiths' Blog 'Beyond Belief'

The Robert in the middle — the Rev. Robert A. Schuller — at the age of 53, has come into his own as one of America’s most familiar TV pastors.

With chiseled good looks and a disarming smile, he is senior pastor of the longtime international TV ministry made famous by its towering Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., with its 10,000 panes of glass and massive windows that open to a parking lot where a few people may still sit in their cars and watch a worship service.

Whereas his pioneering father, now 81, remains an “Hour” fixture and still preaches, Robert A. was handed the mantle in January 2006 and is now underscoring the change through his 13th book, “Walking in Your Own Shoes: Discover God’s Direction for Your Life.” He was in the Valley recently promoting the book.

Asked what has set “The Hour of Power” apart from multitude of TV ministries, he noted, “We were the first. There is an advantage of being No. 1 — the first one in there.” It went on the air in 1970 when it could be seen on just three channels. Today it is broadcast in more than 100 countries, with about 25 million viewers weekly.

“We are one of the few one-hour church services where people can see a full church service,” he said. It is touted as the “most-watched Christian program in the world.” It is the longest running religious show in U.S. history.

It is legend how his father, who is of Dutch ancestry and was raised on an Iowa farm, was ordained a minister in the Reformed Church in America and planted a new church in 1955 by renting the Orange (Calif.) Drive-In Theatre and preached from its roof to a “just come as you are” audience in cars around the parking lot.

His church went on to become the denomination’s largest and best-known. Robert A. Schuller credits the Crystal Cathedral’s affiliation to a mainline denomination, with its built-in oversight and accountability standards, for the ministry escaping the money scandals that have rocked other large TV ministries.

“We come out of a really strong position of prudence, and the Dutch are also known for being frugal, and we carry that into our ministry and into our church,” he said.

Famed preacher Norman Vincent Peale also belonged to the Reformed Church in America and was the senior Schuller’s mentor. “His message was 'positive thinking,’ ” Robert A. Schuller said of Peale. “My father took that message and created 'possibility thinking’ Mine is 'possibility living and carrying the message of Christ to the ends of the world.’ ”

When he became senior pastor in January 2006, the younger Schuller was constantly told he had big shoes to fill after his father spent more than a half-century developing the far-flung “Hour of Power” ministry.

“It didn’t take very long to realize that I could never fill his shoes,” he said. In the first place, he said, his father wears size 10 1/2 shoes and Robert A. is size 12.

In his book, he says, “Over time, I have no doubt that the Crystal Cathedral will become a different place. I won’t try to make it different, and I didn’t become the pastor of the church to institute changes.” But one change he has made is to serve the sacrament of communion weekly.

Schuller carries the shoe theme forward in calling people to forge ahead as individuals. “God has shoes for you and me to wear that are one-off models. God made them and threw away the mold,” he writes. This fall, he has called on his congregation to donate shoes for needy, which are going through Samaritan Purse, a charity led by the Rev. Franklin Graham.

Robert A. Schuller is the father of four, ages 20 to 29. His oldest, Angie, is a pastor in the Dallas area, while his oldest son, Robert Vernon “Bobby,” is in seminary and is a pastor for the Gathering Community young adults group at the Crystal Cathedral.

They have fun with the multiple Roberts in the family. People have constantly asked Robert A. Schuller if he is the son of the famous TV pastor, Robert Schuller. “I say, 'I’m my father’s son, but I am also my son’s father.’ Is the pressure on him (Robert Vernon) to succeed? I would assume so, so I think, 'He has his own shoes to walk in and no one is going to walk a journey that God hasn’t called him to walk.”

A regular feature of “Hour of Power” services, which are taped one Sunday and aired the next, is the lineup of notable people and celebrities from all fields. Former daredevil Evil Knievel, 69, who broke the same bones numerous times in his heyday of motorcycle jumps, may have caused the biggest buzz on an “Hour of Power” broadcast. On April 1, he preached for 15 minutes, then announced he wanted to be baptized. Once Schuller performed it, he invited others in the audience to come forth for baptism as well. It triggered a veritable rush, and five pastors may have baptized more than 500 people during two services that morning.

Phil McGraw, who wrote the forward to Robert A. Schuller’s latest book, “is always a tremendous guest,” he said, while California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger “is always a fun one to have because he always comes and say, 'I’ll be back!’ ” But many guests, Schuller noted, are ordinary people with powerful stories of faith and perseverance.

The church’s Web site, hourofpower.org, notes the ministries needed to raise $39.3 million for this year, getting about a quarter of that from its Eagle’s Club members ($600 or more annually) and another quarter from its Grassroots Givers. It spends $14.5 million, or 37 percent of its budget, to buy air time, with almost $5 million going toward property and building upkeep, $5.1 million for “correspondence” and communications with donors; and $4.1 million in TV-related expenses.

“We usually stay away from controversial issues because if it is controversial, that means there needs to be an opportunity for debate,” he said. At times, the church will hold such forums to address controversial issues.

Schuller said he has a lean pastoral team of 10. “We have to be. Southern California is not the Bible Belt. As a result, less than 5 percent of the population in Southern California attends church.”

But, all in all, he said, “I do see people turning to God. I do see more people becoming spiritual. I wouldn’t use the word religious.” The dwindling attendance for denominational churches creates uncertainty for the institutional church, he said.

The pastor likes to say that the Crystal Cathedral has 10,000 windows and “the world’s largest doors” so “we are allowing people to join the Crystal Cathedral no matter where they live ... they can watch it on television, they can participate in our Internet training and prayer and more.”

He said his father will remain active in “Hour of Power” as long as he is physical able. “He shows up and I show up, and we pretty much know what our roles are going to be,” he said.

On TV

“The Hour of Power” airs 6:30 a.m. Sundays on KPHO-TV (Channel 5).

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