Sunday #14 – Church of Christ, Scientist, 501 N. Alamo, San Antonio, TX
After last week’s “toe dip” into Scientology, I thought I’d check out one of the other religions often mistaken for Scientology – Christian Science. The church is one of several on the decline in America’s religious landscape. However, you might be surprised to learn that some pretty well known people were raised in the Christian Science faith: Doris Day, Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, Andy Rooney, Bette Davis, Gene Autrey, Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Val Kilmer, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and on and on.
Though the church doesn’t publish its membership numbers, I’ve read membership estimates in the 100,00 to 500,000-range worldwide. However, many feel the number is closer to the lower level. Why is this? I can only guess that its due to the unwillingness of the mother church in Boston to pivot toward the desires of younger generations who expect a more contemporary service with musical tastes that stray from traditional hymns, along with an expectation of being able to “come as you are.” However, after reading this blog, you may discover what I found – a service that would be difficult to adapt to a contemporary service.
My Preconceived Ideas of Christian Science
Having only known of one person who had been involved in a Christian Science church, my knowledge of this faith is quite shallow. I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought had it not been for an accident that this fellow student had one summer. As I recall, she fell off the diving board at the pool and cut open her chin. My neighbor, who was in her class at the time, shared that this girl was taken for medical treatment for the wound, but due to her belief, or non-belief in healing treatments, doctors sewed her chin up without any anesthetic. OUCH! So beyond that, I’d say my only preconceived notion is that Christian Science believers shun all medical intervention and medicine.
Knowing that the church is dwindling in numbers, I chose the bigger church downtown. Can’t say the 20 plus miles made any difference in that regard. I parked in the lot to the side of the large white building where a sign said “Reading Room.”
However, I didn’t know if I were to go in that door, so I walked around to the front and up the stairs to three sets of double doors, all locked. Oh well, guess people aren’t invited in the front door. With a few minutes to spare, I walked back to the side and in toward the sound of a pipe organ. Two men greeted me – one must have known I was new, because he held up a finger and said, “Let me get you something.” I followed him to a place down the hall where he grabbed a pamphlet, handed it to me and said, “This will help you understand who the players will be this morning.”
Didn’t know what that meant, but I’m always game. I then walked up a staircase entryway, closing in on the pipe organ sound. That organ was the first thing I saw as I entered a huge expanse of an auditorium that probably had 500 cushioned seats and ….wait for it…..nine to ten people spread throughout the auditorium.
Okay then. Guess I’ll take a seat right here. Oh wait….maybe over here directly in front of the hymnals. Didn’t matter, I had a clear view from ANYWHERE that I chose.
The overall look of the church experience reminded me a bit of the Mormon LDS church I had visited early on in this process – no altar or stage, just a white barrier between the congregation and the speakers. A woman came to the microphone on the left and announced the hymn written by Mary Baker Eddy. She then proceeded to read it. That was a new one on me. So apparently Christian Scientists read the hymn before standing and singing it? As you’ll soon learn, reading is a big thing in this church.
With the beautiful pipe organ playing, we sang the hymn and I conspicuously looked around to see what people were wearing, if any more had arrived behind me. No to the later, but I did discover that the men all had on a suit and tie, while the women wore nice dress clothes. And oddly enough — not one single person in attendance was younger than my 53 years!
Then came a reading from the Bible, then a reading of the Lord’s Prayer interspersed with some commentary that came after each line. Wasn’t sure what that was about. Perhaps it’s Mary Baker Eddy’s interpretation or commentary? I remain clueless on that one.
After that came another hymn, first read through, then sung, followed by the reading of Notices. This gives people an idea of what’s going on in the church. Must be boring for the members, because it didn’t sound like it changed from one Sunday to the next.
Suddenly…I got one of those awful tickle feelings in my throat every time I took in a breath. I’d been sick since Friday with a sore throat. That tickle feeling, of course, led to a louder-than-wanted cough. GREAT! I probed my purse and grabbed a cough drop, popping it into my mouth. Then this overwhelming feeling of guilt struck me. Here I was with a group of people who don’t believe in medicine. Do they believe in CVS over-the-counter medicine? My mind then went on a tangent of whether or not anyone saw me pop the lozenge in my mouth and whether it would melt in my mouth before the end of the service when I might breath menthol on some unknowing Christian Scientist. Geez! Why couldn’t I just pray this away before I came? However, I felt a little redeemed when later on doing the readings (yes, there were more readings) when the woman reader coughed once, sneezed, then blew her nose. Pheew…maybe my misstep wouldn’t be noticed.
Fortunately, I had done that before this older gentleman got up for his solo. He had a beautiful traditional voice and I would have hated if my coughing had interrupted that.
Then came the Subject of the Lesson – Sermon. Since the Christian Science church doesn’t have ministers or pastors, it uses two readers to deliver the scriptures from the old and new testaments and readings from “Science and Health with Keys to the Scripture by Mary Baker Eddy.”
In all these readings are many references to overcoming illness and sickness. The only thing that came to my mind was that if you talk about sickness so much, don’t you summon more of it to you? Guess that thought came from years of study in the Mile Hi Church in Colorado.
Then came the offering. As a gentleman took the offering in the oddest looking device I’ve ever seen – reminded me of my great grandfathers’ cushioned cigarette butt holder – a rigid ring that had some kind of soft material hanging down from it. While he finished taking the offering from the other nine people, I wondered how on earth the church keeps its lights on with this level of attendance. Without a pastor to pay each month, I’m sure expenses are low, but this is a big place and cooling it in the San Antonio summer isn’t cheap.
Then came another hymn to be read and then sung, the scientific statement of being and its correlative scripture and the benediction. At this point, I wondered about the numbers I saw to the left of me. Baptists usually put numbers up for attendance in church and Sunday School, but these didn’t make any sense based upon the numbers I worshipped with in church today. Then it stuck me…doh….these were the hymn numbers. #feelingstupid
Post Service Commentary
At the end of the service, I met some very nice ladies who stopped and asked me if I was just passing through. We talked for a minute and I relayed what a friend had shared, to which they agreed – I should come back on a Wednesday night to hear the testimony of healings that have taken place during the week, so I might just do that later.
I’m excited about next week. I’ll be going to a Methodist church that has an orchestra that plays on Easter Sunday. Haven’t heard an orchestra in church yet, some I’m excited for this one. I wonder if I can get away with wearing my same old dress. Will be new for everyone else, right?