Lonnie Frisbee

A hippie evangelist at the beginning of the Jesus People movement, Lonnie Frisbee was a key figure in the history of both Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Christian Fellowship.

Lonnie Frisbee on a television program with Kathryn Kuhlman.

However, until recently his contribution to these movements – some claim neither Calvary Chapel nor the Vineyard would have existed were it not for Frisbee – had been largely ignored because Frisbee struggled with homosexuality and died of AIDS in 1993.

Lonnie Frisbee put the freak in Jesus freak. With his long brown hair, long craggily beard, dusty clothing, scent of Mary Jane and glint of his last LSD trip in his eyes, he showed up out of nowhere, at the height of the ’60s, literally on Chuck Smith’s doorstep.

Smith was just another conservative Orange County pastor. He’d moved from a small church in Corona to an even smaller one in Costa Mesa, yet had impressively boosted membership from three people to more than 200.

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According to a scratchy recording of Smith’s voice in a new documentary, the pastor would look at “dirty hippies” and wonder, “Why don’t you take a bath?” But his front-porch meeting with Frisbee in 1968 was awash in the wonderful coincidences Christians point to as proof of God working in mysterious ways. The hippie was fresh off an LSD-juiced vision in which God told him he’d turn hordes of young people on to Christ. Smith’s wife, Kay, had just had a vision of her own: that her husband’s church would reach out to those damn (but not necessarily damned) dirty hippies. “I turned and saw the tears streaming down her face,” Smith says on the recording, “and I could see she was praying.” So he asked his daughter’s boyfriend to pull a random hippie off the street, bring him to the pastor’s home and let him get inside the Flower Child mindset. Along Fair Drive in Costa Mesa, the boyfriend picked up a hitchhiker with flowing brown hair, flowing scraggily beard and a Bible clutched against his dusty shirt. The random hippie was Lonnie Frisbee.

Before long, the two men bonded. Despite his misgivings about hippie hygiene, Smith was always fascinated by the peace-and-love rhetoric. And this kid’s Bible knowledge impressed him. Frisbee saw in Smith a much-desired father figure. They went on to stand side by side off Little Corona beach, dunking thousands of young people in the chilly waters for the most informal and joyous of baptisms. At his Calvary Chapel, Smith taught about the End Times on Monday nights and Frisbee packed in the hippies on Wednesday nights. Church membership skyrocketed. Young people around the land heard about “the hippie preacher in Costa Mesa” who was goofy, brusque and looked as if he’s just walked out of the Bible. “People say I look like Jesus,” he once said, “and I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather look like.”

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Category: Lonnie Frisbee
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First published (or major update) on Wednesday, December 7, 2005.
Last updated on June 15, 2019.

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