Church led by Schuller grandson joins with Presbyterian church in Southern California


‘Hour of Power,’ excellent worship and mission endeavors join hands in Irvine

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Irvine Presbyterian Church has merged with a congregation led by the grandson of the late televangelist Robert Schuller. “Hour of Power” broadcasts the weekly worship of the combined congregations, which is being called Shepherd’s Grove Presbyterian Church. (Photo courtesy of Irvine Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — A Southern California church headed by the grandson of “Hour of Power” founder and televangelist Robert Schuller is merging with a Presbyterian church in Irvine, Calif.

“Hour of Power” broadcasts, which reach millions of homes in 24 countries, will continue from Irvine Presbyterian Church.

The merger, approved last week by Presbytery of Los Ranchos between Shepherd’s Grove Church, led by the Rev. Bobby Schuller, and Irvine Presbyterian Church is being hailed as “an excellent fit” by the people who’ve worked for more than a year to make the blended church possible.

The Rev. Tim McCalmont

“They are genuinely excited about becoming part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and that is very encouraging,” said the Rev. Tim McCalmont, bridge pastor at Irvine Presbyterian Church, which will be known as Shepherd’s Grove Presbyterian Church once the merger has received an anticipated civil endorsement. Schuller, grandson of the popular preacher who founded the Crystal Cathedral, was ordained in the Reformed Church in America — as was his grandfather, who died in 2015.

The merger includes continuing a major television outreach hosted at the Irvine church: the “Hour of Power,” an hour-long television broadcast of the weekly worship service that includes guest appearances, splendid music and sermons that to Presbyterian ears will sound familiar — they’re both thoughtful and practical.

McCalmont, who like Schuller is a Fuller Theological Seminary graduate, said the genesis of the merger occurred at the home of a ruling elder at Irvine Presbyterian Church.

“We had breakfast together and heard each other out,” McCalmont said of his meeting with Schuller. “We saw so much common ground (between the PC[USA] and the RCA).”

Schuller could not be reached for comment in time for this story.

The two churches put together a lease agreement and began worshiping together — with Schuller doing the bulk of the preaching — beginning on Palm Sunday last year.

The Rev. Forrest Claassen

“Bobby’s congregation needed a new site, and our congregation needed additional income that a lease could bring,” the Rev. Forrest Claassen, presbytery co-executive and stated clerk at Presbytery of Los Ranchos, said via email. The presbytery approved the lease agreement — including the joint worship service — in February 2018.

After about three months, “it became clear that the single worshiping community was going to work,” Claassen said. An important task, he said, was to honor the church’s trust clause while preserving the Hour of Power as a separate legal entity.

Shepherd’s Grove and Hour of Power pastors Schuller, Russ Jacobson and Chad Blake will be received into the PC(USA) after they’ve celebrated their five-year ordination anniversaries in the RCA and are thus exempt from Presbyterian standard ordination exams, Claassen said.

“After a difficult season five years ago when several congregations wanted to leave Los Ranchos and the PC(USA), it is a joy to welcome a congregation who looks forward to being a part of our ministry here,” Claassen said. “They are an excellent fit for the part of Irvine where the campus is located (right next to a high school). And we look forward to the blend of Irvine Presbyterian Church’s historic emphasis on mission endeavors and Shepherd’s Grove’s excellence in worship.”

That excellence, McCalmont said, includes an orchestra and 50-voice choir. When “Hour of Power” set up shop at Irvine Presbyterian Church, the church made room for about 75 new staffers.

“It’s a blend of contemporary and traditional worship,” he said. “Putting that together along with what we think are important Presbyterian distinctives is where we are at right now.”

“It’s going well,” McCalmont added, “but we are realizing that what looked good on paper is really a lot of work.”

The “Hour of Power” broadcast has opened new horizons for McCalmont, who plans to end his time as bridge pastor at the Irvine church in a few weeks.

“I’m getting mail from places I never got before. So far, it’s been good stuff,” said McCalmont, a graduate of Hollywood High School who was educated alongside many recognizable faces. “We’ve tried to keep in mind this is a television audience seeing a local church at worship.”

The Rev. Bobby Schuller

When Schuller preaches, “he brings some good content in a way that is interesting to the TV audience,” McCalmont said. “He’s a guy who strives to be himself, and he does it with authenticity and integrity.”

Last week the presbytery blessed the merger in a near-unanimous vote. McCalmont said the transparency of the process, including “the fact that we had done so much work” laying the basis for the agreement, led to a fairly quick vote.

“Many had been part of the process already, so there was a lot of buy-in,” he said. “It was a joyful time to watch the presbytery expand.”

The final step in the merger is to receive approval from the office of the California Secretary of State.

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