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Sheila Schuller Coleman's new church: Theater 15 on your right

A week after leaving the Crystal Cathedral, Sheila Schuller Coleman and about 200 congregants hold the first service of the Hope Center of Christ in an Orange movie theater.

March 18, 2012|By Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Crystal Cathedral parishioners worship with Sheila Schuller Coleman at an AMC movie theater in Orange. The church service wrapped up around 11 a.m. because "21 Jump Street" was showing at 11:45.
Former Crystal Cathedral parishioners worship with Sheila Schuller Coleman… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)

Preaching the gospel in a movie theater is nothing new in the Schuller family. Robert H. Schuller opened what would become the Crystal Cathedral ministry in a drive-in. On Sunday, some 57 years later, his daughter opened her new church in an Orange multiplex.

"Today is a birth day," Sheila Schuller Coleman told about 200 congregants who filled about half of Theater 15 at the AMC at the Outlets of Orange shopping center. "We're birthing something new, and it brings up so many memories.... This is a much bigger crowd than Dad had."

The formation of Schuller Coleman's Hope Center of Christ marks the latest turn in the turbulent story of the Crystal Cathedral's bankruptcy and the messy divorce of the ministry and its founding family.

So for one Sunday at least, a Schuller sermonized in front of a big screen — a few blocks away from the Crystal Cathedral's glittering spire.

"We are going to learn how to be a strong church," said Schuller Coleman, who was 4 when her father started his famous ministry. "We're not about a church building. We are about building a church."

Hope Center for Christ, she said, was starting literally from scratch. No money. No permanent home. A donor ponied up the $835 rental cost for Theater 15, she said.

She told the congregants that the church is in the process of getting its federal nonprofit status and that checks written as offerings Sunday "won't be deposited for a week or two."

"So if your checks don't clear right away," she said, "we want you to know why."

Popcorn tubs were passed around, and people stuffed them with checks and cash.

Holding a church service in a multiplex has its advantages. The cushy, high-backed seats offered lots of legroom. And the sound of the 15-member gospel choir singing "Lord we need a miracle" was stirring — and pointed to the situation facing the new church.

One congregant said the service went to the heart of what a church is about.

"You have to decide what's more important — the people or the edifice," said David Lewis, 69, who followed Schuller Coleman from the Crystal Cathedral, where she announced March 11 that she was leaving the ministry. The pastor's announcement came one day after her parents resigned from the Crystal Cathedral board.

Earlier this year, the church's bankruptcy led to the sale of the cathedral to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. The Schuller family has been battling the church's board and its creditors committee over claims of unpaid money for contracts and copyright infringement.

Schuller Coleman implored her congregants not to engage her critics.

"I don't like mudslinging on my Facebook wall," she said. "Some people try to pit one pastor against another.... But God needs all of his churches to be wonderfully, wildly successful."

Using herself as an example, Schuller Coleman spoke of how faith can help one persevere over life's challenges.

"You really learn what's essential and what is expendable," she said. "What is essential is love. What is essential is faith. What is essential is forgiveness. What is expendable are buildings."

After about 90 minutes, Schuller Coleman announced the service was over and that next week her church would move to the Anaheim Marriott Suites in Garden Grove.

Theater 15 needed to be cleared by 11 a.m., she said. The comedy "21 Jump Street" was showing at 11:45.

mike.anton@latimes.com

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