Rev. Robert A. Schuller, son of the founder of Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, didn’t realize it at the time, but a couple of Sundays ago when he was preaching to his flock it was the 65th anniversary of when his father started his iconic ministry in Orange County.
On March 29, Schuller held his first parking lot church service outside his offices at 1651 E. Fourth St. It was an effort to hold a service with proper social distancing in the COVID-19 era.
“I stand on a second-floor balcony that looks out over the parking lot,” Schuller told City News Service. “That first Sunday I was there with my wife and I got an FM transmitter and we transmitted the music and the message via car radio and people tuned in through their FM radio stations and were able to listen that way.”
Afterward, Schuller “wanted a little more history of how my father started,” so he “pulled out his autobiography.”
The elder Schuller held his first drive-in service at the movie theater in Orange on the last Sunday in March in 1955.
“It was 65 years to the Sunday that we’re sitting in this parking lot having a worship service,” Schuller said.
On Palm Sunday, Schuller added a loudspeaker to help the folks in the back hear better, he said.
The crowd has been building each week, he said.
“This Sunday I’m setting up a platform so I can have more access to more cars,” Schuller said. “So we can accommodate 300 cars on Sunday.”
No one gets out of their cars to fraternize, he said.
“It’s a lot safer than going to the grocery store, where people can touch things and put them back on the shelves,” Schuller said. “And people need to feed their souls as well as their bodies. And what I’m discovering is there’s a lot of despair taking place in those who have lost their jobs.”
Schuller said his ministry is a “church without walls” because he does not have a church building, so he does “pop-up churches” all over the world.
He tried pitching a drive-in church service at his father’s former church, now owned by the Catholic Diocese of Orange and known as Christ Cathedral, but it didn’t work out, he said.
“I called numerous people, friends, pastors and the like encouraging them to do it, and nobody would do it,” Schuller said. “I said if nobody is comfortable doing it then I’ll show them how to do it. Maybe someone else will pick up the idea and start doing it.”
Schuller was only six months old when his father started his first drive-in church in Orange, but he has vivid memories as a young boy attending services.
“It brings back so many memories,” he said of his latest pop-up church.
“I have memories of sitting around a picnic bench and coloring pictures of Bible stories,” he said.
Robert H. Schuller retired in 2010. He died in April 2015.
He recalled sometimes going to the services in his pajamas and staying in the car while his father preached.
At the younger Schuller’s most recent services, “I saw several kids in cars with mom and dad and they’re still in their pajamas,” he said.
“My ministry is all about hope, and I want to get people some hope this Easter, because Jesus is alive, he conquered death and whatever valleys we’ve gone through we’ll get through it if we know to hold our heads high and realize we can get through this thing,” Schuller said.
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