The woman assuming the mantle of the Rev. Terry Cole-Whittaker, the upbeat but apparently burned-out founder of a large church and national television program based in La Jolla, said this week that the ministry will not only continue but expand under a different name.
Although "nothing is cast in concrete," said the Rev. Kathy Hearn, chosen by Cole-Whittaker to take over the nonprofit organization, "our idea is to have church and classes . . . and to carry on" in La Jolla, as well as to establish new centers in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Last Sunday, "Rev. Terry," as the one-time Church of Religious Science minister calls herself, announced to her 2,000-member congregation that she would step down on Easter, withdraw from public life and "probably move to Hawaii . . . to go into my own wilderness . . . to contemplate myself."
According to a tape of the service, she told a surprised audience that she was fed up with the need to "prosper, run a business and be famous" and that she felt trapped by the "duty and obligation to save the world."
" . . . When I woke up this morning it was very clear to me--world saviors do not last on this planet," she said.
'High Priestess of Yuppiedom'
The usually vivacious and bubbly Cole-Whittaker, 45, has been called "the high priestess of Yuppiedom" for her message of success and consumption. She has preached that prosperity is a divine right and that followers can--by looking for the silver lining in apparent disasters--build their own heaven on Earth.
Friends and observers attributed Cole-Whittaker's withdrawal to burnout and mounting financial problems of the ministry. A close friend, who asked not to be named, said that the four-times-divorced minister had been "under a ton of pressure keeping everything going" and developed a "dissatisfaction with materialism" during a recent trip to India.
"One thing she saw in India was that people can be happy without Rolls-Royces," the friend said.
Cole-Whittaker has refused requests for interviews since she made the announcement that she would step down. At that time, she indicated that the Easter Day service at Golden Hall in San Diego--a gathering that has drawn crowds of 5,000 or more in previous years--would be her last service.
Misunderstood by Media
Both Hearn and ministry spokesman R. J. Davis said that the media has misunderstood Cole-Whittaker's philosophy about prosperity. While most people think it is about money, Davis said, it actually is about the "flourishing of being" and "the divine order by which things occur."
Cole-Whittaker, a 1968 Mrs. California, is known for her book "How to Have More in a Have-Not World" and classes such as "Mastery in Wealth," "Mastery in Love" and "Dress to Win." Her promotional materials include bumper stickers and badges proclaiming "Pro$perity: Your Divine Right"--spelled with a dollar sign.
Davis said in an interview with the Associated Press that the organization, which took in $6 million last year, was $400,000 in debt. But he said that creditors would be paid and that financial difficulties were not the reason Cole-Whittaker left the pulpit.
Associates refused to speculate about the possibility that Cole-Whittaker--who took over the La Jolla Church of Religious Science in 1977 when it had a congregation of 50--will return to her television and pulpit ministry after a period of rest and reflection.
'Will Be Guided'
"I have no idea, none at all, said the Rev. Mike Graham-Alcorn, who was ordained by Cole-Whittaker and served for a time on her church staff. "She will do what she is guided to to do, and that will be perfect."
Hearn, 34, who was also ordained by Cole-Whittaker, became involved with the church five years ago after she moved to San Diego from Seattle, where she had been a clinic assistant and a counselor.