Crystal Cathedral, the megachurch birthplace of the US televangelist show "Hour of Power," has filed for bankruptcy in Southern California after struggling to pay back a debt that exceeds $43 million (£27m).
Published: 7:00AM BST 19 Oct 2010
The church was founded in the mid-1950s by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller SrPhoto: AP
In addition to a $36 million (£22m) mortgage, the Orange County-based church owes $7.5 million (£4.7m) to several hundred vendors for services ranging from advertising to the use of live animals in Easter and Christmas services.
The church had been negotiating a repayment plan, but several companies filed lawsuits seeking quicker payment, which prompted a coalition formed by creditors to fall apart.
"Tough times never last, every storm comes to an end. Right now, people need to hear that message more than ever," Sheila Schuller Coleman, the Cathedral's senior pastor and daughter of the founder, said.
"Everybody is hurting today. We are no exception," she said.
The church, founded in the mid-1950s by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller Sr., has already ordered major layoffs, cut the number of stations airing the "Hour of Power" and sold property to stay afloat. In addition, the 10,000-member church cancelled this year's "Glory of Easter" pageant, which attracts thousands of visitors.
Vendors owed money by the church formed a committee in April and agreed to a moratorium to negotiate a repayment plan with the Crystal Cathedral.
Kristina Oliver, whose Hemet-based company provided live animals for the church's "Glory of Christmas" manger scene, said she doubts she will recover in full the $57,000 she is owed.
"The church never made any kind of advancement that they wanted to pay their debt, that they were willing to try to make it happen and every time we tried they told us, 'You can't tell us how to run our business,"' Ms Oliver said.
"I'm upset because I have a 30-year relationship with them and you need to be up front, put all your cards on the table."
Crystal Cathedral was founded at a drive-in theatre and attracted congregants with its sermons on the power of positive thinking. The "Hour of Power" telecast, filmed in the cathedral's main sanctuary, at one point attracted 1.3 million viewers in 156 countries.