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Crystal Cathedral's senior pastor says she's leaving to start new church

Sheila Schuller Coleman's announcement to congregants came one day after her parents, church founder Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella Schuller, resigned from the Crystal Cathedral's board of directors.

March 12, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Members of the Crystal Cathedral congregation exit the church after Sunday's 11 a.m. service at which Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman announced that was leaving the Garden Grove landmark to start her own church. The announcement came a day after her parents, church founder Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, resigned from the board of directors.
Members of the Crystal Cathedral congregation exit the church after Sunday's… (Arkasha Stevenson, Los…)

The Crystal Cathedral's senior pastor announced Sunday that she was leaving to start a new church, a move that appears likely to split the congregation.

"This is the last Sunday we will be worshiping in this building," Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman told congregants during an emotional 11 a.m. service in the 10,000-pane glass cathedral, designed by architect Phillip Johnson.

Schuller Coleman's announcement came one day after her parents, church founder Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella Schuller, resigned from the Crystal Cathedral's board of directors, which oversees the ministry's trademark "Hour of Power" broadcast. The future of the show and the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral Ministries is unclear.

Schuller Coleman said she was leaving because of her family's "adversarial" relationship with the board. She pointed to the recent firings of her sister and brother-in-law, Jim Penner, who served as the executive producer of "Hour of Power" since 1999.

"My entire family has been experiencing a hostile work environment," said Schuller Coleman, who was temporarily removed as chief executive officer of the ministry last month.

After the pastor's surprise announcement, the Rev. Bill Bennett assured congregants that Crystal Cathedral Ministries would hold services next Sunday.

"The congregation can basically stay where they wish to stay," Bennett said later.

He said the church would revert to what he called a more "traditional" style of service, with hymns and music. It is unknown who will take over as senior pastor. The church was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in February for $57.5 million, and the ministry has three years to find a new home.

He said Crystal Cathedral Ministries has nothing to do with Schuller Coleman's plans for the Hope Center of Christ. In a video posted on the new church's website, Schuller Coleman, sitting next to Penner, said a location for her church would be announced within the next two weeks.

"We're moving full speed ahead," she said.

Sunday's announcement immediately created a divide among congregants.

Mike Abbott, a 47-year-old mechanical engineer from Highland, said he would move with Schuller Coleman.

"It's a shame to see a church split like this," he said. "I think this is the birth of a new ministry."

But Shirley Zink, of Yorba Linda, said she was excited to see Schuller Coleman out of the pulpit.

"We need to make everyone aware that Crystal Cathedral Ministries is continuing right here," said Zink, 67. "I'm looking forward to a traditional church service with a choir, musicians and a great message."

Although Schuller Coleman said during the service that her decision was made with the "complete support of my mother and father," the two will not be officially involved with the new ministry, said Carol Schuller Milner, who serves as the family spokeswoman.

The elder Schullers commended their daughter for her decision in a joint statement released Sunday afternoon.

"We will bless her faith pursuits as we have blessed all our children, but we will not be moving with her to the new location nor are we willing, at this time, to commit to participating in worship at the Crystal Cathedral," according to the statement. "How we will express ourselves in worship remains up in the air."

The couple are facing their own conflicts with Crystal Cathedral Ministries, resigning from the board after a breakdown in negotiations over financial claims against the church. The elder Schullers, along with Schuller Milner and her husband, Timothy, allege that the church owes them money for copyright infringement, intellectual property violations and unpaid contracts.

The creditors committee has opposed the claims, which have delayed $12.5 million in payments to some church creditors.

James Kirkland, a longtime congregant who organized an online blog about the Crystal Cathedral, said he is pleased with Schuller Coleman's decision to leave the church.

"This is the first step toward restoring the Crystal Cathedral and the 'Hour of Power' to its traditional roots," he said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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