Seeing through a famous glass cathedral, rather dimly

The 2010 bankruptcy of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, founded in 1955 by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller atop a drive-in movie theater’s concession stand, stunned much of the church world.

One year later, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange bid $57.5 million for the Crystal Cathedral campus itself, a sprawling facility in the city of Garden Grove, which sits at the heart of Orange County, California. Architects Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson designed the two main buildings on the site — Neutra’s Arboretum and Johnson’s Crystal Cathedral, now renamed Christ Cathedral. The news these days is that the latter is undergoing massive and much-discussed renovations to transform the space from what was, essentially, a hyper-Protestant television ministry’s epicenter into a specifically Catholic liturgical space.

The Los Angeles Times — under the awkward headline, “Changing faiths at the Crystal Cathedral” — looked in on renovations, and while presenting an interesting summary, it seemed to skirt some essential issues. And note that headline on this long, front-page feature story: Is Catholic Christianity really a different FAITH than Protestantism? Aren’t both of these flocks part of the Christian faith?

Meanwhile, reporter Rick Rojas, whose beat is a general one covering Orange County, hints at a couple of issues, and that’s about it:

The diocese launched a $53-million undertaking to refurbish the complex, moving the congregation of nearby St. Callistus to the Christ Cathedral campus and handing over the old Catholic church to the Crystal Cathedral’s refugees. (The transition hasn’t gone without tension: The removal of engraved markers, called Walk of Faith stones, during the construction process has upset some of the Schuller followers who bought them.)

Having paid $57.5 million for a 30-year-old structure that had been fairly well maintained, at least until the offering money ran out, one wonders why a nearly identical amount would have to be spent to “refurbish the complex.” A few details perhaps?

The Times story hints at some things that will need to be installed: “a traditional altar, a gospel lectern called an ambo and [a] baptismal font,” as well as “prominent images of such figures as the Virgin Mary, the apostles and, especially, the church’s namesake,” i.e., Jesus Christ.

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