The Rev. Robert H. Schuller reads scripture last year during Sunday services… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
The Rev. Robert H. Schuller has been ousted from the board of directors at the Crystal Cathedral, the Orange County megachurch he built into a televised empire after getting his start preaching at a drive-in theater, his son said Sunday night.
Schuller, 84, stepped down from the pulpit five years ago and had long ago ceded day-to-day control of the Garden Grove ministry, largely to his children and other relatives.
There were conflicting reports about precisely what had taken place between Schuller and the board members.
But Schuller's son, Robert Anthony Schuller, said his father was ousted because he had proposed adding new members to the board, which the younger man described as rife with conflicts of interest.
"My father wanted to add board members, and they didn't want that because they would lose control," said the son, who was himself voted off the board three years ago. "They kicked him off....I feel bad for him because he's had to watch his life's work go down the toilet the last three years."
The elder Schuller, who had been a non-voting but influential member of the board with the title chairman emeritus, could not be reached for comment.
Jim Coleman, president of Crystal Cathedral and the husband of Schuller's daughter, declined to comment when reached by telephone Sunday night. Coleman's wife, Sheila Schuller Coleman, took control of the church more than two years ago, marking a family schism that has dogged the ministry, culminating in its bankruptcy.
Several long-time church members and officials said Sunday that they found Robert H. Schuller's departure from the board startling — and an unsettling reminder that the church's leadership and finances are in chaos.
"It's an unusual thing," said Jim Case, a former board member, who also confirmed Schuller's ouster. "It surprises me." He said the board's decision represented a continued "power grab."
Dory Bauler, 82, of Laguna Woods, has been a church member since 1972. Word of Schuller's departure, she said, "is the most heartbreaking thing in the world."
Bauler said her late husband is buried at the cathedral, but she says she is no longer sure that she wants to be buried there too.
"I've gone from disbelieving to sad to — now I'm just downright angry," she said. "I don't know where it's going to go. It's a very sad state of affairs."
A minister from the Midwest, Schuller began preaching in Southern California in 1955 from the roof of a snack shop at a drive-in theater. With Schuller relentlessly pushing a message of the power of positive thinking, the church's astonishing growth mirrored that of Orange County. It was also the birthplace of the popular weekly televangelist series "Hour of Power," which reached millions of viewers.
Schuller stepped down in 2006 and handed the reins to his son. But Robert Anthony Schuller resigned amid discord two years later. Sheila Schuller Coleman became senior pastor. Revenue began falling sharply, and the church seemed paralyzed by the family drama.
The church filed for bankruptcy protection last fall, saying it owed more than $50 million to creditors, including vendors who assisted in the church's Christmas and Easter services. Court documents revealed generous pay and tax allowances for church officials.
Case said he feared that donations could dwindle further in the wake of Schuller's departure from the board.
"It's a church now without any type of draw," he said. "They are going to dwindle down to nothing."
He suggested that Schuller and his son should start their own church.
Paul Loredo was the church orchestra's principal French horn player for 25 years. he recently walked out of Easter services after he was not paid. Loredo was recently paid $1,460 of the $1,600 he said he was owed by the church.
He called his tenure with the church a "positive time in my life."
"But it's not like that anymore," he said.
"They've gone beyond the point where they can recover," he said. "They're not going to be able to pull themselves back."