Friday, September 6, 2013

An Ecumenical Exchange

Rarely in our travels have we passed a cathedral we did not at least briefly visit. Thus many years ago, on a trip to California—which also took us down to San Juan Capistrano—we stopped in Garden Grove, CA on the way back and spent part of a mid-week morning visiting the Crystal Cathedral and its environs. Wondrous weather. Glass and light all over. Virtually no one about. 

This morning I learned that this church, built by Robert H. Schuller, founder of the Reformed Church in America, and famed for his Hour of Power television show (which we quite often watched) has become the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, now named Christ Cathedral. The legal transfer of ownership took place November 17, 2011—but the facility was leased back to the Reformed Church for a while. That church performed its last services there on June 30, 2013. Thereafter the congregation, has been occupying, yes, a Catholic church once known as Callistus; its new name under the Reformed Church is Shepherd’s Grove. Let’s call that an ecumenical exchange and ignore what history certainly shall—the bankruptcy and all the rest. Deep digging into the history of any cathedral will bring that sort of thing into focus, but time overlays it with a more pleasing patina. The image is Wikipedia’s (link).

Schuller founded the Reformed Church in 1955; the cathedral was completed in 1981—and, as is the case with such structures, saw further additions and changes; and those are still going on.

Reading about this exchange, memories of other unusual houses of worship rose—suggesting that church construction, and at striking scales and splendor, has not disappeared. Far from it. The first church we attended in America—or, rather, tried to attend—was Saint Francis of Xavier in Kansas City. Three of us children travelled there by street car—like on our first or second Sunday in the United States. It was a famous church, referred to as the Fish Church. Alas we did not speak English very well yet. They stopped us at the door—and it took quite a while to understand that we couldn’t go in because my sister, Susie, was bareheaded—she should have had a scarf over her head. Here was a new Catholic rule we knew nothing about. Saint Francis Xavier was built in 1949—thus two years before we arrived. I got to know the church quite well later because it was right next door to Rockhurst College, a Jesuit school, and served as the locus of college services. The images that follows are from Wikipedia (link); the second shows the “fish” shape.

Here in the Detroit region, the most striking house of worship, at least for members of this clan, is the synagogue of the Conservative Jewish Community, Shaarey Zedek. It is quite easily seen from superhighway I-696 where it intersects with super-artery Telegraph Road. A splendid structure. I show it from the front and from the side; it was built in 1962. For quite a long while the family business, Editorial Code and Data, had its offices on Telegraph, in the Onyx Building yet, itself something of a minor jewel. We saw Shaarey Zedek every day, approaching and leaving by night. These days Brigitte and I sometimes glimpse the structure on our way west to visit Monique and John. I bring the image courtesy of Docomomo, an international group dedicated to the conservation of modern architecture (link).


  1. Very interesting post. And thanks for the photos.

    Another great example of wise men and women understanding the power and beauty of a structure and not letting its original purpose get in the way of new uses, is La Mesquita-Catedral in Cordoba Spain. It is a truly remarkable jewel of cultures, Muslim and Catholic.

    It started as a Christian Visigoth Church, then became a Mosque, and was built onto extensively. The result is one of the world's most renowned examples of Moorish architecture. Then, after the Moors were conquered by Spanish Catholics, a new and lovely Catholic cathedral was built at the center of the structure, without harming the magnificence of the main prayer hall of the mosque. It is a truly remarkable structure with a history to match!

  2. Nice addition to the theme, there, Monique!


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