Remembering Pastor Chuck—Part 1
Remembering Pastor Chuck—Part 1

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My Memories of Pastor Chuck Smith—Part 1

By Sharon Fischer

Sharon and Hal Fischer were among the original members of the first Calvary Chapel church in Costa Mesa nearly 55 years ago. She published a book in 2014 entitled I Remember…The Birth of Calvary Chapel. This article briefly recounts her memories of Chuck Smith as her senior pastor. This is the first part of a two-part series that concludes tomorrow, October 3, on the seventh anniversary of Pastor Chuck Smith’s passing.

I still remember how the Lord first brought Chuck Smith to be our pastor at a small church in Costa Mesa, CA, more than 50 years ago. No one could have foreseen then what God had planned, a movement that would impact the world.

The Board of Trustees and the small congregation of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA, had been looking for a pastor for about a year. Several men had filled the pulpit in our little chapel on Church Street. Some were professors from Southern California Bible College, not looking to be the pastor of this little congregation but willing to help us out in the interim—including my father-in-law, Dr. Harold A. Fischer.

Baptism

Pastor Chuck Smith (left) joyfully baptizes a young man at Pirates’ Cove in Corona Del Mar.

And then Chuck Smith came along.

After hearing Chuck speak, many people thought, Wow! We love the way this guy teaches. The board asked Chuck to consider being our pastor and presented his candidacy to the congregation. Pastor Chuck accepted the call and was hired with a unanimous vote. We found out later that Chuck had asked the Lord that the vote be unanimous as a sign he was to accept the position. We were jubilant. He held his first official service as our pastor on Sunday, December 5, 1965. He was 38.

Communion

Chuck offers communion during an outdoor service at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa many years ago.

Pajamas in Church

Chuck got right down to business during those early weeks in December, announcing that he was going to take us through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This came as a shock to some, as most of us had never read the Bible through from cover to cover. Beginning in Genesis, we were to come prepared each Sunday by reading ahead 10 chapters at a time. I wondered how we could manage 10 chapters a week. On Sunday morning, he would focus on a Scripture passage from those chapters; on Sunday evening, he would expound on all 10.

We learned to bring our children to church in their pajamas because sometimes the Sunday evening service went past 9:30 p.m. Getting through 10 chapters was not easy, but no one complained about the late hour. Our babies were asleep in the nursery, and there was children’s church for the older ones. We adults were being taught the Scripture as never before, and we loved it.

Hammering

Pastor Chuck and two others repair a roof together. He was always active on project sites, willing to do whatever needed to be done.

Then the Hippies Came

Calvary Chapel began to grow under Chuck’s teaching. By 1968, the young hippies began coming—at first, just a couple at a time; but before long there were dozens which grew into hundreds. By 1971, our little church was bulging at the seams with a thousand or more coming to hear Chuck teach. Chuck and Kay loved these kids, and the young converts adored their newfound pastor and church. The young people’s love for the Lord just overflowed; as a result, people in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, and surrounding cities heard about Jesus and how God was using Chuck Smith.

Worship on rocks

Chuck stands with musicians at an outreach. As Pastor Chuck welcomed the hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s to the church, the Lord grew Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa exponentially.

We were amazed at how Chuck’s solid, straightforward teaching of the Bible struck a chord with these radical young people. They plastered bumper stickers on their vans like, “Get Right or Get Left!” Soon, we straight-laced, older people had bumper stickers on our cars, too. These young believers became so well taught by their pastor that eventually many also became pastors of churches here and around the world.

When Hal and I lived in Huntington Beach, Pastor Chuck led a Bible study in our home for the hippies. In amazement, we watched these enthusiastic kids come in droves. Chuck’s delight was obvious as he joined them on the floor of our home. They crowded the living room, hallway, and even filled up the stairs to eagerly await the teaching their pastor had for them that night. My husband was a police officer, and the young hippies loved the idea of being welcomed into the home of our “law-enforcement family”—some said it was a new experience to finally be on the right side of the law!

Hugging

Chuck and his wife Kay enjoyed a loving marriage together.

God Provides

We had outgrown the original Church Street chapel and then quickly maxed out the Lutheran church on the bay that we rented. Some of the zealous young converts brought dozens of friends with them as the “Jesus Movement” took off. With more people coming each week, we needed more room.

Hearing about a schoolhouse property on Sunflower Avenue and Greenville Street coming up for auction, Pastor Chuck offered a ridiculously low bid amount, never thinking in his wildest dreams that it would be accepted. Chuck received the phone call early in the morning; since his was the only bid, the school district accepted his offer of $53,050—just $50 over the minimum bid amount. Pastor Chuck often told the leaders, “When God guides, God provides.” So once again God had provided in a way we couldn’t have imagined.

When we purchased the Greenville School building, it was Chuck who put on his work clothes and rolled up his sleeves to demo the building. He and other men from the church worked side by side with the hippies to make room for the new Calvary Chapel sanctuary—a scene that made it into The Los Angeles Times. I remember walking by the new chapel that would seat 350 people and saying, “Chuck, it’s not going to be big enough.“ Sure enough, it was not long before we were pushing out the walls to seat more people.

Chuck on stage

Pastor Chuck shares the Gospel at an event. He did try to fit in with the youthful culture the Lord was bringing his way to disciple.

Another one of Pastor Chuck’s favorite sayings was ‘The flexible shall not be broken.’ Indeed, we had to adjust in many ways and soon it was a move to the big tent and then another [later] project, building the main sanctuary to seat close to 2,000. But Pastor Chuck was always on the project sites doing whatever was necessary. For him, no job was ever too dirty or too difficult. He was even known to clean bathrooms or pick up cigarette butts from the parking lot.

Chuck smiling for camera

Chuck always enjoyed celebrations.

The Word Prospers

Soon, Pastor Chuck had a sizeable following—both at church and on KWVE radio—of thousands who listened to him faithfully every day. His tapes were in such demand that we had a tape-lending library at church. The teaching tapes were first recorded in 1970; by 1981, more than 20,000 tapes were being distributed worldwide each month. The church purchased KWVE in 1985, enabling 24-hour Bible teaching and Christian music to be broadcast in Orange County as well as parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties.

Chuck was held in such high esteem by so many that it became worrisome to him. During one service, I remember he warned of the danger of people putting him on a pedestal: “If you put me on a pedestal, you are setting me up for a fall.” He said that he couldn’t take credit for what God was doing—and furthermore, that no one should give him credit. Chuck was a wise leader and adored by his parishioners. Many hundreds of them had come to know the Lord because they had been taught the Bible from cover to cover. To me, this was a demonstration of Isaiah 55:11, which says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

Diving

Always young at heart, Pastor Chuck dives into Lake Millstatt at the Castle in Austria. The Castle was a Calvary Chapel ministry center in Europe and housed the Calvary Chapel Bible College for many years.

Favorite Memories

Pastor Chuck was a unique man. I remember how Chuck loved children, and they were drawn to him like a magnet. On Dedication Sundays, Chuck would hold the children and pray over them. Many times, after praying over the babies, the little ones didn’t want to be handed back to their parents—which delighted Chuck to no end.

We believed Chuck had a photographic memory; he remembered all of our seating habits in the sanctuary at Calvary Chapel. Hal and I normally sat on his left by the prayer room, but one particular Sunday morning we decided to sit by Hal’s sister Joyce on Chuck’s right—big mistake. Chuck suddenly stopped mid-sentence, looked over at us and said, “Hal and Sharon, you’re confusing me: You moved from your seats.” With that, the whole church broke up laughing.

I remember other things about him: Chuck was a creature of habit. We could count down the seconds, and he would always walk out to the pulpit at precisely the right time. He was not a laissez-faire leader. He was strong-willed, but he also knew how to wait on the Lord. He was so frugal that we joked he would trip over a dime to pick up a penny.

Chuck was always approachable and had an open-door policy. When I was getting involved in the fashion industry as a model, my husband Hal was concerned and asked Chuck for his opinion. Chuck’s reply was, “Pray about it. If it’s of the Lord, it will be successful. And if it’s not of the Lord, it will fail.” As it turned out, I can only assume that God needs Christians in that industry too!

Chuck Smith portrait

Chuck was always quick to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ had done all of the increase and he was just thankful to be allowed to be part of what God did. He passed away on October 3, 2013.

Special Music

We loved to hear Chuck sing. It was always a treat when he sang before the message, his rich baritone filling the sanctuary. One particular time comes to my mind: We were in Israel, and the tour group gathered in the chapel by the Pool of Bethesda. Chuck began leading us in the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” The acoustics were so amazing that his voice just resonated up to the ceiling. It was so beautiful and moving that we could hardly sing; the tears were just flowing down our faces.

One of my favorite memories was when he taught the congregation a chorus taken straight from Scripture:

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: the LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace (Numbers 6:24-26, KJV).

Sharon and Chuck

Hal and Sharon Fischer (author of this article) with Pastor Chuck Smith. They were among Chuck’s original members in the early days of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. This was their last photo taken with Chuck. Pastor Chuck joked that this was indeed "an illustration of a rose between two thorns."

It became our benediction for many years. He would leave the podium about halfway through the song as he made his way down the center aisle to the courtyard. There he would greet lines of people for as long as it took. So you see, we had to fight hard the temptation to put this man on a pedestal.

Sharon and Hal Fischer were among the original members of the first Calvary Chapel church in Costa Mesa nearly 55 years ago. She published a book in 2014 entitled I Remember…The Birth of Calvary ChapelThe book can be purchased on Amazon. This article briefly recounts her memories of Chuck Smith as her senior pastor. This is the first part of a two-part series that concludes tomorrow, October 3, on the seventh anniversary of Pastor Chuck Smith’s passing.

Book cover

Don’t miss Part 2 of this series at calvarymagazine.org, which comes out tomorrow, October 3, the seventh anniversary of Pastor Chuck’s passing.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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