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Little white church of science

Christian Science follows the lead of Mary Baker Eddy.

What is striking about the island’s First Church of Christ Scientist is the simplicity of the place.

No statuary or steeple marks the outside of the unpretentious one-story building on the southwest corner of High School Road and Madison Avenue.

Inside, the impression of austerity is heightened by the absence of religious symbols; above the central podium, where one might expect a cross, are three words in plain gold script: God is Love.

The sentiment figures large in the church founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 and expounded on in the faith’s tome, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” used by Christian Scientists as a primary guide to interpret the Bible.

“Those are the words that always strike me,” member Sue Anderson said. “The heart and soul of Christian Science is love.”

Another key conviction is expressed in Eddy’s Science and Health: “We take the inspired word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal life.”

The belief that those principles, supported by prayer, can effect healing of physical illness, the spiritual disease of sin, and even death, is at the heart of the faith.

“The key to Christian Science is demonstration of God’s love for man, which heals,” said Rob Bolt, chairman of the church board of directors. “Other people believe that when you are sick, you go to a doctor. When we fall ill, we believe that Christian Science can give us a spiritual treatment which will result in healing.

“We believe you turn to the Bible, acknowledging the truth in human consciousness as laid out there.”

The treatment begins with prayers by the individual. Should those prove ineffective, the sick person calls in the specialist – a professional Christian Science healer to guide in still more intensive prayer.

In the extremity, the Christian Scientist views the end of life in a different light than most, Bolt says.

“We believe in a passing, we don’t believe in death,” he said. “We believe that life is eternal, and our spiritual self as God knows us today will be our spiritual self after we pass on.”

Like the other congregations in the denomination, FCCS Bainbridge is a lay church, with two “Readers” designated by the congregation to conduct services, and a board of directors to handle business.

Sunday service is devoted to reading a “Bible Lesson Sermon,” sequential daily readings from the Bible and “Science and Health” assembled at the Mother Church in Boston, Mass., and published in the magazine “The Quarterly.”

On Wednesday evenings, members hear readings selected by the First Reader, and share personal testimony about healings they have experienced.

Like every Christian Science church, the Bainbridge branch has a reading room stocked with Christian Science literature open to members and to the public. The island’s reading room is located in a Winslow Way storefront adjacent to Town & Country Market.

“Ours is a quiet place to read the Lesson Sermon,” board member Patty Richards said, “to read Mary Baker Eddy’s writings, to do Bible research and to have quiet prayer.”

Like Anderson, Bolt was born to parents who practiced Christian Science. But many members come to the church through their own experiences of healing – journeys from illness to recovery that echo the personal odyssey that brought Eddy to make the connection between health and spirituality.

In the beginning

Christian Science began when Eddy experienced what she felt was a healing from God.

Born in 1821 to a New Hampshire farming family, Eddy had a history of health problems, for which she sought cures that today might be considered naturopathic. In her writings, she traces her spiritual awakening to a moment in 1866, when she suffered a near-fatal fall on ice.

In the wake of the fall, she turned to the King James version of the Bible for solace. While reading a passage about healings Jesus had brought about, she suddenly felt whole herself.

She promptly arose from what might have been her death bed, dressed with dispatch and ate, by her own account, a hearty meal – to the attending physician’s not-unreasonable astonishment.

Eddy then embarked on a three-year exploration of the Bible to understand the science behind her cure.

The fruit of her research was “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” published in 1875.

In 1879, Eddy procured a charter for her church, and by 1894 had built The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Mass., with what she described as a “little band of earnest seekers after Truth.”

Eddy’s stewardship included both founding principles and the nuts and bolts of church structure.

Shaped by the tradition of Bay Colony scholarship, reading and writing about the Bible became a daily discipline for practitioners, and every church supports a Reading Room.

Eddy founded a metaphysical college in 1881, and in 1898 a press. At age 87, she launched The Christian Science Monitor, a newspaper for general readership.

By the time of her death in 1921, Christian Science had developed an international following. Today, the denomination has 2,000 branch churches in 79 countries.

Although the church adheres to the structure set forth by Eddy – the sole woman to found an enduring Bible-based religion – Christian Science is not about Eddy’s personality, but rather the principles she discovered.

“The Bible is the source; the text (‘Science and Health’) is the interpretation,” Bolt said. “They go hand in hand.”

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