Robert Schuller

Yo, Los Angeles Times: Crystal Cathedral's architecture raised all kinds of Catholic questions

Yo, Los Angeles Times: Crystal Cathedral's architecture raised all kinds of Catholic questions

If you have ever been part of a well-researched tour of a great cathedral, then you know one thing — these sanctuaries are packed with symbolism. Almost everything in these buildings has some connection to centuries of Christian tradition.

The biggest symbol is the shape of the cathedral itself. It’s all about processions (think pilgrimages) through the cross to reach the high altar.

This brings me to the Los Angeles Times coverage of the transformation of the iconic Crystal Cathedral — an soaring version of a Protestant megachurch — into Christ Cathedral, the spiritual home of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.

Here’s the key: The late Rev. Robert Schuller made an important request when he asked the legendary architect Philip Johnson to design the Crystal Cathedral — build a church that is also a giant television studio.

That’s precisely what Johnson did. Thus, ever since the Orange diocese bought Schuller’s masterwork, I have been waiting to read a Times story explaining how this giant symbol of TV Christianity could be turned into a cruciform Catholic sanctuary. Here is the top of the recent story that ran under this headline: “Crystal Cathedral, the original evangelical megachurch, has a conversion to Catholicism.”

… The former Crystal Cathedral, a Southern California landmark that has long stood at the intersection of kitsch and postmodernism just three miles from Disneyland, was officially rededicated by the most unlikely of saviors: the Catholic Church.

When the soaring Philip Johnson-designed megachurch opened in 1980, the Crystal Cathedral was, strictly speaking, neither crystal (the structure is composed of more than 10,000 rectangular panels of glass) nor a cathedral (it housed a televangelist, not a Catholic bishop).

That televangelist — late pastor Robert Schuller — once called the compound a “22-acre shopping center for God.”

This short feature — there’s no real coverage of the dedication rites — focused on how Schuller symbolized a shiny era of Southern California, offering drive-in church services during the “same year Disneyland opened its doors and Ray Kroc launched his first McDonald’s restaurant.”

The text is snappy and packed with details — about Schuller. The new Christ Cathedral? Not so much.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Los Angeles Times team acts like it's never seen the Holy Eucharist before

The Los Angeles Times team acts like it's never seen the Holy Eucharist before

Does The Los Angeles Times truly not know what Holy Communion is?

A reader of an article entitled “Bishop of Orange signs construction contract for renovation of Christ Cathedral” in the local news section might well wonder.  

The decline of the late Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, one of the first mega-churches in the United States with a nationally syndicated worship service, has been discussed at GetReligion over the years. As has the subsequent purchase of the landmark property by the Roman Catholic Church for repurposing as its new cathedral. 

The article in the May 26 print edition reports the first phase of reconstruction has been completed.  

More than 10,000 panes of the cathedral’s mirrored glass already have been re-caulked and resurfaced, under budget and on schedule, Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar, told guests at the signing ceremony.

So far so good.

However, the reporter’s lack of knowledge of the subject soon overtakes the story.

The contract signing is timely, as the Catholic Church has feast days ahead, Vann said, noting Pentecostal Sunday on June 4 -- often called the birth of the church -- and the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, who built the great basilicas in Europe, on June 29. 

Perhaps “Pentecostal Sunday” was a spell-checker error, where the thought that passed from the reporter’s brain to her fingers to the page was intercepted by word processing software -- correcting Pentecost to Pentecostal.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

From Crystal Cathedral to Christ Cathedral: It's a complicated story

From Crystal Cathedral to Christ Cathedral: It's a complicated story

In an enlightening piece about how one can transform a glassed-in megachurch into a Catholic worship space, the Los Angeles Times has presented us with an update on the church formerly known as the Crystal Cathedral.

When the original was completed in 1980 at the cost of $18 million, its most singular feature was its 12,000 panes of rectangular glass. It was quite the landmark in Orange County for many years.

However, the congregation inside the famous church went bankrupt in 2010 and was bought by the Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million in early 2012.  The church’s founder, Robert Schuller, died last year. The article picks up from there:

The Crystal Cathedral was for decades a powerful symbol of a certain kind of church.
The landmark church was built by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the famed pastor who brought the drive-in church to Orange County during the beginning of the postwar suburban boom and preached an upbeat, modern vision of Christianity.
The Philip Johnson-designed structure made of steel and more than 12,000 panes of glass became world famous and was a forerunner to other so-called mega churches.
But more than a year after Schuller’s death, the Crystal Cathedral is undergoing a major transformation in both design and ownership. The makeover will transform the building into Christ Cathedral as the Catholic Church takes it over. 

After discussing upcoming tours of the place, the article continues:

Estimated costs for the cathedral are about $72 million, according to the Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral who is leading the design project.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Want a sense of time passing?

Read some of the many lists of "famous dead" cranked out this week. The Religion News Service does its part with a brisk list of 23 spiritual leaders who departed in 2015. Let's see how well they did.

RNS opens with a nice, measured lede:

They preached and inspired. They wrote and taught. Some lobbied in the halls of government. Others toiled to protect the environment and educate the young. Several died at the hands of persecutors.
Here is a list of notable faith leaders — and a champion of secularism — who left us in 2015.

From there, the list goes by date of death, rather than alphabetical order. First is Andrae Crouch, who merged several musical genres -- gospel, rock, country, even Hawaiian -- to electrify crowds and get even secular people to listen. As RNS reports, Crouch's songs not only found a home in hymnals, but won Grammys.

RNS seems to have taken care for broad religious representation. I count four Catholics, two Muslims and two United Methodists. I also see one each of several others -- Jewish, Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal.

The list includes a brief rundown on each person, which is a service even for readers like myself, who are more than casually interested in religion. Some of the names make you go "Oh, yeah, I remember him!" People like:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Crystal Cathedral's Robert Schuller dies, and gets one last slap from the Los Angeles Times

Crystal Cathedral's Robert Schuller dies, and gets one last slap from the Los Angeles Times

Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, has died, and the Los Angeles Times just ran a lengthy obit on him. Schuller must be turning in his grave at this point.

After a short opening anecdote about his "Come as you are, in the family car!” era, complete with reference to his $83.75 offering plate take on the first Sunday in his old drive-in movie theater church, the newspaper of record in Southern California radically switched gears:

Schuller, who built the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove as the embodiment of an upbeat, modern vision of Christianity, only to see his ministry shattered by family discord and financial ruin, died Thursday at a care facility in Artesia. He was 88 and had esophageal cancer.
After a working life of great success and influence, Schuller was forced to watch from retirement as much of what he built was laid to waste. In October 2010, his church, then led by his daughter Sheila Schuller Coleman, declared bankruptcy. That led to the sale of the cathedral and surrounding property to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in February 2012.
Changing tastes, financial overreach and squabbling over a successor were factors in the collapse. Schuller had turned over his pulpit first to his son, Robert A. Schuller, and then to Coleman. In March 2010, he and his wife formally cut ties to the ministry they had founded, bemoaning the “negative and adversarial atmosphere” enveloping the church's leadership.
It was an ignominious end to what had been one of the greatest success stories of postwar American Christianity. The silver-haired evangelist rose from humble beginnings to become one of the late 20th century's most recognized religious figures.

I agree that Schuller’s last 10 years weren’t his best. But did he deserve an obit front-loaded with all his mistakes?

Please respect our Commenting Policy