By GILLIAN FLACCUS/The Associated Press
GARDEN GROVE — The Southern California megachurch founded by one of the nation’s pioneering televangelists, the Rev. Robert Schuller, filed a bankruptcy plan Friday that would pull the Crystal Cathedral out of crushing debt by selling its sprawling campus and famous, glass-spired sanctuary to a real-estate investment group for nearly $47 million.
The church would lease back most of its core buildings under the plan, which is subject to approval by a bankruptcy judge, so worshippers and visitors won’t notice any changes in services or outreach.
The church’s popular, decades-old televangelist program “Hour of Power” broadcasts also would continue, the church said.
The plan would allow the ministry to lease back the church buildings for a guaranteed 15 years, with the option of buying back the core campus at a fixed price within four years, said Marc Winthrop, the church’s bankruptcy attorney.
The deal would erase the cathedral’s $36 million mortgage and wipe out almost all of the $10 million in unsecured debt that has plagued the Crystal Cathedral for several years after a disastrous leadership transition and a devastating slump in donations.
A court hearing is set for July 13.
The plan specifies that the ministry will sell the property to the Orange County-based real-estate-investment firm Greenlaw Partners, according to disclosures filed with the bankruptcy court.
The property will be divided into up to five parcels, and multifamily housing will be built on two parcels, with a parking lot on a third parcel.
The buyer has agreed to pay $46 million with an additional $900,000 set aside in escrow, according to court papers.
Schuller got his start in Southern California preaching about the “power of positive thinking” from the roof of a concession stand at a drive-in theater.
Schuller, now 84, soon turned his humble pulpit into one of the nation’s first megachurches, beaming his weekly Sunday service into 1 million homes worldwide through the “Hour of Power” TV show, which went on the air in 1970. In 1980, he opened the Crystal Cathedral, a 2,900-seat see-through church made of 10,664 panes of glass.
A $20 million architectural marvel designed by Philip Johnson, it became a major Southern California landmark and a tourist attraction. Schuller soon added a K-12 school and a tourist center.
But his religious empire began to collapse after a disastrous attempt in 2006 to hand over the leadership to his son, Robert A. Schuller.