At troubled Crystal Cathedral, a tale of two ministries [Excerpts]
The two lines begin forming outside the Crystal Cathedral before 9 on Sunday mornings. It is a mostly immigrant crowd — Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, among others — and they stand patiently, unfurling umbrellas against the sun.
When the doors open for the 9:30 English-language service, the lines don't budge. It isn't for a lack of seats inside — so few people are there that cameramen have trouble finding crowd shots for the "Hour of Power" television program, which has been broadcast from the Garden Grove megachurch since 1970. At 11, a second English service starts, also sparsely attended. The lines outside grow longer.
As the Crystal Cathedral fights to survive its descent into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, this is its untold success story: a Spanish-language service led by a dynamic Argentine pastor, Dante Gebel....Since Gebel arrived two years ago, the cathedral's Hispanic Ministry has grown from no more than 300 people to 3,000, far outstripping the traditional ministry led by Schuller's daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman.
It is hard to imagine a contrast more striking than the one between the English and Spanish services at Crystal Cathedral.
The two identical English services, which the church still calls its "main" services, follow the general format developed by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller. The service is bright and easy, featuring an interview with an inspirational speaker and a liturgy heavy on motivational advice and light on Scripture. There is almost no congregational participation. The senior Schuller, now 84, remains an occasional presence at the church but no longer controls day-to-day operations.
Some of the church's early members, now in their 70s and 80s, still attend services, but their children aren't there, much less their grandchildren. "If I wanted to hear rock 'n' roll, I'd go to a nightclub," groused a retired airline pilot one recent Sunday.
Nobody complains about the music at the Spanish service. It is pulsing and loud, driven by bass and drums, and it sets a tone: From the outset, the crowd is on its feet, swaying and singing, arms and eyes raised heavenward. Even the ushers dance in the aisles.
Like Schuller and his daughter, Gebel focuses his sermons on motivational topics, but his style is otherwise very different. His Christianity is far more mystical and overtly spiritual, his sermons deeply rooted in the Bible. It is not uncommon to see people collapse in an ecstatic trance after Gebel has laid hands on them.
One recent service featured a guest appearance by self-proclaimed prophet and faith healer Cindy Jacobs, who purported to cure ailments that included deafness, depression and infertility. Her brand of fundamentalism once would have been unlikely in a Schuller pulpit. Coleman said she wasn't aware of Jacobs' visit and had never heard of her, although programs featuring Jacobs' name and face were widely available around the church campus.
"What we might be seeing," said Richard Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, "is the cutting edge of Protestantism. It's an exciting thing."
(Landsberg and Santa Cruz, "At troubled Crystal Cathedral, a tale of two ministries," Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2011).
[TBC: Though the ministry of Pastor Gebel is growing (much as Schuller’s did in the 1950s and 1960s), it is a matter of great concern to see the emphasis on the experiential,despite the fact that Gebel’s teaching is said to be "deeply rooted in the Bible." See the June 1997 TBC for further information on Cindy Jacobs and her unbiblical teachings.]