Crystal Cathedral as church vs. building

The future of the Crystal Cathedral’s glass building has been in limbo in recent months, but the board of directors said today that it prefers the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County as its buyer.

We have been tracking many of the reports out of California, but it’s worth looking at a new report from the Associated Press.

“That’s our church – the Crystal Cathedral. We bought and paid for it,” said Bob Canfield, a 73-year-old general contractor who joined the church five years ago. “We feel like we’ve been raped of our ministry.”

When Catholics talk of “the church,” they don’t mean a building. But for many congregants at the Crystal Cathedral, the church building designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson and made up of 10,000 panes of glass has become intertwined with the church’s identity.

That is quite the quote from a congregant that perhaps could use some fleshing out. Assuming the ministry would continue in a new building, why does he use such strong language? The next sentence, “When Catholics talk of ‘the church,’ they don’t mean a building,” seems to sum up the writer’s feelings about Crystal Cathedral members vs. Catholic members. Crystal Cathedral congregants are described as distraught while Catholic congregants appear more flexible about their buildings.

The diocese has tried to assuage congregants’ concerns by preserving a chapel on campus for interfaith use and assuring they will honor existing contracts for cemetery plots regardless of a person’s religious affiliation. The glass-spired Crystal Cathedral – which lets worshippers see the sky and palm trees through the walls and ceiling of the church – would remain intact but undergo interior renovations to create a central altar and baptismal font and other structures to serve Catholics’ needs.

These details on how the church would remodel under the Catholic Church illustrates how the building itself isn’t necessarily neutral, despite quotes that make it seem like the specifics don’t matter.

Parishioners at St. Callistus, who would be asked to make the switch, said they could worship anywhere – in an enormous sanctuary or tiny room.

“My faith does not depend on a building,” said Rosemary Diliberto, 84, on her way to morning Mass at the ethnically diverse church dotted with signs in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. “God is God, wherever we go.”

Considering the beautiful cathedrals across the world and the warehouse structures that evangelicals sometimes worship in, it almost seems like a funny twist on history and architecture. The quotes from distraught congregants found in the AP report seem a bit different than the tone from church leadership.

“Crystal Cathedral church is not a building,” senior pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said in a statement, as quoted by the LA Times. Speaking of the Times, the paper posted a strange blog post earlier this week that made little sense. Brad Greenberg channeled his inner GetReligionista when he looked at piece where the church asked for meal donations for Arvella Schuller, who is founder Robert H. Schuller’s wife and recovering from pneumonia. Really, it’s not news at all that a church would ask for meals for anyone who is ill. What might be a bit strange is one line in the post:

The email asks that the food be delivered to the Tower Lobby of the church, and said that the food would be delivered by a limo driver.

Now a limo delivery is a bit more unusual than most food-delivery efforts I’ve seen at churches, but the piece doesn’t really flesh that out. The reporter talks to someone at the church but doesn’t appear to ask why a limo driver needs to deliver the food. As the church figures out its next steps, hopefully media outlets will continue to watch how it sorts out its financial situation.

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  • Passing By

    A bit more info from the Catholic side of the equation.

    And have fun with Rocco’s use of “Evangelical”.

  • Mollie

    Was that the same Bob Canfield, 73, who was quoted in the story about delivering meals to Arvella Schuller?

  • Matt

    And the same Canfield quoted in this LATimes story about how he feels “thrown under the bus”, now that the sale to the Catholics is going through. He seems quite prominent for someone who has only been with the congregation for five years.

    Also, it’s worth noting that the limo made an appearance in that story as well, with a USC religion scholar commenting, “I mean, how out of touch can you possibly be?”

  • Karl

    Catholics actually have a rather “high church” view of cathedrals and parish buildings. Parishes are consecrated before they are used and Catholicism teaches that God is present in the sanctuary even when there are no consecrated hosts/precious blood and Mass is not being celebrated. This is why the priest and servers bow or genuflect at the altar at the beginning of Mass.

    (I’m not a canon lawyer, FYI). I believe that canon law says that a priest can celebrate Mass anywhere (like a University lecture room, outside, or in someone’s home) under certain circumstances, but otherwise Mass should only be celebrated in a consecrated church building.

  • Martha

    I thought they weren’t going to sell it after all and that the Catholic diocese would have to look elsewhere.

    Now you’re telling me that it is going to be sold, after all?

    Huh. Obviously I haven’t been following this story closely enough. :-)

  • Martha

    Mollie and Matt: at least they didn’t quote Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J.