“No respecter of persons”: Recession threatens historic black church and Crystal Cathedral alike

The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal C...

The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church

This church is one of the 11 most endangered historic places in the nation.

It’s the Metropolitan AME Church, located on M Street between 15th and 16th streets in downtown Washington, DC.

According to a recent article in “DCist,”

The church hosted Frederick Douglass‘s and Rosa Park’s funeral, had President Taft, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bishop Desmond Tutu as speakers, and held pre-inaugural prayer services for President Clinton.The church, done in a Gothic-style brick, was completed in 1886 and funded entirely from donations.

Metropolitan AME has been at the center of the abolition of slavery, and later, the civil rights movement. It founded and housed the Bethel Literary and Historical Association from 1881 to 1915, a influential literary society that preserved the history of African Americans.

The church features 29 stained glass windows, each detailing the church’s growth during its 124 year history.

Now you’d think that this church would not be subject to such troubles. Turns out, it is:

Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral

In 1955, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, founded the Garden Grove Community Church — a predecessor to the Crystal Cathedral — using $500 from the Reformed Church in America . . .

In the 1960s, the Schullers called on the architect Richard Neutra to design “a walk-in/drive-in” church. In 1968, the 13-story, Neutra-designed Tower of Hope opened. Over the next four decades, the church and its complex expand greatly. The Crystal Cathedral sanctuary, designed by the famed architect Philip Johnson, was dedicated in 1980.

In 1970, Mr. Schuller began televising broadcasts of his church services from the Neutra sanctuary. Within five years, the “Hour of Power” (a name suggested by the Rev. Billy Graham) was being broadcast in all 50 states. It claims to be the longest-running church broadcast in the world.

His 1984 book “Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do” sums up his upbeat ministry. Other religious broadcasters would follow and surpass Mr. Schuller’s reach by preaching the gospel of prosperity.

[The above is excerpted from this brief New York Times article.]

Schuller’s church is in fact currently in Chapter 11, and its octogenarian founder spent this past Sunday’s service making tearful requests for more financial support from his congregation (as reported by AP):


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.

4 responses to ““No respecter of persons”: Recession threatens historic black church and Crystal Cathedral alike

  1. I’m no Schuller fan myself; my theology is miles from his, I think (except on salvation through Christ – there’s always a meeting place for Christians). Just saying that sometimes things we find suspect may enrich others. After a lifetime of doom and gloom Baptist preaching, my grandparents in their late eighties needed some cheering up.

    • “sometimes things we find suspect may enrich others” That’s golden. And something that hip young intellectuals (and crotchety old intellectuals) absolutely must learn in order to be truly useful to the church.

  2. I know that AME church! I lived at 13th and U in the early `90s. They were a dynamic force in our community. I hope people rally and support them. As for the Crystal Cathedral – that`s a lot of debt for a church. How did they ever get in so deep! Yet that too has been a dynamic and influential ministry. Schuller`s upbeat attitude, the orchestrated music and the beautiful structure were something my grandparents responded to and sustained them, via television, in their last years.

    • Very cool. Though my gut impulse is to knock Schuller for contaminating the gospel with his pop-psych “positive thinking” doctrine, I do believe his ministry is correctly separated from the prosperity gospelers. And I also believe in the tremendous power of the gospel to renovate our habitual, negative ways of thinking about ourselves, our vocations, etc. I just don’t know enough about Schuller to comment, but have heard testimonies like yours often enough to make me hesitate to criticize him publicly.

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