Breakaway Crystal Cathedral congregation finds theater refuge

LOS ANGELES Sat Mar 17, 2012 4:22pm EDT

1 of 2. A view of the interior of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California August 10, 2011. The bankruptcy sale of Crystal Cathedral, the glass-walled Orange County church known for its 'Hour of Power' broadcasts, has touched off a bidding war between a Roman Catholic diocese and a local university. The church's ministry, meanwhile, has announced that its campus is not for sale and launched a pledge drive to keep the cathedral, But that is a show of opposition that could put it on a legal collision course with creditors.

Credit: Reuters/Alex Gallardo

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The faithful of Crystal Cathedral will have a choice of where to worship on Sunday -- either in the glass-walled Southern California mega-church famous from "Hour of Power" broadcasts or with the daughter of the televangelist who built it.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, whose father is Crystal Cathedral's founding pastor Robert Schuller and most recently led services at the church, has invited her congregation to join her for worship in a movie theater at an outdoor mall.

The separate services mark the culmination of a schism between the iconic structure, the remaining leadership at the facility and the Schullers following the departure last week of 85-year-old Robert Schuller and his wife from the church board amid a financial dispute.

Robert Schuller retired as senior pastor of Crystal Cathedral in 2006.

Amid declining donations and attendance, Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy in 2010, and the Protestant congregation that continues to worship there will have to move within three years as a result of the cash-strapped church's sale of the property for $57.5 million to a local Catholic diocese.

"We just know that we need to find our new home sooner than later," Coleman said in a video message posted earlier this week on the website for her newly named congregation, Hope Center OC (Of Christ).

The name is a play on words for Orange County, the largely suburban area where Crystal Cathedral is located, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

In a statement posted on a Facebook page, Coleman and her fellow worship leaders said they would meet at an AMC Theatres location in the Outlets at Orange.

The decision to hold services in a movie theater is a throwback to Robert Schuller's original church, long before the opening of the Crystal Cathedral in 1980, when he and his wife, Arvella, began holding services in 1955 at a rented drive-in theater.

Robert and Arvella Schuller said in a statement earlier this week they support their daughter's move, but would not join her at the new location or commit to worshipping at Crystal Cathedral.

Meanwhile, those worshipers who continue to attend Crystal Cathedral will have a guest pastor, Lawrence Wilkes, leading services, said Kristin Cole, a spokeswoman for the church.

The services will be taped for a future airing of the "Hour of Power," Cole said.

Crystal Cathedral announced earlier this month that "Hour of Power," which is available to most U.S. cable subscribers and is seen overseas, was going into reruns amid a management shakeup that included the ouster of Coleman's husband.

Robert and Arvella Schuller and their daughter, Carol Schuller Milner, have said in bankruptcy court papers that the church owes them money for copyright infringement, intellectual property violations and unpaid contracts.

John Charles, chairman of the Crystal Cathedral board, said in a statement earlier this week the Schuller's settlement proposals have consistently demanded $3.5 million. That amount if paid "would leave the Crystal Cathedral ministries with virtually no funds to continue its ministries," he said.

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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