Schuller tapped into California's blossoming car culture and the optimism of a post-World War II generation when he began preaching in 1955 from the roof of a snack bar at a drive-in movie theater in suburban Orange County. He exhorted worshippers to "come as you are in the family car" and his upbeat message resonated.
By 1970, Schuller was airing the "Hour of Power" and in 1980, he dedicated the Crystal Cathedral, an architectural marvel that served as the backdrop for the show. At its peak, the broadcast attracted 20 million viewers around the world.
The Rev. Christopher Smith, the Catholic episcopal vicar and rector of the newly baptized Christ Cathedral, recalls as a child watching from his grandparents' backyard as the young, energetic evangelist preached from the roof of the drive-in theater's concession stand. Now, Smith is in charge of a delicate transition as the diocese prepares to move into a religious and architectural touchstone cherished by evangelicals around the world.
The diocese hopes to honor Schuller and the history of his ministry with a museum that begins with the drive-in movie theater and ends with the Catholic acquisition. The diocese may also move its archives, which are currently not publicly available, to the cathedral grounds, said Smith.
"I just hope that we attend well to all the different people who are affected by this and also that this place be seen as a place where everyone is welcome to find hope and consolation and inspiration, whether they're Catholic or not," Smith said.
"That's the bishop's desire — that we are a real credible witness to Christ in the world through our work here."
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