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Crystal Cathedral may lose Spanish-language ministry

Pastor Dante Gebel, who operates as a contractor, may move to a larger venue, such as the Anaheim Convention Center or the Honda Center, to accommodate his growing congregation.

November 19, 2011|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is taking over the Crystal Cathedral.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is taking over the Crystal Cathedral. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

The popular, though independent Spanish-language ministry at the Crystal Cathedral, where people stand in line for hours to get a seat, may not move with the church's English-language services when the time comes.

According to the terms of a $57.5-million deal approved Thursday night in Bankruptcy Court, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange will purchase the property and require Crystal Cathedral ministries to move to a new location within three years.

The diocese plans to use the cathedral as its own after that; St. Callistus Catholic Church, also in Garden Grove, has been presented as an alternative site for the English-language ministries.

Argentine Pastor the Rev. Dante Gebel, in a post on Facebook on Friday afternoon, said his Spanish-language congregation may be too large for St. Callistus and suggested that a larger venue, such as the Anaheim Convention Center or the Honda Center, may be a better fit.

The Spanish-language ministry, seen as the Crystal Cathedral's success story, has grown from a few hundred congregants and a single afternoon service to about 5,000 people and two services under Gebel's direction. He regularly fills stadiums in Latin America, said Mario Krawchuk, Gebel's executive pastor.

"Basically, we need to grow. We need to do new things," Krawchuk said by telephone from Texas on Friday night. "We're not there because of the building."

In the Facebook post, Gebel wrote in Spanish that the Crystal Cathedral's sale would not affect the Spanish-language ministry.

Gebel, who is paid $14,000 per month by the church, has been open about his status; he is a contractor who can leave at any time, he told the Los Angeles Times in June.

Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of founder the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, has said Gebel was central to her plan. Church officials did not return a request for comment Friday night.

Krawchuk predicts that Gebel's services will swell to 10,000 people by the first quarter of next year. "The people are coming because their lives are changing every Sunday," he said. "Their families are changing."

Juan Martinez, associate provost for diversity and international programs at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, said a larger venue may be more suitable for Gebel.

"Looking at his style, going to an auditorium would look like what he's used to doing," Martinez said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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