Bankrupt Crystal Cathedral looks to Canada for help

By Dave Halliday, Special to February 24, 2012

Article published in Edmonton Journal

GARDEN GROVE, CALIFORNIA - Canadian viewers of the Hour of Power television show from Crystal Cathedral will play a role in determining the future of the program.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, Crystal Cathedral’s senior pastor, said in a telephone interview that Canadian donations declined when the church encountered financial problems and her father and church founder, Dr. Robert Schuller, was less involved in the Hour of Power.

“We’ve seen a serious drop in revenue in Canada,” Coleman said.

The donations pay for the airtime on Global and Vision TV to broadcast the Hour of Power. If the donations don’t rebound, the church will have to look at other options.

“One of the things we can do in Canada is go to a half hour,” said Coleman, adding that the program could also be reduced to a half hour in some areas of the United States. But she makes it clear that the program will continue.

“I want to assure you the Hour of Power will remain on television as an avenue for bringing hope to the world,” she said.

Crystal Cathedral, located in the Los Angeles area community of Garden Grove, a few kilometres from Disneyland, encountered financial difficulty that forced it into bankruptcy. A bankruptcy court judge approved sale of the 12.5-hectare (31-acre) church property to the Catholic Diocese of Orange County last fall for $57.5 million U.S.

The sale process was completed in early February when ownership formally changed hands.

“I’m pleased to know that our creditors get 100 per cent of what we owe them,” Coleman said.

The Catholic Diocese won a bidding war for the cathedral property with Chapman University largely because Schuller made it clear he wanted the iconic structure to remain a church. In addition to the cathedral, the property houses several other buildings including a welcoming centre.

Terms of the deal give the Crystal Cathedral congregation three years to find a new home.

Coleman said she expects that the search for a new location within a 16-kilometre radius will take 18 months to two years. Among the possibilities the church is considering are vacant warehouses.

A vacant warehouse would be a blank canvas that would give the church the opportunity “to create whatever we want,” Coleman said.

Moving the Hour of Power doesn’t present large problems.

“The Hour of Power is one of the easiest to move to a new location,” said Coleman, pointing out that the program could be produced in a television studio.

While Crystal Cathedral parishioners face the reality of losing their church and moving to a new location, Coleman said: “Every problem is an opportunity.”

“Don’t look at what we lost, look at what we have left,” she said.

“We still have more assets than when Dad first arrived. We have so much more to build on.”

Schuller, ordained as a minister in the Reformed Church of America, arrived in Garden Grove with $500 to set up a church in 1955. The only location he could find was a drive-in theatre — he preached to parishioners in their cars from a pulpit on the roof of the snack bar.

Eventually, the church moved to the current site where the glass-walled Cathedral was ready for services in September 1980. The Cathedral’s distinctive spire was constructed later.

While the local congregation grew, the Hour of Power television program gained strength with an estimated audience of 1.3 million in more than 150 countries at one point.

Coleman said that the program will aim to attract a younger audience and will make use of the Internet and other technology to improve accessibility to the program.

“For example, the Hour of Power released its own app in December and already a member of our staff saw someone watching the show on his smartphone while waiting in line at the airport.”

When the Crystal Cathedral congregation moves to a new home, the Catholic Diocese will take possession of a building completely unlike most Catholic cathedrals. But the famous building will not undergo major alterations.

“While renovations are called for, not much deconstruction would be required and the iconic personality of the original architecture and design would, for the most part, be retained,” the diocese said.

The diocese notes that the cathedral organ is one of the finest in the country, the quality of light and its allegory in the building is consistent with the enlightenment of Christ and there is ample space for worship and celebration.

However, some changes are required such as installing a central altar, adding the bishop’s chair, a baptistery, baptismal font and a tabernacle to house the Blessed Sacrament. Once the changes are made and a dedication ceremony is conducted by the bishop, the cathedral will become a Catholic place of worship.

Before winning the bidding war for Crystal Cathedral, the diocese considered building a cathedral at a cost of $200 million US. The diocese has announced that that Crystal Cathedral will be renamed.

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