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Schuller's Crystal Cathedral files for bankruptcy protection

Creditors owed millions

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

GARDEN GROVE, California The Crystal Cathedral, the beleaguered glass mega-church, which broadcasts services in many parts of the world, has been struggling with a messy succession to its founder Dr. Robert Schuller Sr. It recently filed for bankruptcy protection to stave off demands for payments from creditors. The legal move follows months of cutbacks in programming and layoffs of staff.

The church, which is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America (RCA), filed for Chapter 11 to reorganize its debts.

Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, the daughter of Dr. Robert Schuller, promised that the ministry would continue as usual. Speaking from a sprawling 40-acre Garden Grove campus, she said that if anything, the recent troubles will give her church's messages more meaning.

The church was started by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller in a rented drive-in movie theater in 1955 and came to prominence through the "Hour of Power" television show. Last January, faced with a $55-million budget deficit and a 27 percent drop in revenue over the last two years, it cut back in programming and sold property. It also cut dozens of jobs, pulled the "Hour of Power" from a number of stations and canceled its annual Christmas and Easter pageants, which drew thousands of people.


Officials at the church said they could not cut costs fast enough to deal with the economic downturn, decline in donations and an aging congregation. The national audience for the television show is estimated at between 800,000 and 1 million.

Since then, the church is paying cash for everything with the main goal to "stay out of credit card debt." The Crystal Cathedral owes $7.5 million to vendors and has a $36 million mortgage on the property, while according to documents, the church has assets of between $50 million and $100 million. Its board of directors authorized the bankruptcy filing.

According to Schuller Coleman, the reality is that the church has to operate like a business and that the church is going through a "regeneration," in which younger families are arriving to fill out a predominantly elderly congregation.

Part of Crystal Cathedral's problems are said to stem from the 2006 succession by Coleman's brother, Robert A. Schuller, to head the ministry. By the fall of 2008, the father and son decided to part ways in a messy dispute.