SANTA ANA – It was just Sept. 29 that senior pastor Chuck Smith led three Sunday services in front of thousands of people at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Smith’s son, Chuck Smith Jr., said it was his father’s character to defy weakness, even while facing a fatal illness.
“He couldn’t help himself,” Chuck Smith Jr. told crowds totaling about 15,000 at the church’s three morning services Sunday. ”You were his life. He loved you.”
Smith died Thursday at 86 after battling lung cancer. Calvary Chapel pastors Chuck Smith Jr. and Brian Broderson, Smith’s son-in-law assured members Sunday that Smith’s memory, teachings and spirit would live on.
“He has not died,” Broderson said. “He’s moved out of a worn-out tent into a glorious, new body.”
A sense of hope and positivity swept over the Chapel’s services honoring the senior pastor. Smith’s casket was not present, but many church members brought remembrance flowers to display and sang some of Smith’s favorite hymns, such as “Love of God” and “In the Garden,” led by Smith’s grandsons, Char and Braden Broderson.
Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa was a congregation of about 50 when Smith was hired in 1965. He is credited with giving rise to the worldwide Jesus movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Under his stewardship, Calvary Chapel grew to more than 10,000 and was prominent not just for its size, but for its role in the creation of thousands of Calvary Chapels worldwide and its influence on generations of the faithful, as well as Christian pastors mentored by Smith.
As they have on many Sunday mornings at Calvary, crowds filled the church’s main worship space to capacity, leaving others to watch on televisions in other rooms throughout the campus. A couple of those rooms included a Spanish or Japanese translation.
Many congregants sat on folding chairs outside. Others planted themselves anywhere they could find shade, leaving empty the back rows of folding chairs where the sun beat down.
Church members also lined up to log their memories of Smith in guest books in the church church’s courtyard, even during services. Standing in line to sign a memorial book was Fountain Valley resident Regina Bond, who said Smith changed her life without ever meeting her face-to-face. She said she has been coming to Calvary since 2000.
“By the way he would teach the Word and his beliefs, you can see he lived his life for the Lord,” Bond, 41, said. “You could see the joy in his heart and the peace he had.”
Members also took photos of a surfboard memorial representing some of Smith’s favorite hobbies and interests, including orchids, his favorite flower; a lamb representing his favorite food and Bible teachings; three crosses representing Calvary Church; and some of his books.
“He was the most perfect human being I ever met in my whole life,” said memorial creator Judy Ruth Mullin, 60, of Costa Mesa.
“He was down-to-earth, meek and the most humble man I ever met.”
Keki Mahlow, 34, of Costa Mesa, attended school at the Calvary Chapel campus, including Maranatha Christian Academy and Calvary Chapel High School, from kindergarten through 12th grade. Mahlow remembered Smith as a hero around campus.
“He was always cheering at my volleyball games and picking up trash around campus,” he said. “He taught through the way he lived his life. It was easy to see his joy.”
Calvary Chapel’s board members meet Tuesday and may determine the next senior pastor, said Calvary pastor Steven Thomas.