Church's Financial Woes Leave So. Calif. Without 'Glory of Easter'

Normally, today would be the last day for Southern California residents to see "The Glory of Easter" at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

For 27 years, Crystal Cathedral has presented the live stage production chronicling the final week of Jesus' life with the last performance falling on the day before Easter.

This year, however, marks the first time the production was not be held "due to severe economic downturn," according to Robert H. Schuller, Crystal Cathedral's founder and chairman of its board of directors.

"We remain extremely grateful for the dedicated leadership of Paul and Jeanne Dunn and the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who for 27 consecutive years have faithfully shared in portraying the Passion Week of our Lord," Schuller stated earlier this year in announcing the board's decision, which came after "long prayer and deliberation."

"In my 2009 Christmas Eve message, I shared the sentence, 'A Set Back is a Set Up for a Comeback' so we anticipate a positive turnaround in our country as we look forward to the 2010 Glory of Christmas and 2011 Glory of Easter. We dedicate ourselves to making that happen," he concluded.

More than two months later, Crystal Cathedral is still facing setbacks – the latest being three lawsuits stating that the Garden Grove megachurch owes them more than $2 million for services rendered for the cathedral's "Glory of Christmas" program.

The three businesses that filed suit – an equipment financing company and two television stations – are among at least seven that say the church still owes them.

According to the Orange County Register, church administrators responded to the vendors' complaints last week with a written statement saying they have seen a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in revenue.

The church has "significant debt," the statement said, but it also has the assets to cover that debt.

"As a result, there are vendors that we have not been able to pay in a timely manner. It grieves us that we are in such a position," it added.

To cut costs and pick up additional revenue, the Reformed church last month closed down all operations at its San Juan Capistrano location and is seeking a buyer for the 20-acre Retreat Center located on the property. The remaining 150 acres are currently in escrow to be sold to a retirement community with an option to the City of San Juan Capistrano for 115 of those acres.

Crystal Cathedral spokesman John Charles told the Orange County Register that the church is doing everything it can to strengthen itself financially and is not looking at bankruptcy as an option.

"We're trying to avoid it at all costs," he said.

For more than a year, Crystal Cathedral has been trying to dig its way out of a $55 million debt. The church claims to have over 10,000 members and holds three services in its 2,900-capacity sanctuary every Sunday.

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