(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn)
Since the three weeks Crystal Cathedral Ministries founder the Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his family left the California megachurch, the mood within the congregation has become "very positive," the church's new president and CEO, John Charles, told The Christian Post Thursday. In the past two Sundays alone, the congregation's size, as well as donations, has doubled, he added, emphasizing that his focus is returning the church to the traditional worship style it originally became known for.
Crystal Cathedral "was founded on sound Biblical preaching; it was founded on sound excellent biblical preaching and teaching. It was founded on excellent sacred music. Today, we return to those traditions," Charles said in a recent church service.
Charles' appointment as president and CEO of the iconic ministry the Rev. Schuller founded in 1955 came after the elder minister and his wife stepped down from the board over money disputes on March 10.
The departure of the Schuller family – including the founder's children who used to hold top positions within the ministries – is not going to discourage remaining members, Charles suggested.
Sheila Schuller Coleman, the Rev. Schuller's oldest daughter, was previously senior pastor of Crystal Cathedral, but announced her departure as well as a new church not long after her parents quit the ministries board. Charles estimates that about 75-100 members of Crystal Cathedral followed Coleman to her new church, Hope Center of Christ, but the president and CEO told CP his only concern is moving the remaining congregation forward.
"We're going back to the tradition of excellent worship, excellent teaching and sacred music," the minister told CP, explaining the church's new philosophy, although not sharing very many details. "We're moving forward," he added.
Charles told CP that Crystal Cathedral congregants are looking forward to the changes in worship the Schullers were apparently unable or unwilling to introduce. The congregation is "very excited" about these changes, Charles told CP. "They're very happy. These are changes they wanted to be made that were not being made. They are very excited to be going back into the traditional services again and to hear the great music and choral music."
The changes themselves do not seem huge – slightly tuned-down services, with choral music rather than acoustic bands, and of course, new preachers. The "Hour of Power," the ministry's popular televised worship program, will run as usual with new episodes starting this Sunday, although its airtime was cut to 30 minutes on some networks. Crystal Cathedral is carrying on with all of its ministries, Charles said, which also include a Bible school, a youth program and community outreach programs.
The departure of the Schuller family is seen by many as the beginning of a whole new era for the church, with some suggesting that the ministry lost its uniqueness when the Rev. Schuller stopped leading the church and the "Hour of Power" upon retirement in 2006.
The Crystal Cathedral founder recently revealed in a video message that he was suing the ministry's board for at least $5.5 million. Schuller claims the financial future for his wife and himself "may be at risk" due to the church's bankruptcy after he offered much of his intellectual property to it for free, in exchange for the church securing a form of a retirement fund for the couple.
The pair has not attended church services at Crystal Cathedral since Nov. 2011, as disputes with board members became more problematic. Charles told CP he suspects the elder Schullers were "relieved" to leave the board and act independently.
The new president and CEO also said he wished former senior pastor Schuller Coleman and her new congregation well. Charles made it clear he has no hard feelings, and extended an invitation to Coleman's Hope Center of Christ to visit the Crystal Cathedral every weekend.
Crystal Cathedral Ministries had been struggling financially for years before finally declaring bankruptcy in 2010. A lengthy court process involving its numerous creditors resulted in the signature Garden Grove glass property being sold last year to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County for $57.5 million. The diocese holds a lease agreement with Crystal Cathedral Ministries that allows the church to continue using the Garden Grove campus for three years before having to find a new home.
The church under Charles' leadership now faces the task of appointing new senior officials, including a senior pastor. So far, the role has temporarily been filled by Lawrence Wilkes, who has been an evening pastor at the church for the past 10 years.
"We're searching for a pastor now," Charles told CP, adding that the board is looking carefully for the best candidate.
Other top posts were temporarily filled by Bill Bennett, the new volunteer executive pastor, and John Tebay as choir director.
Charles told CP that the offer to become president caught him off guard. "Little did I know that I would be in this role," he said. He explained the shock of this sudden responsibility to the Crystal Cathedral congregation in a recent Sunday message.
"Imagine yourself being in an arena of 100,000 people; it's the championship game," he said. "In the heat of the game, the coach sends the star player off the field. The star player runs to the stand and stands in front of you and hands you his jersey, saying 'You're now in the game.' That was my experience one month ago. What do you do? Do you stand and hold up the game? Or do you fight like your life depends on it? I fought; I'm fighting for you."
However, the board president emphasized that the transition process for Crystal Cathedral Ministries has a long way to go.
"We're not quite through. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us," he told the congregation. "I'm asking you to support me with your prayers, your presence and your gifts."