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60 Minutes Interview

'60 Minutes' shot turns into a bonanza for Hensley

By J. Robert Razemore
staff writer

In the opening shots of the television program "60 Minutes' Sunday night, the Rev. Kirby J. Hensley of Modesto quipped with a smile and his tongue rolling to one side of his mouth,

"Yeah, I'm a con man."

Yesterday he opened the first big sack of mail prompted by that national exposure, sifting out checks and cash totaling maybe $10,000. There's more today, and there will be more tomorrow.

"Ooooo wheee ... This is mining. This is gold mining. It's surprising what money will do for you,"

the peppery head of the Universal Life Church exclaimed as he opened more letters in his world church headquarters in west Modesto.

Money to Hensley has only begat more money, something he has not frittered away. He still lives a modest life in his Poland Road home.

"I can't see spending it ... If the Lord's willing and the creek don't rise, I'll get by."

That he does. He has bought his own church, several rentals in Modesto and 640 acres of foothill land in Wilcox, Ariz., for a retirement village. But that project is stalled in a tangle of legal problems with Arizona officials.

When Hensley "gets by" best is when the television cameras are whirring and the newspapers are writing about him - good or bad.

The news has been both to Hensley in the 10 years since he started telling people he would ordain anyone for the asking. And with the minister's license goes an invitation to become an honorary doctor of divinity for a $20 donation.

Hensley was pleased when a San Jose policeman challenged his issuing of degrees, as he fought the state, the Internal Revenue Service and the federal courts. The public watched, listened and read of his trials and tribulations. And they responded - his flock of mail order ministers grew to more than 5 million worldwide.

 

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