Los Angeles – The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, began as a house of prayer for Anglo Christians, but for the past two years the church's Hispanic Ministry has been experiencing accelerated growth.
"They called upon me by telling me that the church had to grow and it was difficult, they said ... because there was no budget (for that), there were very few people, but the challenge attracted me," Dante Gebel, the pastor of the Hispanic Ministry of the Crystal Cathedral told Efe.
"This is an historic, emblematic church and I was afraid that the message would be made conditional or that they would ask me for specific liturgy - but no, they gave me complete freedom, they told me you can do what you think is necessary for the church to grow," he said.
The Crystal Cathedral - which is not a true cathedral in the sense of being a church having a bishop's official seat - is made of over 10,000 rectangular panes of glass. It was finished in 1980 at a cost exceeding $18 million to serve the Protestant congregation of the Garden Grove Community Church, founded in 1955 by Pastor Robert H. Schuller.
The church is now known internationally via the television program "The Hour of Power."
"I preached in Miami and in 2009 when I came here there were about 300 Hispanics who met here and today we're about 3,000," said Gebel, a 42-year-old native of Argentina.
The pastor attributed the growth of his congregation, consisting mainly of Mexicans and Central Americans, to the fact that his sermons are oriented toward promoting the comprehensive growth of the Hispanic family and "freedom in the presence of God."
"What is the presence of God?" asked Gebel. "That which changes one's life, that which returns dignity to the Hispanic people, that which makes them feel happy, a happiness that is reflected in the economy and in health."
Every Sunday, while few people attend the service in English in the morning, Hispanic families begin to line up around the Crystal Cathedral two hours before the Spanish-language service begins at 1 p.m., ending two hours later.
Rene De la Parra, 42, is a member of the church who along with his family travels 200 miles every Sunday to attend the service.
"Something is happening in this cathedral," emphasized De la Parra. "It's the hunger we Latinos have, it's the hunger we Hispanics have for the love of God."
Wearing a hat to protect herself from the sun while she stood in line with her family, 22-year-old Rebeca Mendez told Efe she prefers to arrive early to wait to be among the first to enter the church rather than have to remain outside due to the lack of seats.
"I come here to receive a great blessing from the Lord," Mendez said. "Every day what's happening is something new and every day we're having new experiences of the blessings of God."
The church's sanctuary seats 2,376 people.