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Gaze Into This Crystal Hall

March 04, 1993|ANNE MICHAUD | Anne Michaud is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

When I was a schoolgirl in Massachusetts, we read a news report about the drive-in church services at Crystal Cathedral. We said to ourselves, "Ahhh, that's California."

Palm trees, people who look like Malibu Ken and Barbie, and all the services you could want without opening your car door. California.

Crystal Cathedral is, of course, more famous now for its "Hour of Power" television broadcast than for its vehicular conveniences. And when East Coast guests visit, they often ask me to take them there.

We were a little wary the first time, wondering whether we could go and have a look without attending religious services. I'm happy to say that you can.

10 to 11: The visitors center is home to tour guides in red blazers who know some wonderful facts about the cathedral and surrounding buildings.

The cathedral can withstand, in theory, an 8.0 temblor. Its panes of glass number more than 6,000. Pilots flying into John Wayne Airport at night orient themselves, in part, by using the 90-foot lighted cross atop the Tower of Hope building.

And there's a bit of history to be told. The Rev. Robert H. Schuller founded his Reformed Church of America at a drive-in theater in Orange almost 40 years ago. The $22-million cathedral was built largely with donations. Work began in December, 1977, and finished in September, 1980.

The church, which is made up of dozens of smaller congregations all worshiping together, now boasts more than 8,500 attendees each Sunday.

11 to 11:15: The cemetery appears small at first, but has the capacity to hold 6,000 tombs. These are stacked on top of each other, four or five tombs high.

The cathedral has plans to add 4,000 more tombs some day. It's not clear when that expansion would be needed. The cemetery has very few names etched on its walls so far.

Set below ground level with a splashing water fountain at its gate, the cemetery is an ingeniously quiet place amid the bustle of the cathedral grounds. Each time I've visited, the area has been filled with people talking in several languages and taking photos.

11:15 to 11:30: Walk over to the Family Life Center, and you'll probably spend a good deal of your walk looking at the ground.

Carved into the stones of the walkway are star shapes, echoing the shape of the cathedral, with Bible verses etched within.

Each stone was donated by a believer, whose name appears under the verse. Donors pay $2,500 ($2,000 goes to the church) and hail from Laguna Beach and Irving, Tex., and Laurel, Md., among other places.

Visitors are not encouraged to enter the Family Life Center, but it's worth walking over to see where the "Hour of Power" is filmed and broadcast in 34 countries, including the United States.

In front of the building is a powerful sculpture depicting Jesus rescuing Mary Magdalene from being stoned.

11:30 to noon: The Book Store for Possibility Thinkers holds, among other things, books by Schuller that expound on his positive-thinking philosophy. His slogans are "Turn your scars into stars" and "Tough times never last, but tough people do."

The book store has a collection of Christian children's books, cathedral souvenirs and the usual gift shop fare.

Noon to 1: Belisles restaurant opened two weeks before neighboring Disneyland in 1955.

It shares some of the Disney whimsy, dishing up gargantuan portions of its specialty fish, steak and dessert dishes.

Its prices can seem high ($10.45 for a roast turkey sandwich), until you consider that a single order is enough for two people or more.

Bring a friend.

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