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Crystal Cathedral as Tourist Lure: Statistics Are Telling

June 30, 1988|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Describing a visit to the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove becomes an exercise in superlatives. If it is true that Americans love anything that is new or more or bigger or taller or wider or more overwhelming or just plain unique, then the Rev. Robert H. Schuller doesn't have just a home church on his hands. He has got a bona fide tourist attraction.

Which, say church employees, is perfectly all right. They use the term "working church" to describe the cathedral and its environs, explaining that what visitors see as part of the day-to-day operation of the place is all part of the church's ministry.

And there is a lot to see, even for those who are familiar with Schuller's "Hour of Power" TV service on Sundays, for an empty cathedral in person can be vastly more impressive than a full one on the TV screen.

The statistics are telling. The star-shaped cathedral, which was dedicated in September, 1980, is 415 feet long, 207 feet wide and 128 feet high. It is entirely covered with a skin made up of more than 10,000 silver-colored, tempered glass windows. The windows are held in place by an intricate framework of nearly 16,000 white steel trusses.

(The cathedral was largely paid for by donors who "sponsored" panes of the glass for $500 each.)

The sanctuary seats 2,890 people. More than 1,000 musicians can perform in the 185-foot-long chancel area.

Nearly everything tends to be huge. Behind the pulpit area are two 90-foot-high doors that open electronically during services to allow the congregation in their cars in the parking lot to view the ceremonies inside.

For those seated in the farthest reaches of the cathedral who may not have a clear view of some of the smaller nuances of the service, TV cameras broadcast close-up images on an 11 1/2-by-15-foot TV screen near the chancel area.

But perhaps the most imposing feature of the interior is the 14,000-pipe organ, four stories tall, which church officials say is the largest in the world, based on the number of working pipes. Designed by the famous organist Virgil Fox (whose funeral was held in the cathedral), the organ combines elements of the Aeolian-Skinner organ from Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York, an Italian Rufatti organ built for the church's former sanctuary in 1977 and a new Rufatti addition. Originally, the 44 pedal pipes, each 32 feet long, were part of the organ in USC's Bovard Auditorium. Another 5,000 pipes, 549 of which are horizontal trumpets, are installed in the east, west and south balconies.

On the other end of the decibel spectrum, canaries chirp in cages located at the edges of the chancel.

The cathedral grounds offer testimony to Schuller's "possibility thinking" philosophy. In addition to a bronze sculpture of the Good Shepherd that stands beside the old sanctuary (now the church's fellowship hall), there is a marble sculpture of Job and another bronze rendering titled "Love Without Condemnation," depicting Christ telling a group of men preparing to stone a prostitute, "Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone."

The Job and "Love Without Condemnation" pieces are the work of sculptor Dallas Anderson, who has been commissioned to produce other sculptures for the grounds in the coming years.

The gardens and sculptures are connected by a "Walk of Faith"--a series of flagstones bearing Bible verses set into walkways. Each was commissioned by a donor.

Seeing all this doesn't take long, and guided tours are offered. There is also a bookstore, library and visitors center on the grounds.

And, for those with a taste for local history, the chapel on the top floor of the tower next to the cathedral is open to visitors who make prior arrangements. The chapel itself is not necessarily historical, but the view from up there is. An eastward look of a few blocks will fall on the Orange Drive-In--where Schuller first began preaching from the snack bar roof in 1955.


Where: Corner of Chapman Avenue and Lewis Street, Garden Grove.

Parking: Free.

Principal features: Visitors center, bookstore, library, outdoor sculptures, fountain and gardens, 14,000-pipe cathedral organ.

Hours: Open daily from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Guided tours: Leave on the half hour from the visitors center, except during noon organ recitals, which occur most weekdays. Larger tours must make prior arrangement with visitors center at (714) 971-4013.

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