Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Crystal Cathedral, 1955-2012: R.I.P.

Behold! How the mighty have fallen.

The Crystal Cathedral has fallen.

The Protestant Crystal Cathedral will rise again as a Catholic Cathedral, thanks to the worldly powers of a bankruptcy court.

The young Reverend Robert H. Schuller preached in 1955 from the roof of a snack bar at an Orange County drive-in. The ministry thrived. He moved to the small screen in 1970 with The Hour of Power, attracting up to 2 million viewers weekly. It became the world’s most widely-viewed hour church service. The congregation grew to over 10,000 members at its peak.

From the small stand and screen came the Phillip Johnson designed Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, on 32 acres, a half mile from Man’s great creation, Disneyland. The 2,736 seat cathedral with 10,000 panes of glass opened in 1981 as an immediate landmark in the OC.

The Reverend Schuller’s sermons vied with Disneyland as the Happiest Place on Earth, or at least Orange County. The lit cross on top of the Crystal Cathedral serves as a beacon to guide souls, just as the CITGO Sign by Fenway in Boston.

The lavishly produced Christmas and Easter Pageants were productions worthy of Cecil B. DeMille with casts of a 100, live camels, horses, and a small Noah’s Ark of other animals, as well as sound and special effects.

Hints of trouble emerged. The Reverend Schuller in 1997 laid his hands upon a United Airlines flight attendant. The Reverend claimed he was ministering the spirit of the Lord. Observers surmised it was different spirits that moved the Minister. The FBI investigated.

Nepotism is not one of the Ten Commandments. Nor was it preached from the pulpit by the Schullers, but they practiced it. The Crystal Cathedral became a family business to the Schullers’ children and in-laws. Million dollars in salaries, housing allowances, all from contributors, flowed into the Church’s and Schullers’ coffers.

All 5 Schuller children partook of the bounty.

The Reverend retired as lead pastor in January 2006 and named his son, Robert A. Schuller, as his successor. He fired his son 2 ½ years later, followed by naming his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman as the lead pastor.

Debts piled up, revenue dropped from $54.6 million in 2008 to $41.2 million in 2009 and $22.3 million in the first nine months of 2010. Creditors went unpaid and the pageants cancelled.

Services were of the silent nature, for the host of worshipers had dwindled to but a few hearty souls.

The Schullers had to answer to a greater power as of October 2010, when the Crystal Cathedral ministry filed for bankruptcy. Nepotism and profligacy will do that.

Reverend Schuller asked parishioners for help last November. His wife, Arvella, was very ill with pneumonia. They requested that parishioners prepare meals for them, and then deliver them to their limo driver at the Cathedral.

The Church preached Christian charity, but parishioners of the bankrupt church did not perceive the limo and its driver as the Chariot of God.

The Lord may speak in mysterious ways, but this was the word of an email. The Lord does not email.

The bankruptcy showed preferential treatment of the extended Schuller clan of children and in-laws.

The family members had been paid.

The vendors were not.

The Reverend Schuller received an annual housing allowance of $120,000.

Musicians were unpaid.

$832,500 in tax-exempt housing allowances were granted to 8 people while all 5 Schuller children received money from the Church.

Choir members were unpaid.

Chapman University and the Diocese of Orange entered into a bidding war for the Cathedral. The Church won, because it needed it more. The Diocese of Orange lacked the financial resources to build a cathedral from scratch because of legal settlements.

Last Sunday was Reverend Schuller Coleman’s final sermon at the Crystal cathedral. She announced during Sunday ‘s sermon that she was leaving the Crystal Cathedral ministry and starting a new one. Her parents are not following her to her New Hope Center of Christ.

All members of the Schuller family have been cast out, or pushed out, of the Crystal Cathedral.

The Reverend Schuller Coleman explained that they were “leaving a hostile work environment.” That’s what bankruptcy can do to those who led the flock into bankruptcy.

The Board of the Crystal Cathedral has to render unto God that which is God’s, but unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. God heeds the spiritual needs, but the fiduciary duties belong to Caesar.

Her 9:00AM sermon this morning will be in Theatre 15, seating 500, of the AMC Multiplex at the Outlets at Orange. She posted “The whole family is welcome to come and join for a morning of coffee, popcorn, and praise,” with the concession stands being open. The old drive-in is no longer available. It’s reborn as a WalMart.

The now pastorless Crystal Cathedral will continue in the House of the Lord.

The pioneering televangelist knows the new social media. He posted a 4 minute video on Facebook that his “financial future may be at risk” due to the bankruptcy. He wants a $3.5 million buy-out from the Cathedral, claiming intellectual property rights.

$12.5 million in creditor claims remain unpaid because of the family claims of the Schullers.

From dust to dust, ashes to ashes, and movie theater to movie theater, the daughter has completed the circuit.

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