Megachurch Prepares to Shut Down Retreat Center

The Orange County Register
updated 1:15 p.m. PT, Sun., Feb. 7, 2010

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Crystal Cathedral administrators have started shutting down all operations at their 20-acre campus in Rancho Capistrano, closing a church, preschool, retreat area, soccer fields, camping grounds and a conference and wedding center.

The lush, sprawling grounds where the chirping of the birds is interspersed with the roar of the 5 Freeway has been part of the Crystal Cathedral for nearly three decades — since 98 acres of it was donated to the Garden Grove megachurch by Orange County philanthropists John and Donna Crean in 1981.

Now, church administrators say it has become a liability. Last week, Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of founder Rev. Robert H. Schuller and head of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, announced that the church will lay off 50 employees at Rancho Capistrano, shut down that campus by the third week of March and suspend its “Glory of Easter” pageant this year to save money and help the church dig itself out of debt estimated at least at $55 million.

The cathedral has been seeking a buyer for the 20-acre retreat center at the property. The remaining 150 acres are in escrow to be sold to Continuing Life Communities, a developer that plans to build senior homes, as well as the city of San Juan Capistrano. City officials have said that they are looking at a variety of options for that property including a luxury hotel and a winery.

But those who are on the grounds now worry that Rancho Capistrano will soon cease to be what John and Donna Crean always wanted it to be — a place of retreat.

Pastor Rich Anderson, who has headed Capistrano Community Church, said he and about 150 congregants will have nowhere to go. Anderson came to Rancho Capistrano as a worship leader when Robert A. Schuller, the founder’s son, ran his church. When he left to join his father at the cathedral, the church on campus fell apart, Anderson said.

“A small group — about 50 congregants — asked me if I would take it over and build it from scratch,” he said.

Since 2001, the non-denominational church grew to 150 congregants, Anderson said. But the Crystal Cathedral has always been detached from the church and “never seemed to care,” he said.

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