GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of people remembered the late televangelist Rev. Robert H. Schuller as a dreamer, upbeat pastor and doting father at a memorial service Monday outside the glimmering cathedral he built in Southern California.
Under sunny skies, relatives and pastors took turns recalling Schuller's positive messages of faith and redemption that comforted thousands who attended his sermons at the glass-paned Crystal Cathedral and millions more who watched his "Hour of Power" telecasts in their homes.
The service was held in the plaza of the vast campus that once housed his ministry. After the church went bankrupt in 2010, the property was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for use as its cathedral.
"He really didn't want to build an empire for himself; he wanted everyone in the kingdom of God to grow and be healthy and be fruitful and be together," said the Rev. Dr. Dan Chun, senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, who led the service. "He would be happy that this campus is still being used for the cause of Christianity."
Schuller was 88 when he died on April 2 after a battle with esophageal cancer.
The Alton, Iowa-born pastor started preaching at a drive-in movie theater in California in 1955 with his wife Arvella.
In 1970, he began the "Hour of Power" to spread his message that "possibility thinking" and love of God overcome hardships. At its peak in the 1990s, the program had 20 million viewers.
In recent years, Schuller faded from view after watching his church collapse amid a disastrous leadership transition and declines in viewership and donations that forced the ministry to file for bankruptcy.
Schuller, who wrote more than 30 books including several best-sellers, lost a legal battle in 2012 to collect more than $5 million from his former ministry over claims of copyright infringement and breach of contract.
Those who attended the memorial were given laminated black-and-white photos of Schuller posing with dignitaries and smiling with Arvella as keepsakes. Afterward, Schuller was buried beside his wife in a private service for family.
Theresa Boyd, 54, said Schuller inspired her with his uplifting messages and by inviting political leaders and an Olympic athlete to speak to congregants in Orange County.
"He brought in successful people and said, 'you can do it too if you believe in God,'" Boyd said.
At the service, Schuller's five children shared memories of their famous father. One of his daughters recounted how he told her as a child that a torrential Iowa rainstorm was a sign of the power of God; his son recalled the long talks they shared on fishing trips.
Daughter Gretchen Penner said Schuller taught her to embrace diversity and find beauty in everything.
"He taught me to believe in a God that is bigger than any problem, any trial, and any foe, and he taught me to believe in myself," she said.
Religious leaders shared stories of being inspired by Schuller to grow their congregations, and how he ministered to ordinary people even as he met with world leaders.
Chun told the crowd that the Schullers attended a service he led in Honolulu more than a decade ago that was so packed they had to park their car in a loading zone and sit on metal folding chairs squeezed inside the door.
Schuller told him to move the church. Five years later they did, Chun said, and the community flourished.