Religion

Thousands gather in Tulsa to mourn Oral Roberts

TULSA, Okla. —Evangelist Oral Roberts was remembered Monday as a charismatic leader who deftly used television to spread the message of Christianity worldwide.

Thousands packed an arena at Oral Roberts University for the memorial service for the man who founded the evangelical liberal arts school. Roberts, 91, died of complications from pneumonia last week in California.

"You sent us a man who we know and loved and who walked with God and never gave up the common touch," fellow evangelist Pat Robertson said during the ceremony's opening prayer. "I know you broke the mold with Oral."

Mourners came from all backgrounds: There were young people in tattered jeans, a man dressed in a camouflage hunting jacket, and a young woman carrying a $5,000 Marc Jacobs handbag.

Along with television evangelists, dignitaries included Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self.

Self summed up his former boss: "Tough in nature, real and certainly one of the most charismatic men I have met," he said before the service.

The service included video tributes and condolences from preachers and politicians; pictures with Roberts talking to Larry King, Jerry Lewis and President Richard Nixon; and a video message from former Oklahoma State University basketball coach Eddie Sutton, who recalled the time when his house burned down and Roberts showed up with an entire wardrobe to replace what had been lost.

Roberts rose from poverty and tent revivals to become one of the nation's most recognized and influential preachers. Roberts, along with Billy Graham, helped pioneer TV evangelism.

"There was something when Oral leaned into that TV and said, 'Something good is going to happen to you today,' " ORU President Mark Rutland said.

Richard Roberts, the former president of the school, described his father's worldwide appeal in the days after his passing: He made the cover of more than 800 newspapers worldwide; he was the No. 1 searched name on Yahoo; more than 200 voice mails and 300 text messages flooded the ministry.

"My father is in heaven," Roberts said, his voice slightly cracking. "He's home for Christmas. He's home."

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