Things are not looking up, over at the monstrosity of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. Even the church built by the famous “Hour of Power” pastor Robert H. Schuller, is feeling the pinch of America’s recession. As the Orange County Register reports:

Crystal Cathedral’s executive pastor, who was brought on board by the church’s former senior pastor Robert A. Schuller, was let go this week because of financial issues, church administrators said.

Jim Poit and his wife, Linda, who was director of children’s ministries at the cathedral, were both laid off. Deb Yurk, who had been brought on board by Poit as pastor of congregational life, was also released from her job, according to a news release by the Church Executive magazine based in Arizona.

Clarification: Like the two presidents George Bush, the two pastors Robert Schuller have different middle names; the elder is Robert H. Schuller and the younger is Robert A. Schuller. It was the latter who, having taken over the family business some time ago, abruptly resigned at the end of November last year. The departure of his successor, Poit, leaves the Crystal Cathedral without a leader. But is the recession the cause of this vaunted congregation losing money? CBS News reports a very different possible cause:

The church is in financial turmoil: It plans to sell more than $65 million worth of its Orange County property to pay off debt. Revenue dropped by nearly $5 million last year, according to a recent letter from the elder Schuller to elite donors. In the letter, Schuller Sr. implored the Eagle’s Club members — who supply 30 percent of the church’s revenue — for donations and hinted that the show might go off the air without their support. …

The Crystal Cathedral blames the recession for its woes. But it’s clear that the elder Schuller’s carefully orchestrated leadership transition, planned over a decade, has stumbled badly. …

Members often tie their donations to the pastor, not the institution, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University.

Could it be that the billions of dollars the Crystal Cathedral collected over the last several decades, came in due not to the “loving message” of Christianity, but instead because of the elder pastor Schuller’s personal style? If so, this would tend to undermine the presumed power of Jesus’ message, would it not?

But even if the recession is to blame for this, it tends to undermine the “conventional wisdom” that churchgoing increases in troubled times (presumably because people are looking for “guidance” of some kind).

Whatever the cause of the Crystal Cathedral’s financial woes, it does my heart good to see that one of the greatest monuments to religious ostentatiousness has run aground on its own excess. I’m no Christian but I’m fairly sure I saw nothing in Jesus’ career that he ever intended for his followers to build such colossal, splashy edifices in his name.

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