I was just reminded today of a funny story my Dad related to me several times, and it shows up the absolutely stupid and bull-headed hypocrisy of some Christian Scientists, but in a sort of sadly funny way. It involves a branch church, a renovation of the sanctuary (always something bound to stir up controversy in a Christian Science church), a young architect, a sound system, and a holier-than-thou Christian Science practitioner.
Many years before I was born, my Dad was a young, up and coming architect where he and Mom lived at the time. He was also the First Reader in his branch church, and also on the building committee in that church. The church was in an old building in the downtown section of the city, and they decided to undertake a much-needed renovation of their sanctuary. Now, anyone who has had any Christian Science branch church experience at all can attest that one thing that is virtually 100% guaranteed to stir up the most vitriolic controversy in a Christian Science church is ANY decision regarding ANY sort of changes or upgrades to the buildings. My parents regaled me more than a few times while I was growing up of endlessly nauseating members’ meetings where debate over something as trivial as carpet colour went on for hours. I was fortunate enough, for the most part, to avoid this egregious form of mental torture during my brief stints as a branch church member (but I had my own special hellish moments).
Anyway, since he was an architect, my Dad was tasked with being the project manager for the renovation. This role was kept within the building committee and the board level, in order to preserve my dear Dad’s sanity, as there wasn’t a need for the membership to know. Ideas and plans for the renovation were presented to the membership for their approval by the committee as a whole, but Dad was the point man when it came to design work (he did the design work pro-bono), and in dealing with contractors.
They ultimately presented a design that entailed dark navy-blue coloured ceiling over the main aisle, and lighter navy blue over the pews, which would give an illusion of more vertical space than was really there, and lighter colours for the rest of the auditorium. Also included was a sound system for the benefit of those who had the “belief” of hearing deficiency, who of course, always sat in the farthest back row away from the Readers, and as dutiful Christian Scientists would deny up and down that anything at all was wrong with their hearing. I think they did this just so they could bitch and moan about not being able to hear. God forbid they’d go see an audiologist and get a damn hearing aid, or just sit closer to the front! Christian Scientists are their own worst enemies.
There was one particular church member, an elderly practitioner, who had an opinion on virtually everything, and wasn’t afraid to voice it, often in the most venomous way possible. She was also one who couldn’t hear well, and loved the back row, and loved to bitch about almost anything. When the final designs were presented to the membership, she spoke up against them in the most vile way she could. Not knowing who the architect was yet, she proclaimed the designs, especially the dark ceiling as the “devil’s work”, and that whoever came up with this horrible idea was “the devil’s agent”. My Dad apparently restrained himself quite well given the rather personal insult that had just been hurled out. Ultimately, the design was approved, and renovations began. Once she was told who the architect was, this dear sweet practitioner did not apologize, by the way.
Now, I must mention again that this practitioner was hard of hearing, and often complained about not being able to hear the Readers, and yet she always sat as far away from the front as she could possibly get without being in the lobby. She was apparently well-known for her complaints about not being able to hear the readers. As the renovations neared completion, one Sunday morning she noticed the speakers in the ceiling, and the microphones on the Readers’ podium. After the service, she remarked to my Dad about how absolutely wonderful it was that she could so clearly hear every word he and the Second Reader spoke from the podium, and how happy she was now with everything. She was just overjoyed!
Dad just smiled a certain smile of triumph, but it wasn’t because of any endorsement of his design idea. You see, earlier that week when he had met with the contractor, the contractor told him that basically everything was finished, there were just a few minor finishing details to complete with the sound system. One of these was the installation of the amplifier, as the supplier had it on back-order and it was going to take a few weeks. But, all of the other components for the sound system were installed and ready. All they had to do was connect the amplifier and it was ready to go.
The sound system was doing absolutely nothing at all because it was not connected to an amplifier. It was all in that little old lady’s head. She had been miraculously healed of her hearing deficiency, and didn’t even realize it! Dad didn’t have the heart to tell her. He just enjoyed the satisfaction quietly. I suspect I might not have been quite so diplomatic or forgiving. Who knows? Maybe Christian Science does heal. Nah. Never underestimate the power of the human mind, and the bull-headedness of old practitioners.
As a postscript, the branch church in this story burned down about 10 years ago, and the membership voted to amalgamate with the other branch in the city (both were small and dwindling congregations), and they now meet in the building occupied by the other church, in a suburban part of the city. I visited this church a few years afterwards, and even with combined memberships, it was not a large church–perhaps 20 in the congregation. Although I was in my mid 30’s (about the age Dad was during the events I describe above), I was by at least 20 years, the youngest person in the congregation, with only a few other exceptions. Christian Science is rapidly disappearing, at least here in Canada. I for one, do not mourn its passing.