(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn)
Arvella Schuller, wife of Crystal Cathedral founder the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, testified Friday before a bankruptcy court in Los Angeles, Calif., in their lawsuit seeking more than $5 million from the ministry they founded over 55 years ago.
Arvella Schuller said she was never paid for her work for the church and that it was "my gift to God," according to The Orange County Register. However, she added, the Hour of Power program was a separate entity, the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, and the two were to be kept separate.
"My husband and Dr. Billy Graham said, 'We must never allow the television ministry to bankrupt the church," she testified. "The church was kept separate. That was sacred." Evangelist Graham was the executive producer at the beginning in 1970.
In their lawsuit, the Schullers claim that Crystal Cathedral Ministries owes them money based on a contract made several years ago in which it was agreed that administrators would provide the couple with more than $337,000 yearly for housing and insurance and for Robert Harold, Inc., among other payments. Robert Harold, Inc. is the name of the Rev. Schuller's corporation.
The 10-day trial, which began Thursday, will also find out whether Arvella Schuller donated her time for the Hour of Power television show, which she produced and directed from the 1970s until 2007, or got paid. The court will also rule who owns the rights to the television programs still televised around the world, and whether Robert Schuller's "transition agreement" upon leaving as senior pastor in 2005 constitutes a retirement plan or an employment contract.
If Judge Robert Kwan rules that it's an employment contract, damages to Rev. Schuller could be limited to one year's worth of wages.
One of the Schullers' daughters and her husband, both of whom worked in the ministry, also have claims in the case, which also involves copyright infringement and intellectual property violations.
The opposing counsel repeatedly asked Arvella Schuller in the court on Friday whether a $198,000 annual payment to her and her husband was for her services on the Hour of Power or for her and her husband's intellectual property. She appeared to give different answers, according to The OC Register, but she underlined that royalty and license are separate things.
If the Schuller family is paid the claims, it could seriously jeopardize the future of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, The Los Angeles Times quoted Chief Executive John Charles as saying. "If they pay everything they are asked, then there will be no money for the cathedral," he said.
Arvella Schuller told the court she created the program from her home, and woke up at 4 a.m. each Monday morning to cull the best parts of the previous Sunday's service, and worked around the clock. She met with musicians and the choir, and handled the cameramen, who were good but needed to be told that no, they shouldn't be focusing on a woman's pretty legs, according to the Register. "It took really every day of the week."
The megachurch had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2010. Crystal Cathedral had been facing a growing debt and a leadership struggle since the founder handed over the leadership of the church to his family in 2008. The Rev. Schuller and his wife, who founded the church with a $500 loan, stepped down from the board earlier this year over payment disputes.
Crystal Cathedral Ministries sold its iconic Garden Grove campus to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange last year for $57.5 million, and plans to move to a different property owned by the diocese next summer. The ministry currently pays the diocese rent to use the Garden Grove facilities while in transition.