I moved to the Cuyahoga Falls area in Ohio in 2013. Before I even found an apartment there I learned that the famous old televangelist, Ernest Angley, had his church in the Falls. However, I was serving with a ministry up until the 2015 summer, so when I finally found a free Sunday I was thrilled that I could visit the church and see how things were going for the 94 year old evangelist.
Below are some of my observations from the visit that visit as well as some background information.
The Building (Grace Cathedral)
Outside of the buildings
Grace Cathedral used to be the building for Rex Humbard, a prominent evangelist and businessman. Due to some financial troubles in the 80’s Rex Hubbard had to stop construction on a tower that would have had a rotating restaurant on top of it as well as a radio tower. The images on the left show the obvious reason why the tower tends to be more of an eye-sore, rather than a show-piece.
Interestingly, the tower does not actually belong to the Angley ministry. Rather, it is owned by a local man named Mike Krueger and it’s primary function is for a cell phone tower. Some conflicting information seems to exist in various places as to whether or not the Angley ministry ever owned it but it’s clear that they do not own it now.
The rest of the buildings did not seem very well kept either. The main building had a lot of faded paint, rusted metal, unkempt landscaping, and over-all just looked like it could use some updating.
The other thing that one will notice upon arriving is that attached to the church, via covered walkway, is a brick building that houses a buffet. I won’t say much about the buffet except that it has exceptional food but the building is large enough to house 5 buffets. It’s huge! I can only assume it was built before they decided to turn it into a buffet.
The other thing about the buffet is that recently Angley was investigated for allegedly breaking labor laws. According to court documents, church members where coerced into working the buffet for free, even though it’s a registered for-profit business. Some of the “employees” were also minors which was another problem because minors have very rigid laws concerning hours worked and record keeping, which were alleged to be violated by the church.
Inside of the building
The inside of the building looks dated but unlike the outside, it is very well kept. The building looks as though it was furnished in the 60’s and then never again. This would make sense because it was built in 1958.
The auditorium seats 5,000 people and has a large domed top that is quite tall. It makes you feel absolutely tiny once you are inside. The roof also has a giant cross on it which is hard to miss.
The seating is padded and has arm rests just like a theater. It is quite comfortable once you get settled in. The bottom of the seats are even fold-down style like a theater which helps when trying to get in and out of the rows. However, it was quite unnecessary for this particular visit since the auditorium was only sparsely populated.
The stage was covered in a HUGE gold colored curtain that stayed down until the choir was taking the stage. It was the largest curtain I have ever seen. The stage was very clean and well kept even though it looked as though it might still be decorated with 60’s furnishings like the rest of the church. Someone is probably getting paid well to keep the inside stage area looking clean and nice.
The Church Service
I was surprised that so few seats were filled once the service started. The stadium seats 5,400 but I estimated about 250 people, max. I first thought that maybe it was customary to show up late but that really never happened. It stayed empty. I wondered how they keep the lights on but that became more obvious as the service continued.
The service started with the choir opening. The huge gold curtain was pulled up and the singing began. The first thing I noticed was that there were no lyrics posted. No lyrics anywhere. No hymnals, no projectors, no handouts. Strangely enough, this seems to be a trend with lower level televangelists churches. I visited a number of similar churches and they all seem to have music with no visible lyrics. I can’t figure out why. I assume it’s an “insider” vs “outsider” situation were regular attendants are insiders and they can be easily spotted since they know the lyrics. (Just positing; I could be wrong.)
The worship was still excellent, as the choir was awesome. It was different from many services, in that the music stopped and started, with various events like greetings, and tithes. It was quite inspiring though. It was different than the normal service with a block of announcements followed by a block of worship and then preaching.
The tithes and offerings
This is where things got a bit strange. Like many televangelists, they made a big to-do about tithes and offerings. Many popular TBN evangelists even claim that salvation cannot be obtained without tithing. This is what I expected. However, I got something completely different. To be clear, they still wanted to get as much money as possible but they had a very different way of doing it.
This church was a great example of the “tithe + special offerings” method. In fact, they had, essentially, 4 offerings and one promotional sale….. all in one worship service.
The tithe was simple. They had a presentation from one of their missionaries and then took a very normal tithe. It was collected by ushers in blue buckets. They did not pass the buckets through the rows since not a single row was filled. It seemed clear that this offering was not likely to be the sole source of income for the church.
A few songs later, they took another offering that seemed to consist of loose change. They called it a wave offering which is a real biblical offer but is was not really done in a way that made sense. In addition, the wave offering from the Old Testament was done for the Levitical priests so they would be accepted in the Temple/Tabernacle. It also required an animal sacrifice. So, there seems little connection to the “waive” offering done in the church since Christians ARE the temple now and that we no longer have priests as intermediaries.
After that they sold some of Angley’s sermons on CD in the front of the church for $5 each. Keep in mind this is still in the middle of the worship service. They actually did a CD sale in the middle of the service and the CD was just of sermon audio which is freely available on youtube. I repeat, they sold free sermon material to people who had already heard the sermons. Most church’s that produce sermons on CD just hand them out for free for those who missed the service. Some actually sell CDs but they are usually entire sermon series which were bound nicely. These were not.
The last offering was done near the end of the worship session (before the preaching) and they called people to come forward for various special offerings for the work of the ministry. Money was given for missions, for Bibles, and for other specialty ministry expenses. They donations were actually given via the call-and-response method and the amounts were spoken out loud as they were handed over. So the whole church knew who was giving and how much and even what it was supposed to be for. They pulled in about 2 grand just in that one offering. Not shabby for a small gathering of about 250 people and it being the last offering of the day.
The last money related event they did was actually quite genius because it was subtle but will be effective in the long run. When Angley was doing announcements he announced the sale of their new magazine. They sell the magazines for 25 cents each. It appears that it probably only costs 25 cents to print them. At first glance I thought that maybe these were sold at-cost to benefit the members. As it turned out, they are pushed on the congregants and they are pressured to buy multiples and hand them out to people as a witnessing tool. Inside the magazines are ads for various money making schemes by the church. The types you see on the late night TBN infomercials. They advertised prayer clothes, prayers calls, and other things. The cover is a bit 70’s but I doubt Ernest notices. So the magazines are sold for next to nothing but they are designed to be money makers via scam ads.
For those who are not familiar with these scams, the prayer hotline is usually a way to collect a person’s contact information which is then used to send other forms of solicitations. The prayer clothes are usually (but not always) “free” with money for shipping and a note asking for a donation. Additionally, once the church has the mailing address for the clothe, it is used for other solicitations. I cannot confirm that this is what Grace Cathedral does but it’s what just about all televangelists do that are running scams. It seems only reasonable to conclude that Grace Cathedral is too.
Surprisingly, at 94, Angley is still giving Sunday morning sermons. There are 2 other pastors that work for the church but it seems as though it is expected that he is giving the sermons on Sunday. When it was time to bring Ernest Angley out, he was introduced as “beloved evangelist reverend pastor Ernest Angley.” Quite an introduction for someone who does not actually have the credentials to be called reverend. He even got the curtain entrance and a cheer.
Behind Ernest was the associate pastor who was clearly guiding him incase he tripped and fell. He seemed to be very feeble. However, if I am doing anything at all at age 94 I will be happy. Either way, when he reached his table and chair he sat down to deliver the sermon.
I though that the sermon would provide some nuggets to report but sadly the sermon was not really a sermon. He basically just read a lesson that someone else prepared for him and injected some of his own thoughts into it as he read it. The delivery was painfully slow and he sounded like he might collapse at any time. He frequently had to repeat himself because he lost his breath while speaking.
The sermon content was clean and basic. It was a lesson in seeds that others plant in your life. Had it been delivered with a little more gusto it might have actually drown a crowd but old Ernest just didn’t have it in him anymore. I’ve seen his old sermons from his prime and I feel like this one would have done well with the old vigor he displayed in his prime.
Some strange things
I actually thought the service was rather normal besides a few things. Selling CDs and magazines in the middle of the service was odd. It was also odd seeing Ernest plug his buffet a few times. Obviously the many offerings and calls for money were desperate looking but beyond that Angley himself was the only weird part of the service. The people were as nice and as normal as ever.
However, I noticed that Angley was basically the star of the show. Even though he was way past his prime he was cheered and adored by many of the long-time fans. Like many televangelists, he spoke of himself as a prophet of God. In fact, more than once he referred to himself as “God’s prophet” in these end times. It is clear that he believes he is God’s conduit to the world. Perhaps this is why so many of his followers tend to view him as a hero and not a pastor.
Another strange thing was that he was really concerned about “the texting.” He mentioned the evils of texting a number of times but failed to give any context. All texting is evil? Some texting is evil? Texting with bad people is evil? One could only assume that he does not understand what texting actually is. His condemning of texting reminded me of what people his age probably said of the telephone when it was invented.
Assessment of Grace Cathedral
It seems as though this church is on its way out. While many will recall that it was once a thriving ministry, like many of the other televangelists. But with no-one taking over the reigns of the ministry the audience seems to have aging and deteriorating as much as Ernest Angley is.
From what I can see, the staff supporting the church seem to be great Christian men and women who really believe in what they are doing. While I do not really care for Ernest since he seems to be a scam artist, I do believe he has a great supporting cast that can take the church places once he is gone.
With some minor renovations to the exterior of the building and a new face to the ministry I think it could be revived. Televangelists are not my cup of tea but I certainly would hate to see any church die where people call home….unless that home is causing lots of harm to it’s people.
The ministry does get involved in a lot of missions which I like but I fear that their missions might just be spreading the prosperity gospel and not Jesus and that scares me a lot. But if you are in town for a weekend I would recommend a visit. I think it will be quite unique to someone who has never been there.