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Crystal Cathedral orchestra members walk out of Easter service over lack of pay

April 26, 2011 |  5:51 pm


Easter at the Crystal Cathedral was once one of the church's signature events: packed with people, decorated with a flurry of fresh flowers, a full orchestra and a pageant performed with flying angels.

But this year, things were different.

About a quarter of the orchestra -- including an oboist, flautist, and two French horn players -- walked out a mere hour before services began on Sunday. They refused to play when they found their paychecks had been shortchanged, in some cases by half of what they were verbally promised.

Crystal Cathedral official John Charles said services weren't impacted by the eight people who walked out. Checks have been sent to those who performed.

"No one would have ever known they were missing," he said.

He said that the erroneous check amounts were "accounting errors" that resulted from unintentional miscommunication.

"We're sorry that it happened," Charles said.

But over the years, performers have watched the Cathedral's once-majestic musical programming dwindle. In addition to their financial problems, the church has undergone significant leadership changes. Longtime leader the Rev. Robert H. Schuller retired, followed by the very public ousting of his son and successor Robert Anthony Schuller in 2008. Sheila Schuller Coleman replaced her brother, but the congregation remains highly critical of church leadership.

"This church is known for three things: an inspiring minister with a vision, fabulous music and wonderful architecture," said oboe player Holly Patterson, one of the musicians who walked out on Sunday. "Out of those three things, only one exists now."

Patterson, of Claremont, said the decision to leave was not taken lightly.

"The reason that this hurts so much is this core group has been so loyal," she said.

Many of the musicians still haven't been paid for services from last Easter.

"We wouldn't allow the church to go into any more debt on our behalf," said Paul Loredo, a French horn player who was in the Hour of Power orchestra for more than 25 years.

"We couldn't keep playing and not getting paid for it and just getting taken advantage of," said Mary Oppermann of Ladera Ranch. Oppermann, a principal flute player, started at the church in September of 2001.

"Up until now, it was a really great experience for everybody. We just loved it."


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Photo: Exterior of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times