Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,
The year was 1955! At a drive-in movie theatre off the Santa Ana Freeway in Los Angeles, California, the Reverend Robert Schuller climbed atop the snack bar’s tar-paper roof, microphone in hand! Months before, he had paid for ads promoting A NEW WAY to attend church: “Come as you are… in the family car!” Schuller’s wife, Arvella, played an organ that the couple towed on a trailer behind their station wagon. Worshippers in a few dozen cars listened to the service that Sunday afternoon on drive-in speakers clamped to car windows as the likable, young preacher urged faith in God to meet the cares of the world. An offering was taken and counted: $83.75! Such was the humble and auspicious beginning of one of the world’s farthest-reaching ministries: The Crystal Cathedral and Robert Schuller’s television broadcast, “The Hour of Power.” Schuller was 29 years ago when he perched himself on the drive-in theatre’s snack bar.
At 61 years of age, I might have trouble carrying a ladder out of my garage let alone climbing it atop ANYTHING! Yet, maybe in this NEW NEW of COVID-19 impact, we may be challenged with “doing” church a bit differently. I am not opposed to the snack bar idea. As long as you help me get on top of our roof and throw me some Milk Duds every so often, I think we would be set (Dots my favorite movie candy would not be advisable. It would be impossible for me to preach with those amazingly delicious Dots candies “gluing” my mouth shut).
The year, once again, was 1955! Just down the road from Schuller’s movie-theatre, specifically Anaheim, Walt Disney opened his astounding theme park “Disneyland!” Disney would say over the years, “To think! All of this began with…a mouse!” Five years before, Disney began crafting his envisioned “Dreamland” of fantasy and futurism. He intended Disneyland to have educational as well as entertainment value, catering to kids of “all ages!” Having spent 17 million dollars for the park’s development, this on 160 acres of Orange County land, invitations were mailed to VIPs for the July 17th opening. Unfortunately, the “pass” was counterfeited… and THOUSANDS OF UNINVITED PEOPLE were admitted into Disneyland on Opening Day, having waited in lines MILES long! The park was not ready for the “onslaught.” Food and drink ran out. A woman’s high-heel shoe got stuck in the wet asphalt and the Mark Twain Steamboat nearly CAPSIZED from too many passengers!
Tinker Bell must have been working in the castle AND the snack bar! Both the Crystal Cathedral AND Disneyland had beginning stories many would say were FAR too challenging to overcome!
Yet, I have been in the Crystal Cathedral. I marveled at its organ and hundred-plus member choir. Like you, I have been to Disneyland. Like you, I wondered if I could EVER get that song out of my head, “It’s a Small World After All!” When you wish upon a star, right?
In my first church pastorate, during my thirteen-year ministry, the congregation took on TWO building projects! Parker, Colorado was one of the fastest growing communities in the country! Douglas County was EXPLODING with new residents. As I drove to Parker for my pastor-position interview, I did so on a lonely DIRT ROAD south of I-225, yes, NOW, UNBELIEVABLY BUSY PARKER ROAD, with thousands upon thousands of cars upon it each day! Those of you who know Parker know how vibrant a community it is…TODAY! You may be surprised to realize that in 1985, the sleepy community DID NOT HAVE EITHER A SAFEWAY NOR A KING SOOPERS STORE let alone fast food restaurants! There was only ONE grocery store in town, Hills Market, and it was owned by dear friends to this day, Larry and Rhea Thomas. With the growth of Parker came the inevitable growth of our church. Joy Lutheran Church doubled in membership…and then quadrupled thereafter with enthusiasts… during my pastorate. As the congregation outgrew its ability to do hands-on and envisioned ministry in our church/administrative buildings of the day, gifted visionaries in the parish called our membership to embrace not one, but then TWO new building projects within a decade!
Oh, there were the naysayers. There always are. There were those who doubted our ability to pay for what was proposed. I remember Larry Doolen, so instrumental in Lutheran Family Service ministry, saying at a congregational meeting, “Well folks, we are sitting in the sanctuary that many said COULD NOT be built!” Robert Schuller preached optimism, faith in God. Echoing the words of Jesus, Schuller’s trademark Biblical reference was “With men, things are impossible, but with God, ALL things are possible!” Walt Disney weathered the criticism of a pointed California newspaper that lambasted Disneyland’s Opening Day, “Black Sunday” with the headline “THE 17 MILLION DOLLAR PEOPLE-TRAP THAT MICKEY MOUSE BUILT” while irate adults cursed Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Snow White and ALL the seven dwarfs!
Now, amid COVID-19, wondering what the future MAY look like, we would do well to remember the sentiment: “With men, things are impossible, but with God, ALL things are possible!” We may want to remember…instead of worrying…to believe what the Scriptures say, “God will take our sins, scarlet as they may be, and make them…SNOW WHITE!”
Cross of Glory is just a couple years younger than the Crystal Cathedral and Disneyland. Over the decades, our church has seen its share of “challenges,” but in ALL cases, God has remained forever faithful. God will lead us as we continue to BE HIS CHURCH in the years to come… and I have every confidence in YOU, the amazing, dear people of Cross of Glory to be more “Yeasayers” than “Naysayers” in perhaps doing ministry a bit differently in times ahead. Thank you for your patience as we prayerfully consider doing Cross of Glory ministry forever true to our Mission Statement: “Rooted in the Scriptures; Reaching Out in Love and Rejoicing in God’s Grace,” while being mindful, no, insistent, on our care for those among us especially virus-susceptible.
Thankfully, we have a dedicated Church Council to navigate us through “Frontierland” into “Tomorrowland.” Under President John Test’s dedicated leadership, your Cross of Glory Council wonders when and how we can “safely” re-enter our church building. Until a vaccine for the virus is administered, we ALL wonder about social distancing, masks and the predicted clean-ups needed thereafter. It has been suggested that we keep six feet apart from each other. Some say that we should social distance even more… that “singing enthusiastically (spitting for short…think Donald Duck!)” would require greater caution. We wonder about how to celebrate Holy Communion again, this safely…while not “watering down” what we believe to be Sacred and Theologically Fundamental. Our Bishop Jim Gonia, friend of so many in our parish, is strongly suggesting that ELCA churches in the Rocky Mountain Synod NOT return to their buildings until AT LEAST the end of August! Though our Colorado Governor Jared Polis is lifting restrictions on public gatherings, he still “urges” those over 65 (or those pre-disposed to virus problems) to remain in quarantine. We are seeing so many ZOOM Sunday morning worship onlookers and Tuesday evening Bible Study enthusiasts (how pumpkins have turned into carriages!) that we wonder how many in our church would “choose” to come back to our building anyway as long as there is even a “hint” of danger.
Let me be Crystal (Cathedral ?) clear: Time will tell. So much will depend on lessons learned as people slowly return to what has been “more normal” in the past.
In the meantime, thank you for your continued faithful support of our mutual ministry Cross of Glory family and friends! Keep the faith! Keep praying! Keep sending in your offerings! The Crystal Cathedral and Disneyland were founded in the same year. Cross of Glory is almost as old. Realize this… draw strength and comfort from the parallel: All THREE beloved places have ties to…”Los Angeles,” in Spanish, ‘THE ANGELS!” Tale as old as time: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Pastor Mike Lemke