Bobby Schuller brings generations together with new church

Orange County Register article by Deepa Bharath, Staff Writer

Posted March 12, 2015 – Updated 12:11 PM


Bobby Schuller calls it “the end of the worship wars.”

The grandson of Robert H. Schuller, who founded the Crystal Cathedral megachurch, has combined two ministries many believed may not mix.

Shepherd’s Grove in Garden Grove comprises mostly older congregants from the now-defunct Crystal Cathedral, who prefer a solemn, traditional service with music they have come to associate with the glory days of their beloved megachurch.

Tree of Life is a younger church with members who are mostly millenials and younger congregants, who like a contemporary worship style with a laid-back vibe.

Bobby Schuller, 33, believes these two different paths can merge. He has combined the ministries under the Shepherd’s Grove banner.

“We’ve brought an end to the worship wars,” he said. “It’s not the musical style that matters. You can worship and engage either way.”

So, at the new Shepherd’s Grove, there are two Sunday morning services. The first one at 9:30 features the traditional service with Don Neuen as choir director and Marc Riley as musical director. Both men were part of the Crystal Cathedral team.

The second service at 11:15 features contemporary folk and country-style music under the leadership of Tree of Life worship pastor Tully Wilkenson, who has served in similar capacities at Rock Harbor and Saddleback churches that feature contemporary music in their services.

Schuller said he combined the two churches for the sake of economy and efficiency.

“Now, we have one church under one governance,” he said. “It’s really amazing to me because two years ago, we didn’t know if we would survive. We are financially stable now and just crossed the 1,000-member mark.”

In 2013, Schuller was named pastor of the iconic “Hour of Power” television ministry, which reaches millions worldwide. While retaining Crystal Cathedral Ministries as a corporate name for the “Hour of Power,” the congregation, which moved down the street from its Lewis Street campus after the Diocese of Orange purchased it, retained a fraction of the 10,000 members it once had.

Doris Carlton, 89, a member of the congregation for six decades, is legally blind. She engages through the traditional music and Schuller’s sermons.

“I think it’s great that there is something in this church for everyone,” she said. “It’s good to acknowledge that different generations have different tastes in music.”

Carlton was among the first Crystal Cathedral members who attended Robert H.Schuller’s services at the Orange drive-in theater in the 1950s.

“I still come here because Bobby Schuller has retained the positive message delivered by his grandfather,” she said.

Kirstie Weeks,  23,  started  attending  Tree  of  Life two

years ago. “I was drawn by its authenticity,” she said. It was a bunch of random people who came together to worship and I could be myself there.”

Weeks now attends the 11:15 service at Shepherd’s Grove.

“It was scary in the beginning to come to such a big church,” she said. “But, I’ve found the worship to be great. It still feels like home and a place where I can walk in and leave all that achiness behind.”

The “Hour of Power” program is still televised during the first service, featuring the choir and traditional music to which viewers are accustomed.

Combining the two ministries did hurt a few people, especially aging pastors who had served the Crystal Cathedral well, said Jim Kirkland, member and most vocal critic of Shepherd’s Grove. He blogs on his website, Pen’s Opinion.

“(Bobby Schuller) brought in his friends from the Tree of Life and cast aside our pastors,” he said.

But Schuller said Russ Jacobsen, the church’s chief operating officer, originally served the Crystal Cathedral before moving to the Tree of Life. The older pastors either retired, went part-time or volunteered, and were not sidelined, he said.

“Change is always difficult, I understand that,” Schuller said.

He said in addition to combining the two churches, the church’s board made the tough decision to close Crystal Cathedral Academy, the K-12 school, which also moved along with the congregation to the much smaller Shepherd’s Grove campus. He said the principal was informed about the closure when it was revealed that the school was projected to lose about $680,000 in 2015.

“It was not an easy decision,” he said. “But we wanted to give them the time to look for a space so they can continue the great work they are doing now.”

Principal Carole Barber, who has served the school for 25 years, said she was surprised by the decision, but “very optimistic” about finding the school, its 165 students and 35 employees a new home.

“We have a lot of people in the community who want this school to continue,” she said. “We’re in the process of raising money because financing is the biggest challenge here.”

The school reflects Bobby’s late grandmother, Arvella Schuller’s vision to give children a complete education, which included academics, arts programs and worship, Barber said. The school also welcomed international students from countries such as China, Russia, Vietnam and Korea, she said.

“We hope to carry on those same values,” Barber said. “Even if we are no longer affiliated with the church, Arvella’s vision will continue.”


Contact the writer: 714-796-7909 or dbharath@ocregister.com

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