"[As Christian Scientist nurses] we do not give medicine, take temperatures, or read people's pulses," said Betty Miller. Miller works at the Lynn House, a Christian Science nursing facility in Encinitas. The Christian Science treatment is based on the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston, 1879. Eddy taught that physical illness stemmed from false thinking that could be cured only by religious rituals and divine intervention. Christian Scientists believe the material world does not exist, all humans are really spirits, and physical bodies are an illusion.
When asked about how people heal, Nurse Miller responded, "It depends upon their degree of reliance and understanding of the practice. We don't crawl into anyone's consciousness to bring healing," said Miller. Paul Hofflund, an official at the church, joined the conversation; "Healing is individual. We can't determine what will happen." Anne Hofflund, Paul's wife, remarked, "These healings are taking place but they are not being published. People can hear about the healings in the Christian Science Weekly or the local Testimony meetings."
Christian Science has received bad publicity for their reliance on prayer-healing. In 1994 the United States Supreme Court upheld a lawsuit against four Christian Scientists for this practice. The lawsuit was filed by Douglas Lundman against Christian Scientists who treated his 11-year-old diabetic son without conventional medicine. The boy, Ian Lundman, died in 1989 from complications of his diabetes.
"Once in a while a kid will die under Christian Science treatment. People wonder if the child could be saved if they had used medicine," acknowledged Mr. Hofflund. "Of course some people think we're nuts." In response to the criticism, Hofflund said that people in America should have freedom to practice their religion.
The Eighth Church of Christ, Scientist, meets in a renovated home in Clairemont. As I entered the foyer, an elderly woman handed me the Christian Science Quarterly Weekly Bible Lessons. In the sanctuary, pews sit on long-used beige carpet. The white walls are barren except for two signs in the front. "This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you," by Christ Jesus, and "Divine Love always will meet every human need," by Mary Baker Eddy.
Prior to service, the organist played "Largo" by Dvorák. Twenty-one people, nearly all elderly, were in attendance.
Service opened with "Communion Hymn" from The Christian Science Hymnal, written by Mary Baker Eddy. Mr. Hofflund read the lyrics before we sang. A woman in a green, flowing dress appeared out of a side-door to lead the congregation in singing. When the song concluded, the woman disappeared into a back room. Service continued as the congregation read Mary Baker Eddy's interpretation of the Lord's Prayer. One of the handouts explained that the interpretations are what Mary Baker Eddy "understands to be the spiritual meaning of the words."
Two readers conduct the Church of Christ service. Readers are elected by the local church to serve three-year terms. The readers sat behind a large box-shaped altar. The first reader was Paul Hofflund, dressed in a business suit. Hofflund's wife, Anne, performed the role of second reader. Mrs. Hofflund wore a black and white swirl-patterned dress suit. As her husband read, Mrs. Hofflund stared into the room without expression.
No sermon is prepared at Christian Science Church services. "The Bible and Christian Science textbook [written by Mary Baker Eddy] are our only preachers," Mr. Hofflund remarked. "This constitutes a sermon undivorced from truth, uncontaminated and unfettered by human hypotheses, and divinely authorized."
The Hofflunds read excerpts from the Bible and correlating interpretations in Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy. Sample interpretations included: that Jesus' death was not physical, but "Jesus demonstrated man's oneness with God"; at the Lord's Supper, according to Science and Health, Jesus "closed concessions to the material world." Many interpretations mentioned how to experience healing in life. The service concluded with people kneeling in silent prayer, followed by a hymn, the Communion Doxology.
I asked Mr. Hofflund how Christian Science could help people who were impoverished. "If the poor improve their self-concept they could solve their problems." I asked Mr. Hofflund about the tsunami victims. "The victims could alleviate their problems by changing their way of thinking," Mr. Hofflund replied. "If I found myself drowned and naked, I would pray. You are led to your needs being met when you pray." As an example, Mr. Hofflund cited a passage in the Bible where Jesus found money in a fish's mouth to pay his taxes.
I asked Mrs. Hofflund what happens after a person dies. "I guess I'll have to ask you what happens before we're born," Mrs. Hofflund responded. "Sin, sickness, death are all one belief that we live in a material world." Mrs. Hofflund explained that Christian Scientists believe our life is eternal and immaterial. "Humanly, [death] is a tragedy. Divinely, God never sees a child pass through life or death."
Mr. Hofflund added to the thought, "After you die, you wake from this body to a new body that is unseen. Life goes on. What we don't learn here we have to learn in the afterlife." The goal, according to Mr. Hofflund, is to move "further up the road toward unity of God and man. Salvation is unity with God."
3241 Mission Village Drive, Serra Mesa
Denomination: Christian Science
Address: 3410 Clairemont Drive, Clairemont,
Founded locally: 1961
Senior pastor: First Reader Paul Hofflund
Congregation size: "We don't publish numbers."
Staff size: 8
Sunday school enrollment: "We don't publish
Annual budget: In the $40,000s
Weekly giving: "We don't publish numbers."
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to dressy
Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour