Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Canadian viewers may help to determine the fate of the Hour of Power

Have you noticed that the "Possibility Thinking" promoted by Robert Schuller didn't seem to work anymore for the Crystal Cathedral when the U.S. economy collapsed in 2008? As reported by Dave Halliday in the Edmonton Journal, February 25, 2012:

Canadian viewers of the Hour of Power television show from Crystal Cathedral will play a role in deter-mining the future of the program.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, Crystal Cathedral's senior pastor, said in a telephone interview that Canadian donations declined when the church encountered financial problems and her father and church founder, Dr. Robert Schuller, was less involved in the Hour of Power.

"We've seen a serious drop in revenue in Canada," Coleman said.

The donations pay for the airtime on Global and Vision TV to broadcast the Hour of Power. If the donations don't rebound, the church will have to look at other options.

"One of the things we can do in Canada is go to a half-hour," said Coleman, adding that the program could also be reduced to a half-hour in some areas of the United States. But she makes it clear that the pro-gram will continue.

"I want to assure you the Hour of Power will remain on television as an avenue for bringing hope to the world," she said.

Crystal Cathedral, located in the Los Angeles area community of Garden Grove, a few kilometres from Disneyland, encountered financial difficulty that forced it into bankruptcy.

A bankruptcy court judge approved sale of the 12.5-hectare church property to the Catholic Diocese of Orange County last fall for $57.5 million US.

The sale process was completed in early February when ownership formally changed hands.

"I'm pleased to know that our creditors get 100 per cent of what we owe them," Coleman said.

The Catholic Diocese won a bidding war for the cathedral property with Chapman University largely because Schuller made it clear he wanted the iconic structure to re-main a church. In addition to the cathedral, the property houses several other buildings including a welcoming centre.

Terms of the deal give the Crystal Cathedral congregation three years to find a new home.

Coleman said she expects that the search for a new location within a 16-kilometre radius will take 18 months to two years. Among the possibilities the church is considering are vacant warehouses.

A vacant warehouse would be a blank canvas that would give the church the opportunity "to create whatever we want," Coleman said. Moving the Hour of Power doesn't present large problems.

"The Hour of Power is one of the easiest to move to a new location," said Coleman, pointing out that the program could be produced in a television studio...

...Schuller, ordained as a minister in the Reformed Church of America, arrived in Garden Grove with $500 to set up a church in 1955. The only location he could find was a drive-in theatre - he preached to parishioners in their cars from a pulpit on the roof of the snack bar.

Eventually, the church moved to the current site where the glass-walled Cathedral was ready for services in September 1980. The Cathedral's distinctive spire was constructed later.

While the local congregation grew, the Hour of Power television program gained strength with an estimated audience of 1.3 million in more than 150 countries at one point.

Coleman said that the program will aim to attract a younger audience and will make use of the Internet and other technology to improve accessibility to the program.

"For example, the Hour of Power released its own app in December and already a member of our staff saw someone watching the show on his smartphone while waiting in line at the airport."

When the Crystal Cathedral congregation moves to a new home, the Catholic Diocese will take possession of a building completely unlike most Catholic cathedrals. But the famous building will not undergo major alterations.

"While renovations are called for, not much deconstruction would be required and the iconic personality of the original architecture and design would, for the most part, be retained," the diocese said.

The diocese notes that the cathedral organ is one of the finest in the country, the quality of light and its allegory in the building is consistent with the enlightenment of Christ and there is ample space for worship and celebration.

However, some changes are required such as installing a central altar, adding the bishop's chair, a baptistery, baptismal font and a tabernacle to house the Blessed Sacrament. Once the changes are made and a dedication ceremony is conducted by the bishop, the cathedral will become a Catholic place of worship.

Before winning the bidding war for Crystal Cathedral, the diocese considered building a cathedral at a cost of $200 million US. The diocese has announced that the Crystal Cathedral will be renamed.

March 12, 2012 update: Three members of Robert H. Schuller's family have been fired the ministry's board, as reported by Roxana Kopetman in the The Orange County Register, March 6, 2012 (updated March 7, 2012):

GARDEN GROVE – Three family members of Crystal Cathedral Founder Robert H. Schuller were fired from their leadership positions in the ministry, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Schuller’s daughter, Gretchen Penner, was terminated from her job as one of the producers of the Hour of Power television show, according to a cathedral spokesman. Her husband, Jim Penner, was fired from his post as executive producer of the Hour of Power. And Jim Coleman, the husband of Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, was also fired from his job as director of creative services.

Robert H. Schuller and his wife Arvella abstained from voting with the board on the terminations, according to the spokesman. “So this isn’t a family dispute,” he said.

But Schuller and his wife abstained without knowing who was being terminated, their daughter Carol Schuller Milner said Tuesday. And when they asked during the meeting held by teleconference who would be affected, board members said, 'they'd rather not say,''' she said.

"They would have appreciated some dialogue on the matter," Schuller Milner said. She said her parents felt "grieved" by the board's decision.

On Sunday, Sheila Schuller Coleman is expected to give the sermon.

Meanwhile, the Hour of Power program, which once reached millions of viewers across the world, will replay previous episodes for the next few weeks while leaders “determine a new direction for the show.”

“Organizational changes affecting ministry leaders are never easy to make, especially when it involves individuals who have devoted their lives to this ministry and have served with great distinction,” John Charles, president of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision the Crystal Cathedral Ministries board of directors prayerfully deemed was necessary in order to make a change in direction for the ‘Hour of Power’ and reverse recent declining donations and viewership.”

Five other individuals were expected to lose their jobs in the reorganization.
“Because of privacy concerns, we won’t identify them,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.
This is the latest shake-up for the troubled ministry. Last month, Schuller Coleman was removed as the chief executive officer and president of the Ministries and replaced by Charles, who had previously held different positions with the Cathedral.

At the time, Cathedral leaders removed both Schuller Coleman and Penner from the board of directors, but Penner continued in his role overseeing the television program.

The board voted Thursday to fire the Penners and Jim Coleman, the spokesman said. The Penners were told on Monday and Coleman was told Tuesday, according to the spokesman...

...Robert A. Schuller, the senior pastor for nearly three years until his forced
resignation in 2008, sees the changes in leadership as a smart move.

“It’s normal business practice to change leadership when the leadership leads an institution into bankruptcy,” Schuller said Tuesday. “My hope is it will breathe some life into the ministry.”

Schuller said he was unaware of the terminations. He is not in touch with his two sisters — Schuller Coleman or Gretchen Penner -- or their husbands, he said. But he saw his parents over the weekend and they didn’t say a word about the board’s vote, he said.

“I had no idea,” he said.

As for the Hour of Power television show, Schuller said re-runs might just be the thing to pump some additional interest and donations to the Protestant ministry.

“I think it can be a very positive situation for the church because my understanding is the reason people stopped supporting the ministry is that they don’t care for the music and the preaching. So if you give them some music and preaching they want, they’ll come back,” he said...

...The elder Schuller, now 85, founded the ministry some 50 years ago and became a well-known television figure with his weekly sermons. Today, however, he and his wife "really don't know what their plans are" regarding the Hour of Power, daughter Schuller Milner said.

"They've kept the Schullers in the dark," she said of the board.

Michael Nason, a former aide to Robert H. Schuller, said the latest developments — including the sale of the church and the dismantling of the Hour of Power leadership -- signify “the end of an era” and leaves no clear direction for the once-popular television show.

“If I were to look ahead, say a year from now, what do I see? I think they, the remaining board, would like to see the program continue on television. But they have lost its face. And the face is Crystal Cathedral,” Nason said Tuesday.

“People tuned in from all over the world to see this extraordinary building and they loved (Robert H. Schuller’s) message. The Crystal Cathedral was the face. Schuller was the voice,” Nason said.

In the wake of the bankruptcy and the sale of the iconic building, the ministry will have a difficult time continuing the evangelical television show using the same format, Nason said.

“The face and voice of the Hour of Power have passed,” he said. “If they want to continue the Hour of Power, who will be the voice and where will it be?”

On March 10, 2012, Robert H. Schuller and his wife Arvella announced their resignations from the Crystal Cathedral board of directors. As reported by Roxana Kopetman in the The Orange County Register, March 10, 2012 (updated March 11, 2012):

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, announced "with great sadness" their resignations Saturday from the Crystal Cathedral board of directors.

"We cannot continue to serve on the Board in what has become an adversarial and negative atmosphere, especially since it now seems that it will not be ending anytime soon," Arvella Schuller was quoted as saying in a news release...

..."(Robert and Arvella Schuller are) removing themselves from the governance of the ministry," Carol Schuller Milner, their daughter, said in an interview Saturday. "They're not cutting all ties. They're still planning on worshipping in the congregation..."

...Cathedral representatives could not be reached for comment Saturday.
The elder Schullers have been embroiled in a legal battle with the board of directors regarding intellectual property and copyright infringement claims as well as back payment for services rendered, Schuller Milner said.

The exact figure for how much is claimed was not available Saturday. Attorneys for the Schullers have made almost weekly offers to the Cathedral's board to settle the claim, which includes a $120,000 annual housing allowance, a $198,000 annual payment in license fees and additional medical benefits, according to Schuller Milner.

Last Tuesday, "the board said we're ending all negotiations. We don't want to negotiate any further and want to go to court," according to Schuller Milner.
"Particularly in these difficult times for the ministry, the ministry's decision to spend its money on attorneys and court proceedings is bewildering to us," Arvella Schuller wrote in the statement. "We cannot continue to serve on the board in what has become an adversarial and negative atmosphere especially since it now seems that it will not be ending anytime soon."

The pending claims by the Schullers have been cited as the reason creditors in the bankruptcy case have not been paid by the church. Schuller Milner disputed that complaint, saying her family "made an offer that would have allowed (the creditors) to be paid in full" but the board rejected the Schullers' offer.

"Our proposals have always been structured in a way that would allow full payment to creditors to go forward without delay while leaving the ministry with more operating capital than originally contemplated in the court approved bankruptcy plan," Schuller family attorney Carl Grumer said in the news release. "We were optimistic that a solution was close at hand which would be mutually beneficial to the Schullers and the ministry. What motivated the board's decision to make a sudden shift after it had seemed that we were so close to a positive conclusion, we do not know."

The news release concludes with a message the founder of Crystal Cathedral posted on his Facebook page: "No matter what, God is still God. No matter what, God is still a good God. God loves you and so do I."

For congregants, the latest development is another painful reminder that the church is on its way out of the cathedral Schuller built. Congregants can lease back the building from the Catholic Diocese for up to three years.

"We truly have lost our church and we know that. Most of us are in mourning," said Anne Waltz, a member since 1956 who still attends a Sunday morning bible study class with other seniors. "A lot of my friends still can't believe it's happening."

Ken Waltz, Anne's husband, said the Schullers' resignation was unavoidable.
"It was inevitable because they lost control," Ken Waltz said Saturday. "The whole thing was controlled by Robert and Arvella. For some reason, they allowed the kids to get in there and reorganize it poorly. The thing was managed so badly financially and spiritually that it fell apart."

And on March 11, 2012, Sheila Schuller Coleman announced that she was leaving the Crystal Cathedral and moving her congregation to a new location. As reported by Roxana Kopetman in the The Orange County Register, March 11, 2012 (updated March 12, 2012):

GARDEN GROVE – Sheila Schuller Coleman delivered her last sermon at the Crystal Cathedral on Sunday, announcing she is breaking away and taking the congregation to a new location under the name Hope Center of Christ.

But moments after her surprise announcement, a Crystal Cathedral pastor told congregants that regular Sunday services will continue in the striking building, leaving congregants to make a choice on where they will be next Sunday morning.

"We are very sad, very sorry about this," said Pastor Emeritus Juan Carlos Ortiz, who began the Hispanic ministry for the Crystal Cathedral. "I hope they both have success – those who stay and those who leave."

Her departure came one day after her parents, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, resigned from the Crystal Cathedral board of directors – leaving behind a church Schuller founded in 1955, preaching Sundays atop the snack shop of an Orange drive-in theater.

In a news release Sunday afternoon, the elder Schullers said they support their daughter but they "will not be moving with her to the new location" or worshipping at the Crystal Cathedral.

"How we will express ourselves in worship remains up in the air," Robert H. and Arvella Schuller stated in the release.

Instead, the elder Schullers said they plan to focus on "securing and stewarding our legacy that has been our message for almost 60 years."

The Schullers and the Cathedral's board of directors have been fighting over intellectual property and copyright infringement claims and other payments.

No Schuller family members are left with the Crystal Cathedral, some ousted recently by the board majority in the wake of a bankruptcy, sale of the grounds to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and bitter controversy over money.

Schuller Coleman's announcement surprised congregants who sat through both Sunday morning services.

In both services, the senior pastor read from a book she's writing, with the working title "Fall From Grace, Fall Into Grace." She mentioned her father frequently in both readings, talking about his influence on her life and work.

In the 9:30 a.m. service, attended by some 300 people, Schuller Coleman focused on passages she'd written that deal with the October 2010 bankruptcy and her reaction to what was happening at the Cathedral. While at first she was crushed by the bankruptcy filing, Schuller Coleman said she later came to see it as "an opportunity" and not a failure. She acknowledged her family had "made our fair share of mistakes." And she blamed the recession as "the final blow" that led to the bankruptcy and the sale of the cathedral campus.

Schuller Coleman also said in the first service that the church would be renamed Hope Center of Christ.

But it wasn't until the second service, at 11 a.m., that Schuller Coleman told the congregation that this would be her last sermon at Crystal Cathedral and the congregation would be moving to a new location.

Moments before her announcement, she proclaimed: "I am not resigning. I will not quit." The audience applauded. "I will not quit," she repeated louder, and many of the 400 in attendance – a sparse crowd in a sanctuary that holds thousands – stood up and applauded louder.

Schuller Coleman and her brother-in-law Jim Penner, fired as executive producer from the Cathedral's once-popular "Hour of Power" television program, said after the services that they expect to find a new location in the next few days. They said they have the support of the Cathedral's Consistory, the ruling body of the congregation.

She indicated she had received a $50,000 donation from a supporter to help with the move – "a heck of a lot more than what mom and dad" had when they started, she said.
On their new website, hopecenteroc.org, Penner said they will soon be "praising the name of Jesus ... around the world by television and the Internet."

Schuller Coleman said she is leaving a "hostile work environment" to start anew with Jim and Gretchen Penner, as well as Scott Smith, who headed the church's music program.

On Sunday, morning services featured the Cathedral's organist and an a cappella performing group from Biola University, but none of the usual choir or other performers under Smith's direction.

Jenny Oh, a member of the choir, said she received an email saying the choir would not be performing Sunday because the church was heading in a new direction and leadership.

Like many congregants, Oh will have to pick between staying or following Schuller Coleman.

"I like this campus. I will continue to come here. I like Sheila (Schuller Coleman) and Jim Penner. I will pray for them," said Oh, a member of three years.

Some other congregants said they were surprised and happy to hear of their senior pastor's departure and the apparent return of more traditional music to the Cathedral.

"We're going to have our church back, with good music and good sermons" said Bob Canfield, of Yorba Linda. "They're gone. The Penners are gone. Sheila is gone. (Jim) Coleman is gone. Praise God. We're rid of them. They're the ones who took the Crystal Cathedral down."

It is unclear who will lead services at Crystal Cathedral next Sunday. Ortiz, the pastor emeritus, filled in once before after the younger Schuller, Robert A., was forced to resign. Ortiz said he was asked again this week to fill in as interim pastor, but he declined, he said Sunday night.

"They asked me and I said no," Ortiz said. "It's an embarrassment with what is happening in the church."

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