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Schuller is not retiring as pastor, his daughter confirms

Crystal Cathedral’s senior pastor Sheila Coleman expressed outrage in an interview Sunday after rumors spread across the media and Internet that her father, famed televangelist Robert H. Schuller, was stepping down.

“Dad is not retiring,” she said. “I told [the congregation] that Dad’s role would not be changing and mine would not be changing.”

The media storm started when the Orange County Register reported that the 83-year-old Schuller announced his departure during the morning service at the Garden Grove cathedral. The Associated Press picked up the Register story. And within the hour, dozens of papers and media sites picked up the AP article and Twitter was buzzing with the news that the man who created the empire behind the popular weekly Christian TV show “Hour of Power” was moving on. Wikipedia added to its entry that Schuller was retiring.

But Coleman, who has been serving as the megachurch’s unofficial senior pastor for the last year, said the only change was that her role had been made official by the Reformed Church in America. She said she carefully explained to the congregation that the change was largely symbolic, “just an affirmation and celebration from the denomination.”

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Shortly after she arrived home, however, she learned of the media reports about her father’s retirement and returned to the Crystal Cathedral to set the record straight for television reporters who had gathered outside.

“It’s irresponsible journalism that nobody asked me to clarify,” Coleman said. “It’s troubling because we have a lot of viewers all over the world thinking: ‘My pastor’s leaving.’”

Schuller founded the church out of a drive-in movie theater in 1955, and its congregation has since grown to more than 10,000 members. He later rose to prominence with the release of several books and the launch of “Hour of Power.”

In 2006, he ceded the pulpit to his son Robert A. Schuller, but the two feuded over the future of the ministry. The younger Schuller was ousted less than three years later, creating a schism within the church and causing some members to leave.

Since then, longtime observers said, Schuller has been grooming his daughter to take over — a transition that makes some congregants nervous.

“It’s always a challenge when one takes over a ministry that was the result of a pioneering visionary,” said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. “It remains to be seen if she can carry on at the level that her father has established.”

The Crystal Cathedral is facing financial trouble, with a reported $55-million budget deficit and 27% drop in revenue over the last two years. And earlier this year, the church was sued in Orange County Superior Court by four large creditors, including an Indiana finance company that said the church took out nearly $2 million in loans to buy electronic equipment.

Church officials blame some of their troubles on an aging congregation and sluggish economy. They insist that a survey of members showed that the departure of the younger Schuller had no effect on their offering.

Coleman, 59, said Sunday that the church’s economic situation had improved significantly in recent months and that she was determined to restore solid financial footing to the church her father built.

“My role is to help him finish strong and hold him up so he can preach till the day he dies,” she said.

jason.felch@latimes.com

corina.knoll@latimes.com


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