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Crystal Cathedral Bankruptcy: Why Are Worshipers So Attached to a Building?

Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman Tells Congregants 'The Church Is Not a Building'

Crystal Cathedral Ministries' Garden Grove, Calif., property will be sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million, it was decided Thursday, and that means the church will have to find a new location for its thousands-strong congregation. But congregants have expressed an unwillingness to leave the signature glass structure behind.

The Crystal Cathedral is a landmark building in town, designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, and is covered with 10,000 glass panes -- an unusual idea for a state not estranged to earthquakes. The notable structure has attracted admirers since its erection in 1980. The main hall of the iconic church building seats 2,800 worshipers.

The church has not been doing well financially since 2002, and a year ago administrators filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Since then, members have been trying to save the church, donating money from their own pockets, which proved not enough to pull the church out of its estimated $50 million debt.

Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, who is the daughter of founding pastor the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, addressed the congregation Thursday, saying that there is still time for a miracle, but many are skeptical, as the sale of the church has been approved by a judge in a Santa Ana bankruptcy court.

Once the property is sold to the Catholic diocese, the congregation will have three years to find new premises.

Many were outraged after the decision at Thursday's hearing.

One church member expressively stated Thursday that he felt "raped of our ministry," when talking to The Associated Press.

Many among the Orange County Christian community wonder at this strong attachment of the congregation to the building.

An elder member of First Baptist Church of Garden Grove, Chet Smith, told The Christian Post Friday that the congregation is like a big family.

"It's hard to face it when you're family is being broken up. You try to do everything you can to prevent that," he said.

Smith acknowledged that the ministry has been attracting many faithful congregants with its "dynamic" nature and solid media outreach. Crystal Cathedral broadcasts "The Hour of Power," the longest running televised sermon in the United States, watched by an estimated 20 million people every week. Smith also emphasized that pastor Schuller is a very charismatic figure.

Chapman University, the secular bidder in the sale case, has been the preferred buyer as far as the church members are concerned. That is because Chapman would allow the ministry to continue to use the main buildings on the premises. It also offered the option of allowing church administrators to buy the property back at a later point.

Pastor Coleman said in her video statement that the church board would not be able to afford buying the property again.

Based on reports, it seems indeed as if only a miracle could now leave the property in the hands of the congregation that built it.

Smith also noticed that congregants excessively refer to the Crystal Cathedral campus as "my church." Any church should first of all be considered "Christ's church," he pointed out.

Pastor Coleman referenced that issue as well in her address.

"We all know that a church is not a building," she said. "The church is you, and it's me. And that's why we will always be here for you."

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, founded the Garden Grove Community Church -- what is now Crystal Cathedral Ministries -- in 1955.

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