First Church of Christ, Scientist, Edinburgh
Morning Service, Sunday 12th May 2013, 10.30am
Led by: two woman whose names I didn’t learn
Christian Science is one of the few religions I can think of that's been founded by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, author of Science and Health, which is the key text of the denomination, alongside the Bible.
I wasn’t sure what to expect … a few more attendees, perhaps? There were only twenty of us all told. I certainly didn’t expect any miraculous healings there and then. I knew that they don’t go in for that kind of throw-away-your-crutches palaver, although they do believe in spiritual healing. In fact, they believe that everything is spiritual, and that the physical, and therefore anything that can go physically wrong, is an illusion which can be transcended.
What surprised me most was how prescriptive the order of service was. The Christian Science Quarterly sets out the texts which are to be read each week, from the Bible and from Science and Health, and these texts (about 35 minutes’ worth of them) comprise the sermon, the leaders taking it turn about to read from each source. So prescriptive is the list of citations that it even specifies which word within a Bible verse the reader should begin at. There doesn’t appear to be any wriggle room, nor any requirement ever to write an original sermon.
Not only were the Bible verses interspersed with Mother Eddy’s interpretations and reflections, but even the Lord’s Prayer was taken line by line with explanations in between. The sermon was preceded by a set-piece statement and the service concluded with the “scientific statement of being” and “its correlative scripture”. Somehow it seems odd that a relatively new religion should have adopted such a strict liturgy.
Listening to the excerpts from Science and Health, I seemed to recall that Mark Twain had described Eddy’s writings as “chloroform in print”. Of course, I had to check, and it turns out I was wrong. That’s how he described the Book of Mormon, but it would have been equally apt for Science and Health. No need for anaesthetic with this lifeless prose to hand.
Thumbs up for the music, though. Very accomplished organ playing for the hymns and voluntaries, and a mezzo solo setting of verses from Revelation, although the singer then disappeared for the rest of the service … perhaps to the Sunday school downstairs.
So that was Christian Science. Pretty dull and badly undersubscribed for the size of building they maintain. It’s another one to add to the list, but not inspiring in any way.