Faith in Crystal Cathedral is returning — and so is its flock

Lately, attending the Crystal Cathedral has been like going to a reunion.

Longtime members have returned, along with a 60-person robed choir. Traditional hymns fill the church. And on Sunday, a recognizable face unexpectedly took the pulpit for the first time in years: the Rev. Bobby Schuller, the charismatic grandson of founder the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, participated in a brief interview and read Scripture.

“I’m excited to be back,” he told congregants, who learned that the 30-year-old pastor will be appearing at the Crystal Cathedral on an occasional basis, while still maintaining a separate ministry in Orange.

The pastor’s deal with the church comes nearly two months after the founding family appeared to sever all ties with the bankrupt ministry. In March, Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, resigned from the church’s board of directors over a financial dispute. Within days, his daughter, then-senior pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, left the Garden Grove church to begin her own ministry.

For the first time in the church’s history, no Schuller family members were on the board. Within weeks, the church’s trademark television program, the “Hour of Power,” was shortened to 30 minutes in some markets.

Earlier this year, bankruptcy led to a sale of the cathedral to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, leaving the ministry three years to find a new home.

But Bobby Schuller’s presence marks a revitalization. In two months, church attendance has doubled, and along with more people, donations have followed.

The church is still searching for a new senior pastor, but the once-prevalent negative atmosphere among congregants has faded. Former staff members and congregants who had left the church have come back, including choir director Don Neuen, who resigned in 2010.

“It’s a whole new feeling here,” said John Charles, the chief executive of the church.

Sunday’s first service featured a guest appearance by Kay Warren, the wife of Saddleback Church founder the Rev. Rick Warren. At one point, the choir received a standing ovation. After the service, congregants chatted outside the church, a rarity only two months ago.

June Leach, 74, has been attending the church’s services since 1968. She said she enjoys Bobby Schuller’s sermons, and was surprised — and excited — to find him at the pulpit.

“It was very nice to see him again,” she said with a smile.

Marjorie Amstuz, 83, a longtime viewer of the television show, talked with a friend about the expanded choir. She doesn’t get the chance to attend services often, but came Sunday for the first time in about a year.

Her eyes filled with tears when asked about the recent changes.

“You can feel the spirit of the church,” she said.