Thinking Out Loud

March 15, 2012

Sheila Schuller Coleman Lauches Hope Center of Christ

It was, after all, the United States’ first true megachurch. So when things at the Crystal Cathedral began to unravel a few years ago, this blogger thought it all worth mentioning even when others didn’t or wouldn’t, which resulted in much unexpected traffic.

But then, in the last few days, as the whole saga seemed to reach the final chapter, it all seemed rather anticlimactic. First there was the resignation of Robert H. and wife Arvella, widely reported. Then, on Sunday, the rather sudden announcement at the second service by daughter and pastor Sheila Coleman that it was her final service at the iconic Southern California church.

The Orange County Register story linked above chose to headline the story, “Schuller Coleman leaving; Crystal Cathedral congregation faces split;” but indeed, with only 700 in attendance at both services — many of them tourists — how do you split a congregation so small and still leave much left?

But out of the ashes, something new begins.

First, the word, that Sheila and brother-in-law Jim Penner would begin a new work, Hope Center OC — with the “OC” standing for “of Christ” while of course also intoning “Orange County.”  Another detail nested in the story:

She indicated she had received a $50,000 donation from a supporter to help with the move – “a heck of a lot more than what mom and dad” had when they started, she said.

But the location is still TBA, as in “to be acquired.” The elder Schullers announced that they would neither be going with Sheila nor continuing to attend whatever takes place at the famed church on Lewis St. in Garden Grove.

“How we will express ourselves in worship remains up in the air,” Robert H. and Arvella Schuller stated in the release.

Schuller: The Next Generation

At this rate, grandson (Robert A.’s son; pictured right) Bobby Schuller’s church, The Gathering (aka Tree of Life Community) might have more people in attendance next Sunday than either iteration of what met last Sunday, a concept that would have been unthinkable just a few short months ago.

Terry Mattingly at Get Religion finds the reporting on the story “hollow,” and suggests that even knowing more about the contents of the sermon that Coleman delivered, or what music was sung that day would give us a better picture of Sunday’s events. Whereas I’m somewhat relieved that the story is over, he finds so much more waiting to be told.

Like, for example, Robert Anthony’s take on the whole thing. The younger R.S. has been wisely silent throughout this process, but I’m sure he has both substantive ideas and strong emotions about all that’s taken place. Would the Crystal Cathedral ministry still be intact if the original succession had lasted? We’ll never know.

Perhaps Terry Mattingly is right. This is a continuing drama. The same day that Sheila Coleman and Jim Penner posted their video, this video appeared:

Favorite quotation from the video, “…Many have told me that I redefined the Christian message.  I had to…”

Had to? Yes, the gospel that the church preached for centuries was wholly inadequate. It needed, apparently, new possibilities.

And apparently it still does. Stay tuned. This story is not over.

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November 18, 2011

Reformed Church of America Moves to Sever Ties with Crystal Cathedral

St. Callistus Church ain't the Crystal Cathedral, but, with its overhead stained glass window, it ain't too shabby either.

As noted earlier today at Bene Diction Blogs On, not only has the iconic Crystal Cathedral decided to accept the offer of the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange County, but the church’s parent denomination, The Reformed Church of America, has decided to end a decades-long relationship that had always existed outside of normal denominational protocols and paradigms.

First story first, as reported at the Orange County Register:

Late Thursday evening U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kwan issued the ruling, acknowledging the tremendous work put in by Chapman University, the diocese’s competitor, which offered as much as $59 million for the 40-acre Crystal Cathedral campus. The diocese will get the property for $57.5 million.

Under the diocese’s plan, the ministry will be able to lease the core buildings – including the cathedral and the Tower of Hope – for three years, at $100,000 a month during the first year and $150,000 for years two and three. They also will be able to lease the school building for $10,000 a month until the end of school year 2013.

After three years, Crystal Cathedral Ministries and the school will move to the 10-acre property on Lewis Street where St. Callistus is now located.

Several longtime congregants who supported Chapman’s bid in an effort to remain in their home church left in tears after the judge announced the decision.

…continue reading here…

This has to beg the question: Will there be enough congregants left to continue in the large glass church for three years?   The same news story noted:

Congregants, who left the courthouse tearful and disappointed, said they felt betrayed.

“The cathedral’s administration and the board have really stripped us of our ministry,” said Bob Canfield. “In the end, it was all about the money. The congregants have lost their ministry.”

Chuck Stalter called the decision “the death of the church.”

“There will be a mass exodus tomorrow,” he said.

Other issues raised in the discussions included a perceived superiority of Catholic churches in general to maintain burial grounds.  Many former members of the Crystal Cathedral are buried on the property while others have expressed that intent in their wills.

The denominational issue, while it won’t be the focus of many mainstream news reports today, is in some ways significant, though most will view it as a rather anticlimactic move that has been a long time coming.

[R]epresentatives of the Reformed Church in America say they are in the process of discontinuing their relationship with the Crystal Cathedral.

Scott Treadway, president of the Reformed Church in California, says the cathedral’s goals and mission, including worship style, are not in line with those of the denomination – leaving them with no choice but to discontinue their long and unique relationship with the Crystal Cathedral.

“We have resolved that the governance requirements of the (Crystal Cathedral) and RCA are mutually exclusive, and discussions are underway toward a gracious parting of ways,” he said in an email response.

The Reformed Church’s relationship with the Crystal Cathedral was unique because the cathedral had grown into much more than a local community church when it became a worldwide television ministry, Treadway said.

So an agreement was forged, he said, where the Reformed Church continued to ordain the ministers, but that the ministry and property were administered solely by Crystal Cathedral Ministries. Although the agreement worked well for many years, the relationship became stressed when “there was a dissonance in ministry direction, music style, bankruptcy and risk to the property,” Treadway said, referring to the ministry’s shift from traditional music to a praise style of worship.

“It became an unsolvable mess,” he said.

…complete story here…

Back to the building and property sale, the church’s lead pastor continues to hold on to optimism in the face of what is probably insurmountable obstacles:

Sheila Schuller Coleman, the founder’s daughter, sought to reassure members and supporters of the iconic house of worship Thursday night, saying “there is still time for God to step in and save Crystal Cathedral Ministries.”

“Lest you think it is too late for a miracle, I want to reassure you that it is not too late for a miracle,” said Schuller Coleman, the church’s director of ministry and mission.

…continue story at CNN Religion…

Sadly, this last pronouncement shows that the story is not over, and really won’t be over, until the church comes to terms with the idea that its time has passed.  We do not, in the Evangelical world, have a protocol for shutting down churches smoothly.  People get emotionally bonded to land and buildings, when in fact, our love and devotion should be directed toward Jesus Christ.

Many other stories in this saga are available on this blog:  Use the search bar in the upper right corner and type “Crystal Cathedral” and hit enter.  Results will appear in reverse chronological order from newest to oldest.

November 5, 2011

Schullers In Need of Meals; Their Limo Driver Will Pick-Up

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am

In the words of humorist Dave Barry, “I am not making this up.”

Perhaps a program like Meals and Wheels would be more suited to the Schuller's present needs

When someone in your church is not well, people volunteer to make pasta or casseroles, right?  Well, Arvella Schuller, the wife of Crystal Cathedral founder Robert Schuller, is not well and so the church has e-mailed parishioners asking for meals; and will send a limo to pick up whatever you have to offer. 

What is wrong with this picture? 

Although the language in this gets strong at one point, it is the most succinct summary currently available.

The Crystal Cathedral’s Pastor Jim Kok sent an e-mail to congregants asking for their help. The Rev. Robert Schuller’s wife Arvella was recovering from a bout with pneumonia, and he said it would be really nice if they could donate some food: nothing too salty, nothing too sweet, fruit plates, meals with protein and egg dishes like quiche would be good. Oh, and if they could drop it off with the limo driver at the church, that would be fantastic.

That last part about the limo driver is really pissing off parishioners, according to the Los Angeles Times. It looks like another example of the debt-ridden church’s wasteful spending.

“We’re just tired of it,” Bob Canfield, a congregant who is involved with an online petition to rid the church’s board of Schuller family members, told the Times. “We’re just tired of them taking advantage of us.”

The Crystal Cathedral has fallen on hard times ever since the economy took a turn for the worst (and the hand-off between Rev. Schuller and his children hasn’t been successful). The church owes its creditors $50 million, and Chapman University is making a bid to buy the church and pay off its debts.


Story also verified at Christian Post
and Huffington Post

Additional information and commentary at Bene Diction Blogs On

October 28, 2011

Crystal Cathedral Property Sold to Chapman University

In the end, the university bid was the one the Schullers approved.

The board “had to reluctantly vote to accept a plan due to the deadlines required by the court,” Sheila Schuller Coleman, senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral Congregation, said in the statement.

The story is summarized at the San Fransisco Chronicle.

The church will continue to have the use of some of the buildings, but the Orange County Register reports that the annual Christmas production won’t be happening for 2011.

Crystal Cathedral’s iconic “Glory of Christmas” pageant is unlikely to happen this year with the pending sale of the 40-acre property, even as a dark cloud of uncertainty hangs over the 60-year-old ministry founded by Robert H. Schuller.

On Wednesday, Crystal Cathedral Ministries’ board announced their decision to “reluctantly endorse” Chapman University as the preferred buyer over the highest bidder, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. Chapman is offering $50 million for the campus and options to continue the ministry on the property and buy back core church buildings in five years. The university plans to start a satellite campus there which will offer health science courses.

Even the Wall Street Journal followed this epic tale.

In the suit, filed Sept. 30, the creditors insist that claims filed in the bankruptcy case—related to everything from employee salaries to alleged copyright infringement—should be bumped back in the line to be repaid. Most of the 10 defendants targeted in the suit are related to the Schullers by blood or marriage.

“R. H. Schuller used his control and influence to cause the debtor to enter into the above-described agreements that benefitted himself and his family, to the detriment of the creditors of the debtor and in breach of his fiduciary obligations to the debtor,” the creditors said, referencing deals that governed everything from compensation for a Schuller son-in-law charged with executing the church’s “Glory of Christmas” pageant to the transition that installed Robert H. Schuller’s son as senior minister for a time…

Though the founders continue to do battle with the creditors regarding their claims, they seem to be on board with the recent turn in the case. Even though their first-choice ending for the proceedings—raising enough money for Crystal Cathedral to remain in control of the entire campus—didn’t materialize, the couple are now set to “embrace Chapman,” according to a statement released Wednesday.

“If Chapman emerges as the owner of the Crystal Cathedral campus, we will welcome the future students and faculty with all that our positive faith has to offer,” Robert H. Schuller said, adding that the board’s decision to tap Chapman as the preferred buyer “took weeks of deliberation and prayer.”

End of story?  Methinks not.  The drama, which has been faithfully recorded on this blog — type “Crystal Cathedral” into the search field at the top of the sidebar — is really a multi-dimensional story involving:

  • overspending, bad management
  • a family feud gone very public
  • the lack of substance, or spiritual shallowness of the Cathedral’s core message
  • the traditional vs. contemporary (and Mainline vs. Charismatic) music wars involving congregational and choir (performance) music
  • the untold story of the Cathedral’s thriving Hispanic church

…and much, much more; though for some, the middle one, the relentless self-help message of possibility-thinking that overshadowed more profound Biblical teaching, was the Achilles Heel that eventually caused the ministry organization to come undone.

No, this story is a continuing drama.

Stay tuned.

October 3, 2011

Crystal Cathedral Offering Falls Short — Really Short — of $50M Objective

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:26 am

If you volunteered to help count the offering after the Crystal Cathedral’s launch of a $50 million (US) “miracle” offering, you wouldn’t have to worry about arriving home too late for lunch.  The initial response — the church believes it has until Thanksgiving — was $4,737, according to report filed with the bankruptcy court.  That court is under pressure from creditors to simply accept one of the two dominant offers to purchase the land and buildings; one from Chapman University and one from The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County.

So let’s compare those two numbers:

  • $50,000,000.00
  • $00,004,737.00

So far, they have a long way to go.  Thanksgiving in the U.S. is held in November.  The creditors want the decision made by October 31st.

Read the full story at The Orange County Register.

May 28, 2011

Crystal Cathedral Land, Buildings To Be Sold in June

In a desperate bid to eliminate debt, an Irvine, California real estate partnership will acquire the land and buildings and then grant the church the option to lease back the facility for 15 years.   The church has been cutting back expenses, but membership, weekly attendance and revenue have kept falling faster than the cutbacks.

The debt relief could also allow what the Orange County Register terms “23 insiders” to continue to live in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.  Although it limits salaries, there isn’t mention of the ever conspicuous “housing allowances” paid to key staff.  The newspaper reports:

Greenlaw Partners would pay $46 million for the cathedral and surrounding buildings, leasing back the cathedral to the ministry. Most of the cash would go to creditors.

After four years, the ministry would have the right to buy back the cathedral, parking lots and most other buildings for $30 million. Greenlaw would get the right to build apartments on some of the 30-acre property…

…The key to the plan is real estate development. Greenlaw wants to build apartments – potentially hundreds of apartments – on what are now parking lots, low-slung buildings and lawns near the corner of Lewis Street and Dawn Avenue.The deal is critical to the ministry’s precarious financial health. Each apartment Greenlaw builds would knock $20,000 off the price the ministry pays to get back the cathedral and its core buildings. In an example cited in court papers, 400 apartments would reduce the repurchase price by $8 million…

…The family of founding Rev. Robert H. Schuller would give up some of its financial power over the cathedral to an independent board. Although the elder Schuller and his wife, Arvella, would sit on that board, an executive board controlled by outsiders would set the ministry’s budget and would also appoint the chief financial officer.

In addition, the bankruptcy plan limits the salary of the ministry’s chief executive officer, Schuller’s daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, to $69,525 a year.

The church owes about $7.5 million to unsecured creditors including many longtime vendors who provided services for its annual Christmas and Easter pageants. Church administrators say the cathedral will continue its local worship services, community outreach programs and its weekly “Hour of Power” broadcasts. Also, the plan will immediately eliminate both the church’s mortgage and the majority of its vendor debt, they say. Any remaining vendor debt will be repaid over the next 42 months, officials say….

Continue reading the story at OC Register.

Crystal Cathedral staff are quick to lay the blame on economic factors, but readers of this blog know otherwise.   While megachurches elsewhere are booming, the difference lies clearly in the message preached.  Even though some identify the big glass church as within the parameters of Evangelicalism, the church’s “positive thinking” teaching more resembles that of mainline Protestant churches — most of which are also seeing rapidly declining numbers — if not, on some Sundays, coming across with a message that would be fully acceptable to most Unitarians.

The cathedral’s court filings’ blame its financial troubles partly on “unsettled leadership” but mostly on the recession.

However, a financial statement filed Friday shows that the ministry’s losses predate the recession…

Perhaps they predate even the founding of the church.  Let me explain.  Like Chicago’s Willow Creek, the Crystal Cathedral was founded on the basis of a door-to-door survey.  But while Bill Hybels’ neighbors (a) didn’t want to be asked for money and (b) wanted to be anonymous or not singled out; those in Schuller’s survey made it clear they didn’t want to be judged, or preached condemnation.  On that premise, and under the influence of Norman Vincent Peale, Robert H. Schuller embarked on a message of self-improvement that at times is indistinguishable from that of Oprah Winfrey.  In a church-saturated country, it wasn’t the message that either those within the fold, or those outside it craved.

Evangelicals have always admired the quality of the Hour of Power’s television productions, the choir and orchestra, and the colorful list of weekly guests.   But the message was always watered down, light years away from the “full gospel” of Pentecostals, and often not even a “half gospel” that more conservative Christians could endorse.

In the end, Schuller’s own son, Robert A. Schuller couldn’t endorse it either; and the pastor, who credits a Billy Graham crusade with his own personal conversion, began a more aggressive exposition of Biblical texts, much to the dislike of some in the church’s executive branch.

The younger Schuller’s dismissal and absence from the weekly telecast was the wake up call that many faithful viewers needed to realize that there was indeed trouble in the camp. 

And so, the once mighty Crystal Cathedral limps onward, but a shadow of its former self. 

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