The Christian Science Community is a small one. It is not uncommon for people (or their parents, grandparents, or extended familial relations) to have attended Principa* together (often over several generations), taken Class Instruction together, worked at the Mother Church at the same time, gone to the same summer camp, attended the same youth conference, the list goes on. Once one is a Christian Scientist, everyone in the CS Community seems to automatically assume one is still a Christian Scientist.
There are two basic different levels of Christian Science involvement (if I’m missing any feel free to let me know).
- Active Members. Active Members actively attend their local branch churches every Sunday and every Wednesday, they’re on a committee or two, they volunteer in the Sunday School, Childcare, Reading Room or as Ushers. They occasionally get involved further at the Sate level (lobbying legislatures about vaccination laws, attending CS conferences), but are usually content being bigwigs within their own branch church on the Church Board.
- Super-Active Members, are like Active Members only better. They are the ones people in the congregation turn to if they need Spiritual Guidance, or advice. They’re often (but not always) a Christian Science Practitioner (extra points if they’re Journal Listed), CS Nurse (bonus points for Journal Listing), or perhaps even a CS Teacher/Lecturer (while I have never been to a church where a CS Teacher was a member of the congregation, I have seen how the lay people revere their CS teachers and call on them for advice). The Super-Active Members are also the ones often co-opted by the Mother Church for duty in Boston, and occasionally agitate for change (which never gets far).
- Inactive Members. Inactive members occasionally go to church for social reasons (parental pressure), or holiday services (CS doesn’t have any special holiday services for Christmas or Easter, they do however, have a special Thanksgiving service held on the third Thursday of November coinciding with the US celebration of Thanksgiving).
Then there are
- Those Other People. They show up for church some of the time (more often than the inactive members) but aren’t necessarily branch church members, they’re often Mother Church members, but possibly not. Not much is known about them as the Active Member’s club can be pretty cliquey. Those other people are usually fodder for gossip and speculation. Those other people may also have a physical impediment or disability, poor fashion sense, or give off a “weird” vibe.
And then there is
- The (Formerly) Active Member (or Member’s Spouse/child) with a Serious Health issue and/or Disability. Every church has one. No one is quite sure how to address it. Often they are relying solely on prayer, although sometimes they venture to an alternative health practitioner, or, worse yet, a doctor. Sometimes the individual in question “passes away” and is “no longer with us.”Christian Science communities do not deal with death and grieving well.**
Active members are usually very open about their activity. They also like to not-so-subtly ask about your current level of involvement. This is usually done in the guise of making polite conversation, but it can often feel like being questioned by the inquisition.
“What church are you attending? Are the children in Sunday School yet? Are you in your local Prin Club?”
When one was raised in CS and attended regularly for twenty years, it gets tricky, particularly when one’s parents (and parents-in-law) are still Active Members and the Active Members doing the questioning are often their acquaintances. Regardless of religion, Church Ladies gossip, and Active Members of the CS church are no different.
The first rule of leaving CS (and returning to church appease one’s remaining CS-family on occasion) is to change the subject as quickly as possible. See my kids? Aren’t they adorable. My husband’s gotten a new job. I’m just so busy as a mom! Then drop one or two subtle CS-related hints. Yes, there is a small CS church in town. We occasionally get flyers for Prin Club events, but things are so busy. They may ask if you know “So-and-so” the local CSP, CS Nurse, etc. to which you can usually reply “I think they’re a member of the -insert church in the next town over or if the city is large enough to have multiple churches perhaps a different branch-.”
Inactive members tend to be a bit more vague and creative in their labels, some of my favorite labels include:
- “I don’t go to church, but I still practice. 1) I had a nasty falling out with some of the Active church member cliques. 2) I like sleeping in on Sunday Mornings. 3) I don’t go to the doctor, but might seek “alternative” health care.
- “I was raised as a CS…” Translation: but I no longer practice, instead I self-identify as 1) Lapsed. I turn to CS in times of crisis, but take Tylenol for every-day problems, and if the problems get life-threatening I’ll maybe turn to voodoo or western medicine, but I’m still unlikely to go to a doctor for yearly physicals or much else. 2) Former. Option 1: found “Jesus!” and was “saved.” Option 2: left the church (reasons may vary, often health/medical related). Option 3: married a “non-Scientist” and converted to spouses religion. Option 4: Just sort of drifted away, no real reason, just not doing it any more. Option 5: … ?
There are likely more variations, but these are the ones I’ve run across most often. Among the CS Community one is assumed to be “devout” until one says otherwise. Interestingly, no one wants to admit to being less-than-devout, because everyone else is a good CS, there can’t possibly be anyone else who has questioned, or left. Actually there are lots of people who have left, you just have to be brave enough to speak up.***
*The Principia attendees are a post unto themselves as they are an Elite Sub-group of Christian Scientists. There are also levels amongst the Principians, but that is a post for a later date.
**Often the passing of a family member is final straw for an inactive member (or child being taken to church by their parents) to leave CS, another post for another day.
***I recommend being somewhat cautious about who you share this news with, some people will be relived you feel similarly as they do, while others may be hurt, confused, or angry.