The Birth of Calvary Chapel
By Sharon Fischer
Special to ASSIST News Service
YORBA LINDA, CA (ANS) — It’s been only four hours since we received a call at 4:56 AM with the news that Pastor Chuck, our pastor for the past 48 years, had slipped into eternity during the wee hours of this morning. It’s just now beginning to sink in, and with intermittent tears and memories flowing together, I think back on the birth of Calvary Chapel, and at the request of Dan Wooding, ASSIST News, I write this:
Hal and Sharon Fischer
This man, whose beautiful smile my husband Hal, and I, first encountered 48 years ago this fall, appeared before a small congregation in a little church on Church Street, Costa Mesa, California, called Calvary Chapel. There were only about 50 of us, and during a time of dissention when things were not going well for us, the board of trustees arranged for interim pastors to take the pulpit. After several men, some of them professors from what is now Vanguard University, filled the pulpit, we heard about a man whom we were encouraged to invite to speak.
Chuck arrived, and we heard the Bible taught in such a simple yet profound way that we were in awe of how God’s love was being revealed to us. It was a new way-different from anything we had heard for most of our lives, having been raised in denominational churches. Chuck Smith’s teaching was what we had been yearning for but hadn’t been able to describe. We knew that what we had just heard was exactly what we’d been longing for.
The board was convinced that this was a man sent from God, so the next step was to take it to the congregation for a vote. In November of 1965, Pastor Chuck Smith was unanimously voted in as our pastor. He moved his family from Corona-his wife, Kay, their sons, Chuck Jr., and Jeff, and their daughters Janette and Cheryl. He held his first service on Sunday, December 5, 1965. We soon learned that we would be studying the Bible from cover to cover, beginning in Genesis and reading 10 chapters a week for our homework. The Sunday morning topic was taken from these 10 chapters, and the evening service was an in-depth study, verse by verse. We all began to bring our Bibles to church, and we entered the New Year with much anticipation and excitement. We had never heard the Bible taught like this before!
The church began to grow exponentially and soon thousands from every walk of life would be joining us, taking notes and underlining scripture verses. The body of Christ was being armed spiritually, and the many thousands to follow would tell others what they had learned. The news of the Gospel was being spread across our nation by this first generation of Calvary Chapel believers because they had been well taught by this pastor/teacher.
Chuck Smith was not one to take life easy. Besides the five weekly church services, he also held home Bible studies. In those early days, he was the first to come to the aid of anyone in the congregation who needed help. He would roll up his sleeves and get under the hood to fix a car for someone who couldn’t afford a mechanic. He helped to pour a patio and to replace a water heater in one couple’s home, and he helped to rewire another home. He was always ready-pushing a broom or using a pick and shovel to help renovate the newly purchased conference centers. On a napkin in a restaurant he drew out the plans to remodel the platform of the little chapel on Church Street. The year progressed with Pastor Chuck calling for special workdays to keep our church in good repair.
As we look back at the phenomenal growth of Calvary Chapel, I still remember the first hippie kids who flooded through the doors. They had finally found a church that would accept them and love them and a pastor and his wife who had a heart for this lost generation. They filled the churches that we outgrew and then the tent to overflowing as they sat, mesmerized, being taught by this balding guy in his early 40s, who explained God’s Word like a loving father. In fact, for many he became the father they had never known, and it wasn’t long before he was referred to as “Papa Chuck.”
I just spoke to Jack Hibbs, pastor of a 10,000-member congregation from Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills. He told me that Chuck was the only father he had ever known. Many other young pastors say that Chuck was their mentor, whom they also looked up to as a loving dad.
I am listening to KWVE (www.kwve.com) in the background as I write, and I’m hearing Pastor Chuck singing, “The Love of God,”-his rich baritone voice belting out the words that I remember him singing so long ago before a Sunday morning service. My mind and heart are filled with memories of the times we spent together after Sunday services, going out to lunch with anyone who wanted to come. After lunch, Chuck would take our twins and the other children down to See’s Candies and buy them suckers.
In the coming years, our children and grandchildren were baptized along with many hundreds down at little Corona by their friend, Pastor Chuck, as he stood in the water, baptizing one after another for hours on end. Our son, Lonnie, just posted on Facebook his memories of knowing Chuck all of his life-he was only 10 months old when Chuck came and was 10 years old when Chuck baptized him. Lonnie said, “I can hear Pastor Chuck saying to me now, with that big smile and that chuckle that he gave me every time he would see me, ‘Ha ha, Lon. ALL Right.I’M GOING TO HANG OUT IN HEAVEN, MAN!'”
For my family, Hal, Terri Ann, Lynnette, and Lonnie, I can say, “Hey, Chuck, soon and very soon, we will be hanging out in heaven with you and with Jesus, whom you taught us to love.”
What a joy it is to contemplate even now that Chuck is realizing what he shared in one of his Bible studies. Quoting 2 Corinthians 5:1, he read: “For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle [this tent] were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” He then commented, “And one of these days, should the Lord tarry, you no doubt will pick up your paper and read, ‘Chuck Smith died last night. Pastor of Calvary Chapel, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.’ Don’t believe it! That’s poor reporting. If they’re going to tell the truth, they’re going to have to say, ‘Chuck Smith moved last night out of a decrepit old holey tent, leaky tent, into a beautiful new mansion.'”
Welcome to your new home, Chuck! We can’t wait to join you.