The Rev. Glen D. Cole, an influential pastor and forceful advocate for traditional values who built the Capital Christian Center into the first megachurch in the Sacramento region, died Tuesday. He was 78.
Cole was found unresponsive in his car in the parking lot at Trinity Life Center in Sacramento, where he was senior pastor, between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Tuesday, executive pastor Chuck Seielstad said. Seielstad said he administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation before emergency responders arrived.
"He drove to work, undid his seat belt and passed," said the Rev. Rick Cole, who succeeded his father as senior pastor of Capital Christian Center. "This is a great shock for us, a big loss for us and for the community."
He said his father, an avid golfer who played Monday, did not have any known health issues.
During 53 years of ministry, Glen Cole was one of the best-known pastors in Northern California and a visionary spiritual leader. His legacy includes large congregations known as megachurches that draw thousands of believers seeking the personal, emotional connection with God that he preached.
As senior pastor from 1978 to 1995, he transformed Capital Christian Center into one of the biggest Assemblies of God congregations in the country. About 5,000 people flocked to the church's landmark sanctuary off Highway 50 in the Rosemont area every Sunday to hear his Bible-quoting sermons, which were broadcast on TV and radio.
"He was a giant among pastors," said the Rev. Henry Wells of Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church. "He was a builder, a man of vision."
Cole was a regional and national leader in the Assemblies of God, including many years as a member of the denomination's Executive Presbytery. He influenced generations of ministers including his two sons and a grandson who followed in his footsteps to preach at churches around the country.
"He was the best mentor I've ever had," said the Rev. Ray Johnston of Bayside Church in Granite Bay, the biggest megachurch in the Sacramento region. "In my estimation, he was the single most important Christian leader in the history of Sacramento."
Cole's religious message including a strict belief in the Bible went beyond the pulpit into social and political issues. Legislators courted him, and news reporters regularly turned to him for his conservative viewpoints on moral issues. He served on the board of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority group.
He was an ardent critic of growing tolerance for gays and lesbians in society. He spoke out against domestic partnerships for unmarried couples, condom ads on television, local officials who supported "Sacramento Coming Out Day" and politicians who were not conservative enough for his convictions.
In 1987, he led Capital Christian Center and other churches in quitting the Interfaith Service Bureau after the bureau admitted a largely gay congregation.
"I'm very conservative, and I'm going to say what the Bible says," he said in a 2004 interview.
Cole stepped down after 17 years as leader of Capital Christian Center in 1995 and handed the reins to his younger son, Rick. He served as superintendent of the Northern California and Nevada District of the Assemblies of God, which became snared in an investment scheme in which he and other church members lost money.
He returned to the pulpit in 2004 for two years at Capital Christian Center, where he assisted his son, Rick. He also helped groom his elder son, Randy, as a pastor at the church.
He traveled and lectured before filling in as a guest preacher at Trinity Life Center, where he was asked to stay as senior pastor in 2008. He set about revitalizing the Hillsdale Boulevard church with building improvements and outreach that grew the congregation from 150 to more than 1,100 members.
"He is the best pastor I have ever worked for," Seielstad said. "He is a good businessman and a visionary pastor and, on a personal level, he is so loving and giving. He treated everyone like they were his best friend."
Born in 1933 in Tacoma, Wash., Glen David Cole was the son of Ruth and Ray Cole, an injured military veteran. His father died when he was 12, and his mother raised her six children alone for several years before remarrying.
Cole was a talented musician who earned a music scholarship to Washington State University. His plans changed one Sunday in an Assemblies of God church, when, he said, he heard a voice tell him instead to become a minister.
"The pastor's wife told him, 'Glen, whatever you feel God is saying to you right now, just say yes,' " Rick Cole said.
Glen Cole enrolled at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo., and earned a theology degree. He played in a school quartet and met a vivacious brunette working in the cafeteria, Mary Ann, who became his wife of 58 years.
He was ordained in the Assemblies of God in 1959 and started working as a pastor in Ohio before returning to Washington state to lead congregations there. He served as chaplain for the state Legislature and spent 11 years as pastor at Evergreen Christian Center in Olympia.
He moved to Sacramento in 1978 to be pastor at Bethel Temple on Howe Avenue. He persuaded church members to change the name to Capital Christian Center.
In 1984, the congregation moved into a new sanctuary on 63 acres off Highway 50 and Bradshaw Road. Under his leadership, the campus grew into a spiritual powerhouse with a preschool, elementary and high schools, and a Bible college.
"Everything he touched was successful," Rick Cole said. "He had a strong leadership gift and a positive personality. Every day was a good day for him."
Cole's outspokenness on social issues often made him a lightning rod. His conservative viewpoints drew the ire of many in the community, especially gays and lesbians.
"I regret the reaction, but I do understand," he said in a 1994 interview. "We take a stance that is very biblical."
Fewer people knew that Cole reached out to help people in need and paid anonymously to send many students to Bible school. He was a warm, generous man who "treated everybody equally and lovingly," Rick Cole said.
Glen Cole was a devoted patriarch who made a point to call family members early in the morning to wish them "Happy birthday." Besides spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his favorite hobby was playing golf.
"He loved God and he loved life and he loved golf," said Johnston of Bayside Church. "I'm sure the first thing he said when he got to heaven is, 'Where's the golf course?' "
GLEN COLE 1933-2012
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