Crystal Cathedral's Arvella Schuller dies at 84

The wife of Rev. Robert H. Schuller played a key role in the church her husband founded five decades ago, including time as an organist in the early days and, later, helping create and run the "Hour of Power" television ministry that reached millions of viewers across the globe.

Orange County Register article by Deepa Barath

Published February 11, 2014, Updated 2:52 pm.

ORANGE – Arvella Schuller, wife of the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who helped found the Crystal Cathedral Ministries and was the force behind the church's iconic "Hour of Power" television ministry, died Tuesday at UCI Medical Center after a brief illness. She was 84.

Daughter Carol Schuller Milner said her mother's death was "very sudden."

"But she died very peacefully surrounded by her family," Milner said.

The exact cause of death for Arvella Schuller was not released. She suffered a stroke in May, which affected the left side of her body.

Known as the "first lady" of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, Schuller played a key role in the church her husband founded five decades ago, including time as an organist in the early days and, later, helping create and run the "Hour of Power" television ministry that reached millions of viewers across the globe.

Michael Nason, who co-produced the "Hour of Power" with Schuller for about 25 years, said she knew what it took to produce a dynamic church service that appealed to those in the pews and the faithful watching in their living rooms.

She also innovated at every opportunity, making the "Hour of Power" the first syndicated television show to have closed captioning, an accomplishment for which she was honored by the Carter administration, Nason said.

It was fitting that Robert Schuller first met Arvella De Haan in church. She was playing the organ in her hometown church in Iowa one Saturday morning when Schuller, a student at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan, walked into the sanctuary, having been invited as a guest preacher, Nason recalled.

"When he returned after preaching there, he told one of his friends that he had just met the girl he was going to marry," he said. "It was absolutely love at first sight."

They were married in Iowa on June 15, 1950 and moved to Chicago where Robert Schuller served as pastor of the Ivanhoe Reformed Church.

The Schullers were soul mates in every possible way, Nason said. Arvella Schuller was her husband’s most valued director and critic. Nason recalled one time when Robert Schuller "did not deliver the best message." When he returned to his office, his wife let him know his sermon had fallen flat.

"He banged his fist on his desk and told her she shouldn't be telling him how to deliver his message," Nason said with a laugh. "But the next day, he went up there and did precisely what she told him to do."

Arvella Schuller had a little joke she liked to share with those close to the family. At home, her husband ruled the roost. But, she ruled the rooster.

"They played to each other's strengths," Nason said. "They made every decision together."

The Schullers renewed their vows in June 2000 at the Crystal Cathedral during a service officiated by their son Robert A. Schuller. During the special service, the choir sang "Because," which was featured at the couple's wedding.

Her grandson, Bobby Schuller, who now carries on the family's legacy at Shepherd's Grove Church in Garden Grove, called Arvella Schuller "the power behind the Hour of Power."

"Her music, vision and care for the message has touched countless hearts," he said. "This ministry is committed to carrying on the incredible movement she helped start with my grandfather many years ago, to reach millions of hurting people with the positive message of God's love. She will be missed."

Arvella and Robert Schuller moved to California with $500 to their names, and on March 27, 1955, started their first ministry on the sticky tar paper roof of the Orange drive-in theater. Arvella Schuller was the church's first organist.

Marc Harrison Riley, music director at Shepherd's Grove, said she was committed to excellence.

"She was a powerhouse," he said. "The 'Hour of Power' would not have happened without her."

Don Neuen, who directs the choir at Shepherd's Grove and has worked with the Schullers since 2000, said Arvella Schuller helped bring to the church music that was always tasteful and brimming with devotion.

"She was the mind behind the music," he said.

Shirley Zink, a congregant for more than four decades, called Arvella Schuller "an example of strength and courage."

"Without her, Dr. Schuller would not have had the success that he had with this ministry," Zink said. "She was the rock behind the man, the person who kept him on the path. I can only pray that God now gives him the strength to bear her loss."

The elderly Schullers severed their ties with the financially troubled Crystal Cathedral in 2012 after the cathedral was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County.

Carol Schuller Milner said her mother's final years were probably her worst as she watched the church she and her husband had built crumble and collapse. She said her parents, who for years led the megachurch, were treated unfairly by people they considered their friends and in the end struggled to pay their bills.

“But my mother never lost her faith," Milner said. "She always said everything can be taken from you, everyone can abandon you – but, God will still be God."

Schuller’s final 20 minutes in the hospital room were "beautiful," her daughter said.

"My three sisters and I were at her bedside, singing songs and ministering to her," she said. "We watched her take one breath at a time and then her last breath came. It was so peaceful and beautiful."

Robert Schuller "misses her a lot," but is doing well, Milner said.

She said the Catholic Church has donated a burial plot at the Christ Cathedral Memorial Gardens where Arvella Schuller will be buried after a private funeral service.

She is survived by her husband; son, Robert; and daughters Sheila Coleman, Jeanne Dunn, Carol Milner and Gretchen Penner.

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