GARDEN GROVE – Robert H. Schuller and Arvella Schuller have done a disservice to themselves and their church by placing their unqualified offspring in high places at the Crystal Cathedral, said famed pianist Roger Williams, who played at the church for 35 years before leaving over a disagreement late last year.
Williams returned to Garden Grove as the Strawberry Festival Parade’s grand marshal last month. He spoke exclusively with The Orange County Registerabout his relationship with Robert and Arvella Schuller, which soured last year after what he called repeated unpleasant encounters with the younger Schullers.
Roger Williams, who played piano at the Crystal Cathedral for 35 years, says he left the church because he was tired of dealing with Robert H. Schuller’s offspring, who are now in charge.
Photos by: ROD VEAL, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Although the photo of the Crystal Cathedral’s Campus Buildings is an optical illusion it sadly portrays the feeling on campus and the present condition of this remarkable sanctuary and the dream of now aging founders Dr. Robert H. and Arvella Schuller.
“I left the Crystal Cathedral because all I wanted to do was play the piano,” said Williams, who has 21 gold and platinum albums and was the first pianist to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “I did not want to get into church confrontations.”
When Arvella Schuller recently asked him to return to the cathedral, Williams said he wrote a letter to her stating: “I don’t get involved in bitter family fights. No one wins.”
Williams made his comments in light of the financial turmoil that has gripped this Garden Grove megachurch. The cathedral’s troubles began nearly two years ago when Robert A Schuller left the church after a bitter dispute with his father, sisters and brothers-in-law. The older Schuller named his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, as the head of Crystal Cathedral Ministries.
Coleman and Gretchen Schuller Penner did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Williams says Coleman did “a wonderful” job with the cathedral’s school, but seems to be struggling with the responsibility of managing the entire ministry.
Williams has kind words for the elder Schullers.
“They have saved thousands of people around the world from suicide,” he says. “They have done so much – so much good over the years. But it hurts me to see what has become of the church they worked so hard to build from the ground up.”
Coleman has consistently maintained that the church is in a $55 million debt because of the economy and dwindling contributions. The church recently sold land donated by John and Donna Crean in San Juan Capistrano, which is expected to clear about 22 percent of their debt. The mega-church began struggling financially beginning in the late 1990s after building the visitors center and demographics in the area began to change. It is also said that Dr. Robert A. Schuller spent $3M on an office remodel for himself after taking over the job s the senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries from his father which may have been the straw that broke the camel’s between father and son… or perhaps with the Board? (Since the original posting, Dr. Robert H. Schuller (Sr.) has also been ousted from his position on the Board and the Cathedral has filed bankruptcy and is facing being sold.)
It was also reported by the O.C. Register that the Glory of Creation was partly involved in creating the Crystal Cathedral’s financial problems, but those facts were false and have been verified!
1) Creation was paid in full through a property sale (long before the Cathedral had creditor issues) and was approved unanimously by an independent, family minority, board. Carol Schuller Milner, who headed the project (writer, director, and producer of the ‘Glory of’ Creation), was not an employee of the Crystal Cathedral but co-pastoring a church with her husband, Tim Milner, in Colorado at the time. So, she had no impetus to get the church to do the production. Milner states below in a comment to this posting that it was very difficult on her husband and children since she was gone from home so much but that she responded to the board’s wishes. She said it was her most diligent labor ever (working 18 hour days, six days a week, for months while her family was in Colorado). She states it took her three years to recover, and that I can believe.
2) 70,000 saw Creation in 2005 (a little more, actually – that number is rounded down) – Milner still has the reports). There were $2MM in ticket and product sales that first season.
3) Creation was never restaged despite Dr. Schuller’s passionate desire to have it join the other shows in becoming church tradition. (Reasons cited were unease with the storyline and style among older constituents… perhaps not recognizing that it was the younger audience that they needed to reach, has been part of their problem.) Robert A. Schuller’s son, Robert V. and also a pastor, was running a very successful youth ministry on campus and after the fallout between his father and grandfather moved it to downtown Orange near Chapman University, one of the present potential buyers of the Cathedral property now in bankruptcy… to be used as a medical school.
4) Creation was always scheduled to break ‘even’ in five years, so diverting from that plan , unfortunately, kept it from producing the projected revenue that was hoped for and expected said Milner. She admits it was an expensive production but comparable shows on Broadway had budgets twice that of Creation. (Anyone who has seen the Glory of Christmas, Easter or Creation, or even just Sunday services knows that the Schullers and the Crystal Cathedral always put on a fabulous show,at least while Robert Sr and Arvella were in charge!) “The vendors for the show did us enormous favors, often reducing their cost of services in half. The goal of the show was to reach and renew the audience for the cathedral – to place it back on the map so that it wouldn’t see the dwindling numbers it now is showing” said Carol Milner.
2008 revenues were nearly $5 million lower than revenues for 2007. As of early 2009, the church planned to sell more than $65 million worth of its Orange County property to pay off debt: 150 acres in San Juan Capistrano, California, and an office building in Garden Grove, California. (I have heard more than once, not verified) that the TV ministry, that reached people around the world, cost $1 Million dollars a Sunday to produce and air. As the economy has gotten worse and worse and contributions and collections dwindled so did their TV Ministry, which in turn no doubt cut even more contributions.
Meanwhile, they could face legal action from more than 100 vendors to whom they owe millions. (Now covered under the bankruptcy rules.) In this group are those who provided services to put on the “Glory of Christmas” pageant, television stations and a company that financed the church’s equipment. Coleman asked vendors in April to wait 90 days before they took legal action.
A majority of the vendors agreed to wait and some even formed a committee to help the church work out a payment plan. But a handful of musicians who worked with Williams when he played at the Cathedral decided to go to small claims court – and won.
Williams says he has tried to calm down the musicians who have “cried to him” about not being paid by the Cathedral.
“I try to be objective because I do love the Schullers,” he said. “I want them to succeed. But there is such a thing as right and wrong. Not paying those musicians was wrong.”
Don French, a former keyboardist for the Hour of Power orchestra, said he always admired Williams for his exceptional talent and professionalism.
“He is a consummate artist,” French said. “I can say very honestly that none of the Schuller children or anyone at the Cathedral knew better than him when it came to music or playing the piano.”
Williams is one of many celebrities who have been associated with Robert H. Schuller and his megachurch. Others include Wynonna and Naomi Judd, John Tesh, Jim Nabors, Evel Knievel, Charlton Heston, Mary Martin, Ed Arnold, Wylon, Sir James Galway, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Williams’ best known recordings include Born Free, Impossible Dream, Near You and Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago.
Williams said he left the Cathedral in October after a difference of opinion with Gretchen Schuller Penner, who runs the “Hour of Power” broadcasts, having taken over from her mother.
“But that wasn’t the only reason I left,” he said. “I had a hard time dealing with the (Schuller) kids. All I wanted to do was play the piano. When people with no experience tell me how to play the piano – I just couldn’t deal with it.”
In his opinion, Williams said, Schuller put his children in positions they were not qualified to handle.
“His children had no history of success making it on their own,” he said. “Bob and Arvella went through tough times and built this church one brick at a time. To me, it’s those tough times you had to endure by yourself that make you great. Bob did not give that privilege to his children.”
Williams gives the analogy of the eagle, the emblem of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, to describe what he believes the elder Schuller should have done.
“The eagle kicks its young chicks out of its nest so they can learn to fly,” he said. “Yes, there’s the danger of them falling to the ground and dying, but that’s the only way they learn to flap their wings.”
Contact the writer: 714-796-7909 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Side note on the Schuller and children:
Dr, Robert H. Schuller and wife Arvella De Haan Schuller, a church organist when they married who later became instrumental in developing the music department at the Crystal Cathedral and was the original producer of the Hour of Powertelevision show, a role she filled for over 40 years have five children, one son and four daughters.
On January 22, 2006, Robert A. Schuller, took over as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, but was removed from that position on October 25, 2008, by his father, who cited “a lack of shared vision”. In a prepared statement, founder Robert H. Schuller stated that “different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry” with his son “made it necessary … to part ways in the Hour of Power television ministry”, not long after that announcement, Dr. Robert A. Schuller and his son Dr. Robert V. Schuller resigned and left the Cathedral ministry completely.
On June 11, 2009, Schuller announced that church leadership would pass to his daughter, Dr. Sheila Schuller Coleman. Dr. Coleman, age 59 as of 2010, is the oldest of the five Schuller children and the former head of Family Ministries at the Crystal Cathedral. which included their school. Since her brother’s departure, she is Director of Ministry and Mission. She said that the Hour of Power will no longer have the kind of ministry that places the attention “on one pastor.” The Hour of Power will be populated with “a stable of up to six ministers, including herself and her father.”
Another daughter, Jeanne Dunn, and husband Paul Dunn oversee The Glory of Christmas and The Glory of Easter, but appear to have little actual hands-on time at the actual Glory performances. Jeanne has assisted in various editorial contributions to various printed works and for Schuller’s books. Her husband, Paul David Dunn co-authored The Possibility Thinker’s Bible and Living Debt Freewith Dr. Robert H. Schuller.
A third daughter, Carol Schuller Milner (husband Tim Milner), was the writer, director, and producer of the (Glory of) Creation: Once Upon All Time that debuted in 2005 to an audience of 70,000+ (official figures verified by Carol Schuller Milner), for the run. According to the OC Register, it ran a second time in 2007, but that is not true (also verified by Carol… see her comments below.) She was the creative overseer of Schuller’s autobiography, My Journey: From an Iowa Farm to a Cathedral of Dreams (contributing substantially to the writing) and is author of various other works of print. Carol was in a motorcycyle accident at the age of thirteen that resulted in the amputation of her left leg and has been an inspiration to many. In 1986, she was interviewed on The Today Show.
Son-in-law James Penner, husband of fourth daughter, Gretchen, is producer of the Hour of Power telecast. Gretchen is director of programming for the ministry, having taken over her mother’s position after 40-years.
Over 58 years ago in Newkirk, Iowa, the man who would become my father met a 22-year-old girl who was the church organist (she would become my mother!). Her name was Arvella DeHaan.
She had a PASSION for music and believed that it held an important, honored, and sacred place in the church worship experience.
They married in 1950, and she immediately became the driving force behind the use of music in every Sunday morning worship service they organized together. Five years into their marriage, in 1955, they began a new church and ministry that would eventually become known worldwide as the Crystal Cathedral.
At the same time, a talented young pianist – also from Iowa, and named Roger Williams – “knocked the socks off” the pop music charts by recording what is still, today, the number one piano recording of all time: “Autumn Leaves”.
He went on to be named the best-selling pianist in history by Billboard magazine, with 22 hits now spanning six decades!
In the 1970s, I remember my parents being so excited because Roger Williams had agreed to play during Sunday morning worship at our church!
Since that time, nobody has given more to our ministry of music than Roger Williams. As you may know, He has appeared and played countless times on the Hour of Power. He has been featured in 28 consecutive Christmas Eve Candlelight Services in the Crystal Cathedral.
He has shared his remarkable talents unselfishly at many, many of our church concerts and fundraising dinners.
He is a member of our church and has purchased a glorious spot in our Memorial Gardens Cemetery.
HE HAS NEVER BILLED US ONE PENNY FOR ANY OF HIS APPEARANCES.
He has always, always given freely of his incredible God-given gifts, and we have loved and rejoiced in his every glorious touch of the piano keys.
(This was written approximately four years ago to help promote a CD and DVD recorded especially for the Crystal Cathedral to help them through these difficult times, as donations and tithes began shrinking… not only for the Crystal Cathedral but at churches and charities all around the country.)
Won’t you, once again, help us keep this ministry alive – continue to make it possible for us to continue on the airwaves and cable systems every week with our positive, emotionally enriching message of a redeeming, loving Savior – Jesus Christ~
God loves you and so do I,
Dr. Robert A. Schuller – taken from the Crystal Cathedral Website and obviously written a few years back during better times by Robert H. and Arvella Schuller’s only son and heir apparent. (Since then Robert A. Schuller, Robert V. Schuller, and Roger Williams have left the church and for the first time since their inception, the Glory of Easter was dark this past year and the Glory of Christmas may be cancelled as well. Robert H. Schuller, who had hoped to be retired and Arvella Schuller, who is at least partially retired, are in their 80’s now, they have sold off their Southern Campus, retreat center and school while the main Crystal Cathedral campus and the Hour of Power is fighting for its existence.
Having been a member of the Cathedral for years and part of both the Glory of Christmas and Glory of Easter casts for 8-years, as our family ministry, I read this all with great sadness. It is however an example of what is wrong with America in general and what has brought our Country, Christianity and institutions like the Crystal Cathedral to their knees. We, Generation Zero… (the baby-boomers and our parents having survived the great depression and WWII ), as parents, Christians and patriots have taken our eyes of the ball(s) and replaced our responsibilities with fun and distractions; then guilt for not spending enough time with our kids or being home with them and a desire to save our kids from the tough times… which created an ever growing need to spoil our children and our grandchild, while indulging ourselves with trivialities instead of focusing on the important things in life. We have created The Lost Generation that desperately needs help to be turned around. Unfortunately turning the tide we have created is like righting the Titanic once she started to sink, if it is possible, it will be an extremely difficult and slow process and unfortunately not in time to stop the affects of the damage for families like the Schullers and many others… as well as for America herself.
I will choose to remember better times on that magnificent campus built out of an inspired dream to honor God and to last for generations; a glass cathedral open to the heavens where twice a year people came from all over the world to relive and participate in the birth and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as thousands were transported 2000+ years back in time, each run, to the holy land where Kings (including my husband) came with gifts riding live camels, angels (including my daughter) flew overhead to the marvel of children and adults alike and as hundreds of volunteers gave of themselves nightly to recreate life-changing experiences for countess believers and non-believers alike, to beautiful music accompanying some the best dancers and most amazing voices to be heard anywhere.
Please pray for the Crystal Cathedral and for the Schuller Family.
Posted by Ask Marion – Marion Algier~ With a very special thank you to Carol Schuller Milner for your input!