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Worship goes on after dispute at Crystal Cathedral

Associated Press

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) – The soaring, glass-paned megachurch built decades ago by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller will keep airing its weekly “Hour of Power” television broadcast and hold services, despite a bitter breach of contract dispute that has torn the storied congregation apart.

In a statement Tuesday, Crystal Cathedral Ministries said it would hold regular worship services on Sunday and air the television program both domestically and internationally, although Schuller and his family have been fired or have cut ties with the church.

The services will feature the “traditional worship style on which the ministry was founded,” John Charles, the chairman of the ministries’ board of directors said in the statement.

The church and its sprawling campus of religious statues, gardens and winding walkways sold in bankruptcy last month to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which is giving the current tenants three years to vacate the property. The diocese purchased the shimmering cathedral and its 31-acre campus in the heart of Orange County for more than $57 million after an intense bidding war.

The comment from the church is the latest development in a protracted dispute over copyright claims that emerged during bankruptcy proceedings.

As part of those proceedings, the Schullers filed a claim seeking more than $5 million to fulfill a 2005 agreement. They allege the deal would give them compensation and health insurance for life totaling more than $300,000 a year. The family also filed a claim for copyright infringement stemming from the use of Schuller’s materials for an “unknown” amount, according to papers filed by the family in federal bankruptcy court.

Carl Grumer, the Schullers’ attorney, said Tuesday he believes the church should have the money to honor these claims.

In its statement, however, the Crystal Cathedral Ministries said it rejected the Schullers’ claims. It said a proposed $3.5 million settlement would “leave the Crystal Cathedral Ministries with virtually no funds to continue its ministry.”

It also pointed out that the church’s unsecured creditors _ many of them small businesses that provided services to the church _ cannot be paid by the bankruptcy court until the breach of contract claims are resolved.

The church “will be praying as the legal system continues to a resolution,” the statement read.

Charles has not responded to calls and emails from the AP seeking comment since Saturday.

The long-simmering dispute exploded into the public eye on Saturday, when Schuller and his wife, Arvella, abruptly resigned from the ministries’ board, citing its members’ refusal to negotiate over their claims.

“We cannot continue to serve on the Board in what has become an adversarial and negative atmosphere especially since it now seems that it will not be ending anytime soon,” Arvella Schuller said in a release.

The following day, Sheila Schuller Coleman, the Schullers’ eldest daughter, abruptly announced she would be leaving the Crystal Cathedral to start a new church with her parents’ blessing. The move leaves no Schuller family members affiliated with the Crystal Cathedral.

The charismatic Schuller, now 85, got his start in Southern California preaching about the “power of positive thinking” from the roof of a concession stand at a drive-in theater as the car culture began to boom in the post-World War II era. He used his success there to found and build one of the nation’s first megachurches.

Starting in 1970, Schuller, wearing flowing purple robes and aviator glasses, was beamed from his pulpit into 1 million homes worldwide each Sunday. A decade later, he opened the Crystal Cathedral, a 2,900-seat see-through church made of 10,664 panes of glass.

The $20 million architectural marvel designed by the acclaimed Philip Johnson became a major Southern California landmark and a tourist attraction that drew people from around the world. Schuller added a K-12 school and a tourist center.

His religious empire began to collapse after a disastrous attempt in 2006 to hand over the leadership to his son, Robert A. Schuller. Donations began to plummet, and in 2010, the Crystal Cathedral sought bankruptcy protection.

Its local congregation now stands at fewer than 5,000, and the pastor of its popular Spanish-language services recently announced he would be relocating to a larger venue.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)