The Los Angeles Times reports that, after months of rumors and lots of battles in bankruptcy court, it has now been decided that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange will purchase the Crystal Cathedral for a tidy sum of $57.5 million. This sale is the result of the financial failure of the Crystal Cathedral and Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power television program. Just over a year ago, the Crystal Cathedral filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, acknowledging that it was more than $50 million in debt.
After it became clear that the Crystal Cathedral itself had to be sold, there was a bidding war between the Diocese of Orange and Chapman College in nearby Orange, California. Chapman wanted to turn the Crystal Cathedral into a satellite campus. The diocese will preserve the cathedral for religious purposes. According to the Times, Robert Schuller himself blessed the sale to the diocese because he could not endorse a secular use for cathedral property.
Members of the Crystal Cathedral congregation are devastated. The Times reports:
“I only have one word to say and that’s ‘devastated,’ ” said the Rev. James Richards, who has volunteered at the Crystal Cathedral for 10 years. He said congregants want to continue to worship in their church.
Congregant Bob Canfield said he felt “thrown under the bus.”
A Few Comments
I have many thoughts and feelings in response to the sale of the Crystal Cathedral. I’ll briefly mention a few:
• Although I am a fan of Chapman University, I am glad that the cathedral will still be devoted to the worship of the triune God.
• I am stunned and saddened that a church, even a church with a television ministry, could become $50 million in debt. This speaks of extraordinary carelessness on the part of church leaders and a virtual absence of accountability. I’m afraid it bears witness to the sinful hubris of the Schuller family, who ran the Crystal Cathedral with little oversight. It also points to the folly of allowing charismatic, powerful pastors and their families run churches without spiritual and financial accountability.
• Though Schuller’s “Hour of Power” was never my cup of tea, it did mean a great deal to my grandparents when they were no longer able to go to their own church because of their physical limitations. I’m glad they’re not here to witness what has happened with this ministry, which they supported with their modest donations.
• The demise of what was once a thriving television ministry serves as a parable and a warning for churches that are unwilling to deal with cultural change.
• Before I look down my long nose at Robert Schuller, may I take a long, hard look at myself and the pride that might very well go before my own fall.
• The response of the congregation to the loss of the Crystal Cathedral property reminds us of the danger of associating church with buildings. Back when that church was called “Garden Grove Community Church,” it had an identity beyond that of its property or pastor. If you name your church after your building, you’re making a major theological error and asking for trouble. Perhaps what is happening to this congregation is actually painful but necessary pruning. Lord willing, the members of this church will come to see themselves, not in terms of their building or their pastor, but as a gathering of God’s people whose identity is in Christ and whose mission is in Garden Grove. Perhaps, the end of the Crystal Cathedral will lead to the resurrection of Garden Grove Community Church. I hope and pray this is true.