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Crystal Cathedral's tale of two ministries

As the landmark Orange County megachurch fights to survive bankruptcy, this is its untold success story: a Spanish-language service led by a dynamic Argentine pastor who inspires comparisons to church founder Robert H. Schuller.

June 19, 2011|Mitchell Landsberg and Nicole Santa Cruz

In a recent interview, Coleman said she knows the church has to change and that younger people are needed to revitalize the congregation, but she gave few specifics.

She wants the cathedral to become a "center of hope" for Orange County, providing showers for the homeless and a computer lab that will help people find jobs. The church already has a Monday lunch program for the needy.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, June 21, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Crystal Cathedral: An article in the June 19 Section A about the success of the Latino ministry at the Crystal Cathedral stated that Pastor Dante Gebel's services were broadcast widely throughout the U.S. and the Spanish-speaking world on the Telemundo network. They are broadcast by Telemundo in the U.S. but in other countries by Enlace TBN, Gebel's office says.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, June 26, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Crystal Cathedral: An article in the June 19 Section A about the success of the Latino ministry at the Crystal Cathedral said that Pastor Dante Gebel's services were broadcast widely throughout the U.S. and the Spanish-speaking world on the Telemundo network. They are broadcast by Telemundo in the U.S. but in other countries by Enlace TBN, Gebel's office says.

"It's really truly very much a humanitarian track," she said. "That's what my heart beats for."

Coleman said Gebel is central to her plan.

"I can't do a Spanish-speaking service, I don't know the culture, I don't know the language," she said. "Dante does. And Dante does it better than anybody."

Asked if she'd give up one of her two Sunday morning services so that Gebel could expand, she said it would be difficult, because the "Hour of Power" depends on two tapings. But she didn't rule it out. Much speculation rests on whether the church might do that, in effect recognizing that its future has a Spanish accent.

"I wonder," said Juan Martinez, associate dean of the Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community for Fuller Theological Seminary, "will the current congregation allow that to happen? Maybe. But even if they do, I'm not sure that will be enough to get them out of the hole they are in."

Southard, the former Crystal Cathedral financial chief, said he doubts the church can survive.

"Now, if Schuller had maintained his age and energy and everything, he probably could have done it," he said. "He had the appeal, and he had whatever it takes to bring in the donations. But no one else is able to do that -- I mean ... there's no one in the organization that can."

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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