It’s interesting–when I began to think about writing this blog; in my compulsive, retentive way, I outlined in my mind the various topics I would initially write about. I had it all planned out–probably at least 10 posts. I still do (oddly enough, I haven’t written out an outline–it exists entirely in my mind and evolves constantly), but many of the posts so far have come to me outside of these plans, inspired on-the-spot by forces not my own. In fact, I think I’ve only written one or two that I had pre-planned. All others, and these have been the better ones, in my opinion, have been inspired by interactions I’ve had with others–both former Christian Scientists (CS-ists), and some of my current circle of friends and co-workers who know nothing about it.
Today’s topic is another that is inspired by random interaction–this time via an e-mail I received at the e-mail I keep for this blog. I’ll offer up my topic with this statement from Science and Health–aak!…this is starting to sound like a church meeting: “You may know when first Truth leads by the fewness and faithfulness of its followers.” (p. 225). [Read it in its full context here] Well, the fewness of the followers of Christian Science (CS) is definitely not in doubt as anyone who researches it or has lived within it will readily attest. The faithfulness? Well, in some it goes a little bit too far. I need to look no farther in my own life than the circumstances surrounding the deaths of my parents. It wasn’t pretty.
As an aside in her e-mail, the writer mentioned that there’s still a small CS church in her town with around 15 members, most of whom are well past 60 years of age. I mentioned in my reply that there is a similar church here where I live (my parents were members). It has around 12 members (it was 14 until the untimely passing of my parents), all of whom, except for three or four are well over 70. The only other church in my immediate area is similar in demographics as I recall from my last visit about 5 years ago.
I live in Canada, and grew up here, and I also lived in the United States for several years. I can attest that CS is dying away rapidly here in Canada, and only slightly less so in the United States. It feels bittersweet to me, to be honest. I kind of feel sorry for it, and I know that’s really weird, but I do. I don’t celebrate and revel in it’s demise, but I do feel happy about it, in a way. I just hope the Mother Church holds on long enough–at least until I’m 65 so I can collect my pension from my years of toil there though…ha…ha [insert nervous laugh].
In my travels, I almost never encountered CS churches that I would consider thriving. I was a member of a “thriving” branch church in the Boston area that had around 50 members, but about 1/3 were inactive, and there were at least 10 that I never met despite being a regular attendee for around 4 years. I’d say there was a core of around 20 or so who were really active. It was a “younger” church, and quite rare in that way–there were several members under 50–most of whom, like myself, worked at the Mother Church. Most branch churches, however, are like the ones here where I live–holding on like Wile E. Coyote–by their fingernails as they slowly slip off the cliff to fall into oblivion.
However, news of the imminent demise of CS are highly exaggerated, unfortunately. While it is dying off, the death will be excruciatingly slow. Principia still cranks out enough fervent followers who stick with it to keep things going for awhile, and there are informal “CS groups” popping up here and there, that do not follow the strictures of branch church rules. That’s where many younger folks go now, or on-line. It’s also strong in many African countries, largely, I think, owing to the fact that submitting to medical care in many of those countries is risky–much as it was here in North America in the heyday of CS back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many other Christian faiths are growing in sub-Saharan Africa as well, so it may be a part of that trend as well. How dedicated many of these new members are has been a bit of a point of debate. To the consternation of some old-line CS-ists, folks in many African countries do hold on to some cultural traditions that are in direct opposition to the culture of CS as it exists in North America/Europe. The one that pops into my mind as I recall a casual conversation I had with a fellow colleague when I was working at the Mother Church is the issue of polygamy, which is legal in some countries.
I also know that at least the Mother Church will continue for quite some time, as it gains a lot of money each year from the demise of branch churches. There are still a lot of them out there–low hanging fruit just waiting to drop. I recall hearing about around 4 – 5 large real estate sales of branch church property each year in my early years as a worker at the Mother Church. Most branch churches when they close, turn their property over to the Mother Church, you see.
The Christian Science church is a starving body that’s been feeding upon itself for many years now. Yes, it can sustain for awhile, but not forever. Eventually, the numbers will catch up, there will be no more old branch churches to sell, and the big donors (who are all quite elderly now) will die away, and their donated estates will be gobbled up by the ever voracious appetite of the Mother Church. Early on, when I worked there, it seemed to me that they spent money like they thought they could print it. I couldn’t believe it. I would go home on vacations incredulous as I told my parents about it. All I could think of was how we were spending donated money that dear old ladies had saved up for a lifetime, and that we should be more prudent about it.
In a peculiarity of CS, many do not view finances as anything that should limit even the most bat-shit crazy idea, even though CS-ists tend to be quite conservative philosophically and politically. God, after all, will provide for all right ideas, right? I think some CS-ists do literally think that money grows on trees–especially if it’s someone else’s money they’re spending. After all, God will always provide more, especially if it’s a right idea. There’s always another old lady to die and bequest her estate, or another branch church to wither on the vine and be sold.
But, die, it will. I just doubt that I will live long enough to see it happen, and I am still many years away from retirement. Too bad, but at least I will be able to collect my pension.