Robert H. Schuller, the religious broadcaster, once raised $18 million to build his landmark Crystal Cathedral in Southern California’s Orange County. Yet when he was laid to rest April 20 on the grounds of the cathedral he no longer controlled, his fractured family resorted to crowdfunding to cover the costs.
“Dr. and Mrs. Schuller were left financially crippled by the loss of their retirement income previously promised by the organization,” Carol Schuller Milner, Schuller’s daughter, wrote on the site GoFundMe. “Living on social security for the past years, they were not able to preserve a fund that would cover arrangements for funeral and memorial tributes.”
Christ Cathedral—the name the Catholic Diocese of Orange, California, gave the building after purchasing it in 2012—and a private benefactor covered the funeral’s basic costs, Milner wrote. The GoFundMe appeal seeks $30,000 to establish a website, an archive of Robert Schuller’s work and a broadcast of the funeral. “The funds we seek will help to give Dr. Schuller a lovely, albeit modest, goodbye,” the appeal said.
To date, a little over $6,100 has been raised from 44 donors. Individual donations have ranged from $25 to $1,000 since the campaign’s start April 11. Schuller died April 2 of esophageal cancer at the age of 88.
Donors have left many comments on the site, many of them typical of the upbeat, positive spirituality Schuller embraced.
“Can’t wait to see the service and the tributes to this great man that wasn’t ‘just’ a preacher,” a user named Steve Bonner wrote on the site. “Long live his memory and work.”
But others asked pointed questions about how the funds will be used by a family whose bankruptcy was the result, in part, of too many vanity projects. The Crystal Cathedral was $43 million in debt when it filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
“Christ Cathedral offers to host Dr. Schuller’s funeral but web sponsorship is needed for such basics as staging, seating and beverages; seriously?,” a user named Dina Praestant wrote on the site. “Some of the children seem to try to siphon every last drop before the spigot is shut forever. So sad and embarrassing that this mercenary mentality is how many people will ultimately remember Robert and Arvella, two legendary leaders.”
Schuller Milner, a trustee of her parents’ estate, said she was aware of the criticism — “it comes with the territory,” she said — and encouraged people who did not trust her to manage the funds to donate elsewhere.
“I would just say to people, ‘I totally get if you’re concerned. Then just don’t give,'” she said in a phone interview from Anaheim, California.
Schuller Milner said she started the online campaign at the suggestion of friends and that she helped care for her parents in their last years after Schuller left the ministry in what many characterized as a family feud. Schuller’s wife, Arvella, died in 2014.
Schuller Milner said none of her brothers and sisters were helping her with the memorial projects the campaign will eventually cover. She said most of the donations to date have come from her personal friends.