GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Crystal Cathedral founder the Rev. Robert H. Schuller on Sunday tearfully asked his parishioners for help in overcoming the megachurch’s bankruptcy and tens of millions in debt.
Schuller, 84, made the plea from the pulpit as he spoke publicly for the first time since the church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 18.
“I need more help from you,” Schuller said, according to the Orange County Register. “If you are a tither, become a double-tither. If you are not a tither, become a tither. This ministry has earned your trust. This ministry has earned your help.”
Schuller’s voice cracked with emotion as he told congregants about his family home and cornfield in Iowa getting flattened by a tornado when he was a teenager.
“I learned from my father that tough times never last,” Schuller said. “Tough people do.”
Citing debts of more than $43 million, the Orange County-based church that also produces the long-running “Hour of Power” television show declared bankruptcy last week.
The church, founded in the mid-1950s by Schuller, has already ordered major layoffs, sold property and canceled its annual “Glory of Easter” extravaganza.
Church officials have said that for the time being, “Hour of Power” will remain on the air though the number of stations airing it has been cut.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows a business to keep operating while it tries to put its finances in order under court supervision.
The church has said its money troubles are almost entirely the result of the recession, but others have blamed an inability to keep up with the times and leadership and succession problems that included a disastrous attempt to hand the church over to Schuller’s son.
Schuller’s daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, ended up assuming senior pastor duties.
She assured church members Sunday that using “Biblical” money management the church would get out of bankruptcy.
The congregation gave Robert Schuller a standing ovation near the end of his daughter’s remarks.
One longtime member said she admired the Schuller’s efforts but that maybe the church needs a change in direction.
“Sheila is really trying hard and she is a good person,” said Jean Hess, a member for 30 years and a greeter at the church’s doors. “But, I think, to get back to where it was, the church needs to look outside of the family to find a true leader.”
William DeVries, who was visiting the church from Arkansas with his family, said he thought the church would get through the current mess.
“We’ve watched the “Hour of Power” for years,” he told the Register. “This is an inspirational church that has preached to people internationally. This is a tough situation for them. But I think they will survive.”