Monday 12 November 2012

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Christmas Eve at the Crystal Cathedral

I've told you about our tradition of spending Christmas Day at Disneyland but, while I wouldn't call it a tradition, there's something else that we do with reasonable regularity when we're in Southern California - Christmas Eve service at the Crystal Cathedral. While we're not fanatical about attending church when traveling, Christmas is one of those times we like to make sure we get a little spiritual prompting, and the Crystal Cathedral just happens to be convenient for us, being located a short walk from where we usually stay at the Hyatt Orange County.

Crystal Cathedral entrance

At least I think it's a short walk. To hear my kids complain you'd think I just made them cross the Sahara desert, although I suspect that some of that may have to do with us making them walk around the grounds of the church before service. This is a big property church, and it's easy to find a couple of hours slipping away from you while you look around, especially at Christmas when the cathedral is decorated in it's finest. There are self-guided tours that you can take of the grounds, but we prefer to do our own exploring, allowing us to focus on the things that interest us most. Of course, that also means that I'm responsible for answering any questions my kids may have without having any reference material to fall back on. I assume that the reason they built the church out of glass was that there was a major drywall shortage in Southern California, but if that's not true, nobody tell my kids.

Crystal Cathedral Exterior

The Crystal Cathedral runs six services on Christmas Eve, starting at 3 pm and running every hour and a half after that until the final service at 10:30 pm. The earlier services are far easier to get into, especially if you're planning on driving to the church. There is a good amount of parking, but each service can hold almost 2,500 people, so you can imagine that when one service lets out and another starts to fill in, there can be a little bit of congestion in the area. If you're like us and are typically 10-15 minutes late for church every week (Hey, we have three teenagers. We're 10-15 minutes late for everything.) then you may very well find yourself having to wait for the next service.

Crystal Cathedral balcony view

The service itself however, is well worth waiting for. The last time we went there was an opera singer performing with a professional touring choir. The first time there were camels parading down the center aisle of the church, and angels came zip lining onto the stage from the upper heights of the building. The pageantry and staging are spectacular, but don't even ask how disappointed my children were with our regular home church service the next week. Our poor pastor had some pretty tough questions to answer that year.

First row balcony seats Crystal Cathedral
Psst! Neve! Remember the 11th commandment: Thou shalt not put thy feet on the balcony ledge!
As much as I enjoy the service at the Crystal Cathedral, I have to admit that I don't always understand the concept of architecturally amazing churches. I'm just as much at home with a group of people in a basement as I am in one of the so-called mega-churches, so to me it seems like a bit of a strange way for a church to spend their money. On the other hand, we probably walked past two or three other churches to get to the Crystal Cathedral, so if the intent is to draw people in, then I suppose it's money well spent. Whatever it's intent, the Crystal Cathedral is a stunning complex, absolutely worth a visit whether you intend to attend a worship service or not. 

Christmas tree Crystal Cathedral

Note: This is probably the last year that the Christmas services at the Crystal Cathedral will be run by it's current ministry. Effective June 2013 the property has been sold to the Roman Catholic church, and while I have no doubt that there will still be worship services on Christmas Eve, I expect the times and format will change somewhat (They'll probably cut back on the camels for starters).

Written by Steve Pratt