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15: The Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, California
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The chancel organ
Mystery Worshipper: Big Softie.
The church: The Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, California.
Denomination: Crystal Cathedral Ministries (Reformed Church in America).
The building: The Crystal Cathedral is a magnificent glass structure, looking like a major modern office block or conference centre, set in its own campus-style grounds. The building boasts more than 10,000 windows of silver-colored glass, a 52-bell carillon housed in a stainless steel bell tower, and has seating for 2,890 people, who can watch the services on a giant indoor Sony Jumbotron television screen (drive-in worshippers can also watch on a giant Nit-Star screen outside). The cathedral is home to the
The neighbourhood: I'm not really qualified to say, having only driven from the freeway to the cathedral, but Garden Grove looked like a prosperous, business-oriented suburb of Los Angeles.
The cast: The pastor: Dr Robert H. Schuller (the cathedral's senior and founding pastor); the preacher: General Eva Burrows (ex-leader of the Salvation Army); the choir: Salvation Army Choir, plus an orchestra and two gospel soloists.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning prayer for the Hour of Power TV transmission.

How full was the building?
Probably only 50 per cent full, but it was the 11am reprise of the 9.30am service. Our service was immediately followed by a service for the local Hispanic community – for which the cathedral was full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Everything is well organised – from car park attendants to uniformed ushers leading you to a seat – but it didn't really seem personal. More like the professional greeting you'd get at a cinema or from an airline steward.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Individual, padded seats.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Businesslike, but eventually quite chatty. When someone sat next to me, she turned out to have a daughter living in Harrogate. I had to laugh when they announced that next week's visiting choir would be a 'Welsh male voice choir from South Wales, England.'

The Crystal Cathedral

What were the exact opening words of the service?
An invitation to let Jesus into our lives – as (according to the publicity) 'two 90-foot tall doors open electronically behind the pulpit to allow the morning sunlight and warm breezes to enhance the worship services.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A four-page service booklet, printed especially for the occasion, and words to the hymns displayed on the huge TV screen.

What musical instruments were played?
An enormous organ, and a professional orchestra with grand piano, violins and cellos... the full works, complete with bow ties.

Did anything distract you?
Watching the service relayed on the giant TV screen, the movement of the TV camera crews – the fluttering of sparrows flying around the building.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We had modern hymns, played by the orchestra at a jazzy pace, plus two tremendous solos from gospel singers and pieces by the choir. This was a tremendously well produced service (at first I wrote 'show'). I felt more like a spectator at the recording of a TV show than a participant in worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6. Some memorable insights from General Eva Burrows on her life in the Salvation Army.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Living a Christ-like life.

Jumbotron and spire

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being inside the cathedral – it's bright and airy, with marble floors and a water feature with fountains running down the centre aisle, and is dominated by a superb organ.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The TV style man-to-man chat as Dr Schuller was presented with an award, and the frequent requests to help fund the building of the 'International Visitor Center'. Apparently, a donation will have your name carved in a stone pillar for prosperity – oops, posterity...

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get the chance to look lost. We were ushered into the Fellowship Hall as we left the church, but no one tried to talk to me when I arrived.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Dispensed from a trolley in the open air by the Fellowship Hall. It was a good cup of coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. It wasn't really my scene – too 'American' for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I can't say I had a great feeling that the Spirit was moving in the service I attended – but I did feel glad that so many people contributed to making the place a magnificent modern cathedral.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stunning building, the scale of operations, the in-car worship area... I suppose the whole experience.

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