Published: July 16, 2011 Updated: 1:09 p.m.

Crystal Cathedral members launch petition drive

Longtime church members have started a campaign online and in fellowship classes, which they hope will help them "take their church back."

By DEEPA BHARATH / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER




GARDEN GROVE – A few longtime members of Robert H. Schuller's Crystal Cathedral, which had its humble beginnings at an Orange drive-in theater, have started a petition drive to "take their church back."

The petition, posted on www.crystalcathedralmusic.net, addresses Crystal Cathedral members, former members, and viewers of the megachurch's "Hour of Power," which in its heyday was viewed by millions worldwide.


The petition calls for a "truly independent board."

"It is time to rise up and take our church back," it states. "This means: no family members, no paid staff, no paid contractors."

Representatives of the Reform Church did not return phone calls. A spokesman for the Crystal Cathedral could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Jim McDonald, a longtime member helping with the petition drive, said the petition had 273 signatures as of Saturday. McDonald, who also organized a tribute to former choir director Don Neuen in October against the will of church administrators, said church members for years have been pleading with the Schuller family for transparency. He said several church members and elders organized a meeting with senior pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman on April 25, 2010.

"But we got no answers," he said. "It was a meeting where we as members told (Coleman), 'We can help you, but you have to give us the church back.' But the answer we got back that day was 'We don't need you, we're doing just fine.'"

Roughly six months after that meeting, on Oct. 18, the cathedral filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  McDonald said he and other members were most concerned about the creditors who were owed money for their services, including many who helped put together the "Glory of Christmas" pageant. McDonald had to have the tribute to former choir director Don Neuen at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster because he could not get permission from Gretchen Schuller Penner to have it at the cathedral. But, on top of that, Coleman would not give him permission to sell the DVDs he made of the tribute and collect money to pay off the creditors, McDonald said.

He said he and other members are disappointed with the actions of


."They have slighted the name of Robert H. Schuller," McDonald said. "The children have destroyed the church for the congregation and they have no right to do so."

The Reform Church of America, he hopes, will step forward and protect the congregation, whose members have pumped millions into the cathedral over the past four decades.

"In my opinion, the Reform Church did not do their job over the years to protect us members, but they were not consulted by the cathedral administrators either," he said.

The Schuller children have brought down what their father built with their in-fighting, which is why it is time for them to leave, McDonald said.

"The problem with nepotism is that it not only destroys the organization, but also the family," he said.

The person who started the website and the petition drive is a longtime member who would only identify himself as Penrod Schoefield, a pen name he uses on the website. He wanted to remain anonymous because he says he fears he will be retaliated against and may not be allowed on to church grounds.

He says he started the website as a place where those who love and cherish the traditional music of the Crystal Cathedral as presented by Neuen and famed pianist Roger Williams, can come together.

When Robert H. Schuller was removed from the board as a voting member earlier this month, Schoefield started the petition drive with other current and former members on his side. Schuller's son, Robert A. Schuller, who had quit over a family feud three years ago, said his father was ousted because he wanted to enlarge the board and have members who had no conflict-of-interest issues.

"That's exactly what the church needs now," Schoefield says.

The goal is to get 1,000 signatures through the website and by circulating the petitions among the cathedral's fellowship groups so they can approach the Reform Church of America and seek help to give the church back to its members.

Schoefield said he hopes the petition drive will help take the Crystal Cathedral back to its roots, when it was the Garden Grove Community Church.

"As Robert Schuller himself said, the buildings came later," he said. "We, the people, are and have always been the church."

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


Robert Schuller has been extremely proud of the architecture of the Crystal Cathedral buildings, including one of his favorites, the bell tower, right, background.


Coleman and Penner and their recent decision to move the church toward a Pentacostal-type service with praise music

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