The excited and curious visitors took turns taking pictures of each other in front of the Crystal Cathedral, the famous church they had seen many times on television. After a few moments by the fountain, they wandered toward the entrance and were surprised to find the door to the ethereal glass structure open on a weekday afternoon.
They lowered their voices and stepped reverently into the sanctuary. A greeter in a red blazer welcomed them, and when they told him they were visiting from Mexico City, he invited them to services held in Spanish every Sunday.
Nearby, a man sat alone reading his Bible while others gazed up, viewing the phenomenal structure from every angle. Waves of fresh air rolled in from a 90-foot window opened to unveil the blue sky and clouds.
For many tourists, the Crystal Cathedral is a must-see. Its polished stainless steel tower glints above rows of working-class tract homes and
apartments in eastern Garden Grove. As the neighborhood’s predominant feature, it seems to loom up from out of nowhere amid liquor stores, markets and mini-malls.
The Crystal Cathedral and its founder, Dr. Robert H. Schuller, are known to millions worldwide via its “Hour of Power” television broadcasts. But the church has a local mission as well, and serves the community as a church, school and social service agency.
In an effort to reach the area’s burgeoning Latino population, Schuller invited Dr. Juan Carlos Ortiz, a bilingual Presbyterian minister, to join him as co-pastor along with Dr. Bruce Larson. Ortiz ministers to an ever-growing group of Spanish-speaking members. “We started out with a group of about 15, and now we are at 221. They desperately need our message of hope and self-esteem,” said Ortiz, who grew up in Argentina. His success encouraged the church to begin services in Korean and Vietnamese as well. “We want non-English-speaking people to feel a part of the congregation. Everything we offer here is available to them,” said Ortiz.
As a part of its outreach program, the church offers numerous services to members and non-members grappling with life’s problems. There is a group for men struggling to overcome anger and depression, another for families with loved ones in prison and those suffering from traumatic illness or unresolved grief. “We’re firmly rooted in reality here. We help people do the difficult groundwork that must be done to better themselves,” said Ortiz.
The church complex, which includes offices, four chapels and two schools, was constructed in phases with the first completed in 1980. Work began recently on the final phase, an on-site burial ground billed as the “Westminster Abbey of America.” According to director Larry Davis, the cemetery is part of the church’s effort to participate in all aspects of its members’ lives. “A person can be baptized here, so we thought it was appropriate that they could be buried here too,” he said.
After spending time in the church’s gardens and waterfall-lined walkways, it is a bit of a shock to drive through the gate out into the surrounding neighborhood, where nothing is gilded. The sudden transition plunges one back into urban numbness where the eyes must be averted from transients and unsupervised children play in the streets.
Not far from the Crystal Cathedral, Fred Beams is engaged in a pursuit that is, quite literally, more “earthly” than the church’s daily routine. Beams is district manager of Orange County Vector Control, an agency that monitors the spread of disease-carrying pests. Its staff of 32 technicians inspects ponds, gutters, homes and other places where rats, mosquitoes, ticks and other pests are known to breed.
The obscure agency made the news in June when it found the first tick in Orange County infected with Lyme disease, a virus transmitted to animals and humans bitten by infected ticks. “We go out tick hunting once a week in brushy areas where the ticks like to hide,” Beams said. “We’re lucky. The virus isn’t widespread in this end of the state, and we hope it stays that way.”
Every year Beams ventures forth to local elementary school science classrooms as Vector Man, a persona he created to inform elementary school students about potentially harmful insects and other pests. “I don’t wear a costume or anything, but the kids really enjoy the presentation because at that age they’re fascinated by crawly things,” he said.
For the past few years, the agency has focused much of its efforts on educating the public about Lyme disease and preparing for the swarms of Africanized honey bees that are expected to reach Orange County by 1993 or 1994. “We don’t know how the bees will behave in this climate, so it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect when they get here,” Beams said.
Now and then nearby residents get curious and drop by unannounced to find out what Vector Control is all about. “I’m glad they’re interested. People should want to know what’s happening in their neighborhood,” he said.
Population Total: (1990 est.) 6,504 1980-90 change: +3.0% Median Age: 31.4
Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino): 64% Latino: 14% Black: 2% Other: 20%
By sex and age: MALES Median age: 29.7 years FEMALES Median age: 32.9 years
Income Per capita: $13,371 Median household: $29,903 Average household: $33,180
Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 37% $25,000-49,999: 42% $50,000-74,999: 15% $75,000-$99,999: 4% $100,000 and more: 2%