Friday, June 3, 2011

Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral

According to the LA NOW:  Newport Beach development company will buy Crystal Cathedral Ministries' landmark campus for $46 million and build apartments on the site, filings in federal bankruptcy court disclosed Friday. More than 550 creditors were included in the filings, but only a handful were designated as eligible for the distribution payments [bummer for them]. A reorganized ministries' leadership led by Chief Executive Sheila Schuller Coleman, the founder's daughter, will pay $212,000 a month to Greenlaw to lease the cathedral and core elements needed to keep the church in operation.

I was there and visited the Cathedral (oddly named since the Reformed Church does not have bishops nor cathedrals but then I remember Rex Humberd and the Cathedral of Tomorrow, Akron, Ohio, and the lovely voice of Maude Aimee).  It was an odd building -- less successful for the folks sitting in the pews there than for those who watched on TV.  The Hazel Wright organ is a piece of work to be reckoned with (for serious pipe organ folks).  Schuller began famously in the drive in theater and ended up on top of the world for a time (before the precipitous fall that has left his family divided and his "ministry" crippled).  The dedication of our own pipe organ was played by former Crystal Cathedral organist Christopher Pardini (and he did a marvelous job with a standing room only crowd in appreciation).

But such is the case with superstar ministries and churches built more as monuments to the greatness of the preacher than to the message itself.  They have trouble with transitions.  They fall and fail in succeeding generations.  My first experience was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Paul Paino ministry "Calvary Temple."  He began within the Assembly of God, had some moral troubles, began his own congregation then denomination and ended up leaving Calvary Temple to found another church while his son took over the family business.  Every town or city has one or more superstars who stand grand on the stage for a time, usually undone by financial or moral problems.

Truth to be told many of these were paid for by the mailed in donations of Lutherans who either had a fit with their home congregation or found these superstars so compelling they had to support them.  Paul Crouch of TBN tells of the Lutheran who provided the foundational cash to get his media ministry going (with a little money left over to tint Jan's abundant hair pink).  This is what saddens me.  That the folks watching on TV invested so much in these individuals and chose them over the place where the Sacrament is offered and where a Pastor is there to speak God's Word to them, visit them in the hospital, and hear their confession.  It is a tragedy of great proportions that Lutherans mailed those checks in to people like Schuller (and still do) while they own local congregation is leaving wanting.  I guess that being Lutheran is no guarantee of sense or sensibility.  Now to be sure, some folks will say that their local Lutheran Church was not there for them in their hour of need (can't we all say that?  even Pastors?).  But that is more excuse than anything else.

I lament little over the troubles of the Crystal Cathedral (without a cathedra) or any other superstar ministry created by some superstar preacher.  Give me the plodding, ordinary, Pastor of any local congregation with its community of people -- in all their failings they are far more "church" than any of these mega-monsters we envy so much...


Anonymous said...

Robert Schuller was a clone of
Norman Vincent Peale. Schuller
simply called it Possibility Thinking
instead of Positive Thinking.

Schuller never used the word SIN in
a sermon because he felt it offended
people. This sham-artist never knew
the dynamic of Law and Gospel. As
an ego-manic his Crystal Cathedral
was doomed to crack into pieces.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Another cult of personality collapses under its own weight. Take a good look, this will be Joel Osteen one day. When I attended Concordia Irvine in the mid 90's the cracks in the Cathedral were already showing. Most everyone knew the Cathedral was little more than a tourist attraction, and anyone who moved to the area and was seriously looking for a congregation in which they would be fed and nourished soon moved on to one of the local Reformed, Baptist or Lutheran churches. Yes, many Lutherans have and continue to support Schuller's folly.

Kelly Blair said...

"It is a tragedy of great proportions that Lutherans mailed those checks in to people like Schuller (and still do) while they own local congregation is leaving wanting."

I say amen to that, Pastor Peters. Not only Lutherans, but people from all religions (I grew up Seventh-day Adventist and am now United Church of Christ..but I have wonderful Lutheran friends that I love dearly). I tell all of my friends of all religions to give locally so your funds can be used locally and not to be put into the pockets of those who would use your funds for their personal gain.