Faith based on science
January 10, 2009
Christian Scientists don’t call it a miracle when back pain dissipates or fractured limbs mend themselves, without casts, before cheerleading practice the next day. Nor is it simply the blunt instrument of luck, a playwright’s deus ex machina, when bronchial trouble clears, a housekeeping project gets back on track or lost keys are recovered.
It’s Love from God, with a capital "L."
"There’s a science behind it," explains Elizabeth Beall, a representative of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, of Park City, now 30 members strong. "We practice a systematic approach to healing. We connect to healing by turning to God."
Christian Scientists assert that spirituality can solve physical and moral ills. Their beliefs are based on the bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s companion text, "Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures," first published in 1875.
Church members arrived in Utah 16 years later, in 1891, and have spawned branches in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, St. George and Park City. Members began meeting informally here in 1982. They solidified the congregation in 1984, but didn’t find a home until 2001. In anticipation of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, members opened the Christian Science Reading Room in the Main Street Mall and held services there until 2006, when they moved into their current location.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, reading room and Sunday school is pitched unobtrusively above Bangkok Thai at 605 Main Street, directly above the bar, notes church member Mary Hanscom. "You know, we don’t consume alcohol," she quips with a smile.
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The Christian Science church, headquartered in Boston, believes that the healing power of Jesus Christ isn’t relegated to biblical times. The beauty of the faith, members say, is that people can prove it works on a daily basis. "It wasn’t just healing for then," Beall says. "It’s healing for now. That gift didn’t go away when Jesus went away."
Beall, who acts as an official representative of Christian Scientists in Utah, said she often finds herself dispelling misconceptions about the church, which boasts about 100 members in Utah. People often confuse Christian Science with Scientology, the self-help start-up known for its cachet with celebrities such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
The two religions have no connection.
Even if most people aren’t acquainted with the beliefs of Christian Science, they probably recognize the name from the international daily newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, which Eddy started in 1908. The paper, winner of seven Pulitzer Prizes, isn’t themed after the religion, but it does feature columns on spirituality.
Still, the name remains something of a conundrum for people who aren’t used to seeing the words "Christian" and "science" stuck together. As member Steve Werner hung the church’s new sign on Main Street last fall, he fielded a question about the church’s name from a passerby. "It’s a science because we’re using spirituality to demonstrate God’s love," he offered.
Ali Ziesler turned to prayer last week after she injured her back and found herself unable to climb the stairs. She called a Christian Science practitioner, a layman versed in prayer protocol, and asked for guidance. "You have the right to be free even if you’re going to lie on the couch all day," the practitioner said as they talked about God’s love for her.
"Work on love?" Ziesler thought, somewhat incredulous. "This is a back problem." Then, she said, the advice clicked. "I felt like she was talking to me and saying it’s OK if you’re not sure what to do," Ziesler explained. "All I have to do is let the divine love work through me." She improved quickly, she said, and by the second day she felt well.
Another common misconception from those outside the faith is the idea that Beall and other Christian Scientists eschew modern medicine. Church members assert that existence is spiritual rather than material, and that maladies are, at least in the metaphysical sense, unreal because they are not representative of God, whose goodness can be understood and demonstrated through prayer.
But Beall and other Christian Scientists maintain that seeking medical attention is a personal choice. "If someone came to church on crutches, it’s not like they would be shunned," she says. "There’s no little package for how Christian Scientists think, believe and vote. The spectrum is wide."
Sunday services tend to be traditional with bible readings and hymns. Congregants also meet on Wednesday to talk informally and share their experiences.
Christian Scientists have no pastors or clergy, and members elect laymen to lead services. Instead, they use the bible and "Science and Health" to guide them and elect laymen to lead services.
Marilynn Simonsen explains her church in simple terms. "It’s putting my understanding of God into action," she says.
Hanscom, a member of the Interfaith Council since 1982, described Christian Scientists in Park City as varied and unique. She said that the community fosters diversity and, as importantly, remains open to asking questions.
Hanscom says every difficulty in her life, large or small, is worth praying about. "God knows what will satisfy me better than I do," she explains. "God is constantly loving everyone. We don’t have to deserve it. We don’t have to earn it. We just have to pay attention to it. God’s will is for everyone to be healthy and well. Just ask for God’s help."