Rev. Rex Humbard, 88; Televangelism Pioneer

From News Services
Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Rev. Rex Humbard, 88, a former itinerant preacher whose televangelism ministry once reached more parts of the globe than any other religious program, died Sept. 21 at a hospital near his home in Lantana, Fla. The cause of death was not disclosed.

The son of evangelists, Humbard began his ministry with cross-country revival meetings, realized the potential of television in the late 1940s and became known to millions by the 1970s. But financial overreaching eventually eroded his organization.

As with his contemporaries Billy Graham and Oral Roberts, Rev. Humbard's ministry began to flourish in the post-World War II era.

"The vast majority of people do not go to church and the only way we can reach them is through TV," he wrote in his autobiography, "Miracles in My Life."

"We must go into their homes -- into their hearts -- to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ."

His Sunday services, first televised in 1952, began in a renovated theater and eventually were delivered in the 5,400-seat nondenominational Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio. His church included velvet drapes, a hydraulic stage and a cross covered with thousands of red, white and blue light bulbs.

His ministry expanded to include a Mackinaw, Mich., campus used for religious education and a 23-story Akron office tower.

The broadcast, called "Cathedral of Tomorrow," developed into a mixture of preaching and music, with Rev. Humbard's wife, gospel singer Maude Aimee, and the Cathedral Quartet as regular performers. The Humbards' children also performed.

By 1970, Rev. Humbard's syndicated program appeared on more than 360 stations in North America. The show was broadcast in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, Australia and Latin America, giving it a worldwide reach of 8 million people, more than any other evangelist, according to a 1999 reference work, "Religious Leaders of America."

One of the show's admirers was Elvis Presley. Rev. Humbard spoke at his funeral in 1977.

Mounting financial problems and internal disputes led to problems, and in the 1970s federal and state regulators cited Rev. Humbard for violating securities laws. By the early 1980s, as few as 75 people attended his services, and Rev. Humbard moved to Florida.

For a time, he served on the board of Jim Bakker's PTL organization as it tried to regroup after Bakker resigned in 1987 amid a sex scandal.

Rev. Humbard sold the Cathedral of Tomorrow to fellow televangelist the Rev. Ernest Angley in 1994.

He was born Alpha Rex Emmanuel Humbard on Aug. 13, 1919, in Little Rock, to Pentecostal evangelists. He grew up traveling with his parents to church revivals across the country and said he came to know God as a youngster while resisting an order from his father to learn to play the guitar in church.

Later, he organized the family's revivals, doing advance work, handling business details, acting as master of ceremonies and eventually preaching.

Rev. Humbard began broadcasting sermons in Indianapolis in 1949 and eventually moved to Akron because of the enthusiastic response he received there. His son, Charles Humbard, president of the Gospel Music Channel, said his father was the first minister to broadcast a church service on television on a weekly basis.

"He was a person who dedicated his life to reaching people in need with a message of grace, hope and love," his son said.

Although he lacked formal seminary training, Rev. Humbard was ordained in Greenville, S.C., where the family had run a revival, and received credentials from an organization of independent Pentecostal ministers.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years and their four children.

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