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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Tiny little news stories about booming Diocese of Orange

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The Diocese of Orange — as in Orange County — has a new leader, Bishop Kevin W. Vann, who has moved from one rapidly growing Catholic flock, in Fort Worth, to lead another in a diocese that the experts believe is one of the most rapidly growing in the United States. It is already the nation’s 10th largest and, with its rising tide of Latino and Asian believers, there is little sign this growth will stop anytime soon.

I was not surprised that both The Orange County Register and The Los Angeles Times covered the recent rites in which Vann was installed as the fourth leader of this still young diocese.

I was surprised — stunned, actually — that both newspapers offered such short, perfunctory reports. I mean, the Register — as the local newspaper — dedicated all of 440 words to this event.

It was wise, I think, to dedicate much of that tiny space to the multicultural aspects of the rite, which drew a crowd at a UC Irvine facility that was slightly too large to be held in the former Crystal Cathedral facility that will soon become the diocesan Christ Cathedral. Consider the following information:

American Indian and Vietnamese dancers opened the ceremony. Vann welcomed the crowd in four languages — English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean – while other portions of the service were translated into Chinese, Tagalog, Polish and Tongan. At one point, Vann lifted his voice in Spanish three times: “Viva Cristo Rey!” he said. “Viva!” came the shouted reply, again and again.

Actually, the bishop delivered part of his sermon in Spanish, as well, a gesture that was more than symbolic, methinks. Those seeking to know what he actually said on this occasion can, of course, turn to the essential Whispers in the Loggia website for that kind of information.

I must admit that I laughed out loud when I hit this story’s short, short snippet of the sermon. You see, in addition to waving an Angels baseball hat, saluting his family and other essential acts:

He also delivered a spiritual message.

“We are gathered here today as the body of Christ, as the family of God,” he told the 4,000 who filled the center. “To bring the message of God to the world.”

What do you know? The bishop delivered — note the precise term — a “spiritual” message. What a shock.

Actually he delivered a rather complex, and at times emotional, message about growing up near the Mississippi River and learning about the power, and the dangers, of rivers that combine a wide variety of different waters and currents into one strong body of water. It was a metaphor for the great gifts, as well as tensions, found in Southern California.

Well, dang it, this was not the kind of message that crunches down well into one soundbite. If only he had said something, well, nakedly political.

How did the Times handle that complex message in its 460-word report?

Greeting the crowd in Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean, Vann spoke of his Illinois upbringing near the Mississippi River and his journey out West.

“By the hand of God I believe we have been brought together to be, as the Scripture says, the stream that gladdens the city of God,” said Vann, who also flashed an Anaheim Angels ball cap.

“Let us sing and keep going,” he told the crowd. “What do I mean by keep going? Make progress.”

This story did, however, deliver one rather meaty set of facts about the new shepherd:

Vann is not unfamiliar with the challenges that a growing contingent of worshipers will provide. As the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, since 2005, he oversaw more than $135 million in capital improvements and helped oversee the opening of the nation’s largest Vietnamese church.

Vann will face a $100-million capital campaign, which will go toward parish renovations, school funding and upgrades to the high-profile Crystal Cathedral for Catholic worship.

That’s just about it, in terms of content.

Not much news content on which to chew — unless one watches the actual rites online and pays close attention to things like Bible verses, prayers and metaphors.


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