Ten years ago, leaders in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) began denouncing the fringe beliefs of their founder and transforming their church into an evangelical denomination. This revolutionary theological shift caused congregations and families to splinter. It also sparked a financial Armageddon in the highly visible movement of 150,000 people.
Now church leaders propose a physical shift that they say will determine the church's future. They want to turn their valuable 55-acre Ambassador College campus in upscale Pasadena into about 1,500 residential units. Church officials say selling the headquarters will secure the church's financial foundation, provide pensions for its pastors, and create much-needed housing for city residents.
"As we go to sell it, we are concerned about the next 50 years," said Bernard Schnippert, the church's director of finance and development. "When we leave Pasadena, we want to be proud of our legacy."
But local residents are not ready to let the group leave on those terms.
The campus, with its Italian gardens, stately mansions, and world-renowned Ambassador Auditorium, has been the church's home since 1956. At its peak, it housed up to 1,200 students and 1,000 church employees. It was the icon of founder Herbert W. Armstrong's church. Kingdom of the Cults, by the late Walter Martin, devoted 34 pages to the group.
The church preached what has been dubbed "Armstrongism" or British Israelism through its The World Tomorrow radio and television programs and The Plain Truth magazine. Basic beliefs included adherence to Old Testament dietary laws and festivals, a Saturday sabbath, and a mandatory 20 to 30 percent tithe.
Armstrong died in 1986, the college closed in 1990, and church leaders ...