Robert Schuller eulogized as pastor who spoke the people's language

Robert Schuller is eulogized, at the gleaming cathedral he built, as a visionary and bridge builder

Robert H. Schuller's children said he did the work of many men — as a visionary, as a pastor to millions, as a religious translator who knew how to speak the people's language.

More than 1,000 mourners gathered in Garden Grove on Monday, outside the gleaming Crystal Cathedral — now called Christ Cathedral — he built, to memorialize the televangelist and reflect on his mission.

Schuller, 88, who died April 2 after a battle with esophageal cancer, went from preaching in his early days at a drive-in theater to speaking to as many as 20 million viewers in nearly 180 countries through the "Hour of Power" show he launched in 1970.

Always, his children and others said, he focused on what he called "possibility thinking" — speaking of how love of God could overcome any hardship.

His audience peaked in the 1990s, and he had faded from view in recent years. Problems in transitioning his church's leadership combined with declines in viewership and donations forced his ministry to file for bankruptcy in 2010 and later to sell the worship center to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which renamed it.

But at his funeral, which brought together three generations of family, fans and fellow worship leaders, the talk was of simpler, better times gone by. Purple tulips lined the stage on which his grandchildren Timmy and Judah Milner performed, echoing the color of the scarf Schuller often wore.

Carol Schuller Milner, one of his four daughters, opened the celebration, praising those who stayed loyal to her father and mother — including a pool cleaner and a housekeeper who continued to work for them even when they could no longer pay. She thanked those who worked at her dad's nursing home and who visited to give him weekly Communion.

"This is a day about resurrected hopes and birthing your dreams," she added, after asking her son Ethan Milner to stand to applause. At 25, she said, he moved back home to care for his ailing grandparents.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, the pastor's eldest daughter, said she remembered asking other children what their fathers did for a living, then telling them about her own. "When people were hurting, I could always say, 'Let me get my dad. He can help you,'" she said. "His words and lessons live on in all of us."

Some of his faithful walked to the service, as they once did to worship with him. Others traveled to the memorial from other parts of California, the Midwest, even Canada. They spoke of his message of "turning your scars into stars."

Hope Stime, a hairdresser who flew in from Seattle, said she had followed Schuller for 30 years. "I was sometimes late to my church, but I never wanted to miss the 'Hour of Power,'" she said. "I know we're supposed to be rejoicing today, but I have a hard time."

Schuller's only son, Robert A. Schuller, looked out on the trees gracing the grounds and described his early memories of planting them with his father, as well as their fishing trips around the world.

The Rev. Dan Chun, leader of the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, highlighted a theme that would be repeated throughout the memorial: Schuller didn't just minister to the famous. He cared deeply for the common folk, Chun said, and no matter who they were, "he challenged them to do something extraordinary for God."

Anthony Campolo, founder of the Evangelical Assn. for the Promotion of Education, said critics attacked Schuller for not "condemning sin enough." Schuller's response, according to Campolo, was, "I don't scare people from Jesus. I draw them."

Bishop Kevin Vann of the Catholic Diocese of Orange described Schuller as a "bridge builder" between people as well as between faiths. Bishop Charles E. Blake, who heads West Angeles Church of God in Christ, said a newspaper ad led him to attend one of Schuller's pastor training sessions, which ignited his belief that if God could create miracles through Schuller, he could make that same magic "in me" or "any of us."

Joan Turnidge, a retired social worker from Azusa, wiped away tears as she watched family members escort Schuller's casket to its final resting place in a memorial garden.

"He was one of the first Christians to say you're all right as you are," she said. "He accepted you as you are."

anh.do@latimes.com

Twitter: @newsterrier

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