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Father Christopher H. Smith distributes Holy Communion at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove; Smith has been named to the top post at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange’s new central church in Orange County — the Crystal Cathedral, which has been renamed Christ Cathedral. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times / June 9, 2012)
When Father Christopher H. Smith was a child, he'd peek through the eucalyptus trees in his grandparents' yard on Sunday mornings at the drive-in theater next door to watch a man give a sermon on the top of a tar-papered snack bar, the same place where he'd grab his popcorn on movie evenings.
The man atop the snack bar was the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, preaching from humble beginnings at the Orange Drive-In Theater.
"We thought that was very cool," Smith said.
Now, decades later, Smith has found himself linked to Schuller once again. On Saturday, he was officially named to the top post of Episcopal vicar at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange's new central church in Orange County — the Crystal Cathedral.
"Never in a million years did I think that somehow I'd be connected with that man and what he built," Smith said of Schuller and the architecturally spectacular church that the preacher founded.
The diocese also announced a new name for the Crystal Cathedral: Christ Cathedral. It was picked from 4,129 submissions from all over the world. Suggested names included Christ the King, Cathedral of the Transfiguration and, amusingly, The Church of What's Happening Now.
The new name is the latest in a series of steps in the transformation of the evangelical church to one of the Catholic faith, which began with a judge approving the diocese's purchase of the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral for $57.5 million in November.
Officials at Crystal Cathedral announced last week that their congregation would be moving to St. Callistus Catholic Church, about a mile away, beginning in June 2013.
The congregations at each church will swap places, a unique move, but one that is seen as essential for the cathedral to move forward.
"We have goals to set, and we're on our way," said John Charles, chief executive of Schuller's former ministry. He said that St. Callistus was an attractive option because the diocese has offered free rent until January 2014 and a discounted rate thereafter.
"The congregation will basically be the same, but we intend to grow," he said.
But there are still steps ahead that need to be taken in the transition process. The diocese will have to renovate the cathedral for Catholic worship, and likewise, St. Callistus will have to be renovated for the "Hour of Power" to be filmed there. In its prime, the television show beamed Schuller's image into more than a million homes around the world.
At the end of the diocese's yearly ordination ceremony Saturday, Bishop Tod Brown announced the new name of the cathedral to applause from more than 1,500 parishioners.
Alfredo Zarate, a business owner from Santa Ana, said he thought the name was beautiful, especially given the iconic reputation of the building.
"I think it's something that rolls off the tongue easily," he said, standing outside Saint Columban in Garden Grove, where the ceremony was held.
Sharon O'Leary of Huntington Beach said she thought the name sent the message that the cathedral was for everyone.
"It's a welcome sign to the whole community," she said.
Smith acknowledged there would be an adjustment period for Orange County Catholics, but he was still excited about the uniqueness of the situation.
"There are so many marvelous connections that are happening without any invitation," he said.
He recalled a recent meeting with Schuller, where the preacher said that he always had Jesus Christ in mind when conceptualizing the cathedral.
"And now, as it turns out," Smith said, "the cathedral is going to be named Christ Cathedral."
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