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THE SUNDAY PROFILE

The Son Also Rises

The Rev. Robert A. Schuller isn't fazed by his father's success--or his role as designated successor. In fact, he can't recall a time when he didn't want to be a preacher, just like Dad.

July 21, 1996|JANET WISCOMBE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Drom his desk in a radio broadcast booth at Rancho Capistrano's Spiritual Growth Center, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller chats pleasantly with a nutritionist about eating healthful food. He's talking, not about loaves and fishes, but about oats and grains.

The son of the world's most popular televangelist is expounding on his cholesterol count and about living life "full like a bright glowing candle." To be sick and arthritic or destined for a 20-year stint in a nursing home, he notes, "is the wrong way to go."

He entreats listeners to find their destiny, realize their full human potential, balance their bodies, minds and souls "and keep learning ways to get more out of food."

Then he declares expansively, "What I learned today is to soak my grains."

It is the hosanna of the heir apparent to the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, preacher to millions, founder of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, living proof of the staggering power of possibility thinking.

At 41, the younger Schuller is now about the same age as the sons of other famous old Christian warriors--including Oral Roberts and Billy Graham--coming to the fore.

William Franklin Graham III, 43, it was announced last fall, will one day take over his father's worldwide ministry.

Richard Roberts, 47, has already succeeded his father. He took over in 1993 as president of Oral Roberts University, the Tulsa school founded by its namesake in 1966.

In April, the elder Schuller, who is 69, formally announced that his son would succeed him. Two years earlier, administrators at the Crystal Cathedral and denominational leaders of the Reformed Church in America had approved the younger Schuller's succession, a changing of the guard that may not take place for a decade.

For a public that lavishes its "mega-ministers" with celebrity and riches, the evangelical heirs have been the subject of considerable interest.

The notion of measuring up to his father's legendary success doesn't seem to trouble the younger Schuller at all. "I'll have no trouble filling his shoes," he's fond of joking. "He wears an 11. I wear a 12. He's 6-2, I'm 6-3.

"I've really helped create the ministry we have. It's not about filling any shoes. It's about keeping going in the same direction."

On this spring day, Schuller has spent most of the morning taping three segments of his "Balanced for Life" radio show, which airs daily throughout the region.

He radiates health and fitness: His teeth are movie-star white, his hair dark and thick and styled. He's tall and lean and looks as if at any moment he could slip into his yellow Mercedes and cruise up to Malibu for a lunch of organic greens and a pot of Darjeeling.

Whether in his office or at the pulpit, he wears slacks and sporty shirts. Nothing stuffy or frumpy here. This is an upbeat, open-collar ministry, where friendliness is next to godliness, and the cleansing comes from this cheerful message: "Go to your destiny and do your calling and remember that God loves you and so do I!"

In church brochures, he is listed as Dr. Robert A. Schuller, vice president of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries and chief executive director/founding pastor of the Cathedral's Rancho Capistrano.

Southern Californians know the Rancho, located above Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano, as the site of a glittering Nativity scene that blossoms out of the parched brown hillside every Christmas. The 175-acre church campus is home to a 300-student preschool, elementary and middle school, a lake and extensive gardens, a retreat center and the Rancho Capistrano Community Church, with a congregation of 135 families. The younger Schuller founded the church in 1981, just one year after the Crystal Cathedral opened.

After graduating from Hope College in Michigan and receiving a master of divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, he worked briefly for his father at the Crystal Cathedral as a minister of evangelism before striking out on his own. He says he didn't want to be perceived as coddled.

In "Getting Through the Going-Through Stage," one of his eight books, he tells about his humble professional start in a gym at Saddleback College, and of his miraculous move to the Rancho. Ninety-seven acres of the oasis was donated to the Crystal Cathedral by recreational vehicle mogul John Crean and his wife, Donna, who agreed to let the young Schuller convert an old storage building into a spacious sanctuary with garden views and stained-glass windows.

*

Robert A. Schuller was born Oct. 7, 1954, shortly before his parents moved to Orange County from the cornfields of Iowa. As reported by R. H. Schuller's biographers, the young couple were so broke that they covered the windows of their first rental house with newspapers and sheets.

The couple had five children--four daughters and Robert, their second born.

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