The “Healing Ministry” of Christian Science Nursing

Christian Science Nursing is often shrouded in mystery, here we share a 60 Minutes interview with a former CS Nurse, as well as information from CS nursing facilities about CS Nursing practices. 

This post has appeared as a guest post at Emerging Gently and on Kindism.org, it is reprinted here with permission and minor edits. 


I was going to write a post comparing and contrasting Christian Science Nursing with modern medical nursing until I came to the Churches own page about the topic and read what Christian Science Nursing actually entails, and my desire to write a polite analysis went out the window and I had an overwhelming desire to smash my head repeatedly into a wall.

When people outside of Christian Science think of a nurse, they’re probably envisioning someone that fits the description from the American Nurses Association


– Registered Nurses –

  • Perform physical exams and health histories
  • Provide health promotion, counseling and education
  • Administer medications, wound care, and numerous other personalized interventions
  • Interpret patient information and make critical decisions about needed actions
  • Coordinate care, in collaboration with a wide array of healthcare professionals
  • Direct and supervise care delivered by other healthcare personnel like LPNs and nurse aides
  • Conduct research in support of improved practice and patient outcomes 

RNs practice in all healthcare settings: hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, ambulatory care centers, community health centers, schools, and retail clinics. They also provide health care in more surprising locations such as camps, homeless shelters, prisons, sporting events and tourist destinations. (1)


To call what Christian Science Nurses do “Nursing” is incredibly misleading. The list of what Christian Science Nurses do not do looks startlingly similar to the list of what Registered nurses do. Christian Science nursing care does NOT include the following:

  • Making a medical diagnosis or prognosis;
  • Assuming responsibility for making health care decisions for the patient;
  • Administering medication, drugs or using medicated, herbal, or vitamin-based products and remedies;
  • Using and administering medically oriented techniques or technology;
  • Manipulation, massage, physical therapy;
  • Intravenous or force-feeding;
  • Intruding on the private relationship between the patient and the Christian Science practitioner, or between the patient and his or her family;
  • Giving personal advice and counsel. (2)

Several years ago, CBS TV show 60 MINUTES did a segment entitled By Faith Alone (3), discussing if Medicare should cover Christian Science nursing facilities. They interviewed a former Christian Science Nurse, Leslie Saunders (4) who shed a disturbing light on the practices taking place in the Christian Science nursing facilities: 

Leslie Saunders … stopped working at Medicare-funded Christian Science facilities, agrees [Medicare should not cover CS nursing]. “Medicare pays for medical treatment under given guidelines. For Medicare to involve itself in Christian Science nursing means Medicare is trying to pay for theology,” she tells Safer. She also says the only “treatment” allowed in such facilities is praying; the rules are so strict, she says, even patients short of breath are not given oxygen. (3)

Saunders’ interview stands in stark contrast to the recent “Interview with a CS Nurse” (5) but out by the Chestnut Hill Benevolent association (6) where “Jenny Ferch shares her journey to the BA’s Christian Science Nurses Training School. Her background at Principia Upper School, working as an intern at the Mother Church, and her innate love of caring for others — all pointed her in the direction of the healing ministry of Christian Science nursing.” 

I’m not sure how denying people oxygen and not administering medication or physical therapy is a “healing ministry.” Even the top Google hit for “healing ministry” —  Christian Healing Ministries acknowledges and affirms that there is

“… value of the medical and counseling fields, since they too are ways in which God’s healing power is manifested.” (7)

While Official Church Policy states that Christian Scientists are “free to go to doctors or seek medical care” (8) the idea is laughable. To qualify for participation in Christian Science Nursing Facilities, people must abide by standards requiring them to radically rely on prayer for healing (9).  All Christian Science Nursing Facilities have a policy that clearly states guests must rely on prayer alone.

From a Florida facilities statement about care:

“… non-medical nursing facility offering care to those who actively rely on prayer for metaphysical healing and are working with a Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner. Those who come — for help are the remnant of our Leader’s seed. They are not nominal worshippers. They have set out to preclude the Adam dream by refusing to take the medical route.” (emphasis mine, 10)

From the Chestnut Hill Benevolent Association:

2. What are the requirements for admission?
You must be having treatment from a Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner on a daily basis and relying solely on Christian Science for healing. Each call is considered on an individual basis, according to the request and need, as well as the availability for admission.
(11)

The idea Christian Science refuses to acknowledge any value in the medical field preferring to rely solely on prayer alone comes directly from Ms. Eddy. During the time she was working on her 300+ editions of Science and Health, it may have been safer to wait it out (12), but in 2015 the best course of action is to at least call your doctor’s office (13). Ms. Eddy’s writing on doctors, diagnosis of disease, and perspective on hygiene is not only wrong, it is deadly (14). As Ms. Eddy was the author of numerous volumes, I’ve selected a few passages from Science and Health:

On page 370 of Science and Health, Ms. Eddy writes: “A physical diagnosis of disease, since mortal mind must be the cause of all disease, tends to induce disease.

Whatever teaches man to have other laws and to acknowledge other powers than the divine Mind, is anti-Christian. The good that a poisonous drug seems to do is evil, for it robs man of reliance on God, omnipotent Mind and according to belief, poisons the human system.Science and Health, p. 169-70

It is plain that God does not employ drugs or hygiene, nor provide them for human use; else Jesus would’ve recommended and employed them in his healing… The Divine Mind never called matter medicine, and matter required a material and human belief before it could be considered as medicine.  Mind is the grand creator, and there can be no power except that which is derived from Mind… Inferior and unspiritual methods of healing may try to make Mind and drugs coalesce, but the two will not mingle scientifically.Science and Health, p. 143-4

Christian Science Nursing facilities deny people proper medical care. In September, I had a guest poster, Dr. Spock, describe the House of Horrors Christian Science Nursing Facility were his mother spent her last days (15). I highly recommend reading the entire piece, Spock describes inhumane conditions, unimaginable pain and suffering that would not be permitted in a medical facility or hospice care.

I remember a visit to the House Of Horrors early in childhood when my grandmother worked there as a Christian Science nurse. …. . The only comfort the “nurses” [were] able to offer [was] to shift pillows, offer water or juice, or read from the Bible and/or the writings of Mary Baker Eddy or other Christian Science literature. Not even an aspirin is permitted in these houses of horrors, and people often enter these facilities with advanced cancer or other serious diseases eating away at their bodies. Before Christian Scientists will acquiece even to care at a Christian Science nursing facility, they will often have suffered at home on their own with whatever ailment they’re dealing with for quite some time. Any admission of advancement of a disease is an admission of failure in your practice Christian Science, and many Christian Scientists are loathe to admit such. 

For Christian Science Nursing to use nursing is incredibly misleading. Christian Science Nursing facilities should not be subsidized by tax payer money, and they should be very clear about what care at Christian Science “nursing” actually entails — no relief. Another guest post, My Mothers Turn to Medical Hospice (16) is the story of a Christian Scientist who turned to medical hospice care after being in a Christian Science facility that failed to meet her needs.

Perpetuating the farce that Christian Science facilities provides any level of skilled nursing care is damaging to the patients and their families.  I am horrified that Medicare pays for Christian Science nursing. Medicare pays for medical treatment (17), the Church’s position on Christian Science nursing — and the position taken by Christian Science nursing facilities — make it clear that there are no medical treatments given, means Medicare is paying for religion. The guidelines set up by the Church as to what Christian Science Nurses can and can’t do speak volumes. There is more to nursing than shifting pillows, offering juice, arranging food in a pleasing manner and reading Science and Health.


Continue reading “The “Healing Ministry” of Christian Science Nursing”

1989 Measles at Principia Upper School: Elizabeth’s Story

The following is by Elizabeth, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor, and was originally published as a guest post at Kindism.org on February 1, 2015. It is reprinted with permission, and has been slightly modified for The Ex-Christian Scientist.


Did Principia hide conditions from authorities during the fall 1989 Upper School measles outbreak? What were your experiences with Christian Science nursing while at Prin during the measles outbreak? How did they diagnose it, since they’re trained to see disease and contagion as unreal?


This measles epidemic hit at the beginning of my first year at Principia Upper School, in fall of 1989.  I was fifteen, and it was the first time I had attended a boarding school or been away from my family. The student population was almost entirely unvaccinated due to Christian Science beliefs. The first quarter, I was paired with another sophomore named A___. She was a most unusual combination of kind, unconcerned with appearances, and popular. And she was totally into Christian Science, or appeared to be on the outside. A tranquil understanding of the philosophy, is how I would describe it, although it sounds strange to say it that way now as ex-Christian Scientist, but that is how I remember perceiving her. A___ tells me, “I’m not going to get sick, you’re not going to get sick.” That kind of worked, and I remember thinking, “ok, of course we’re not going to get sick.”

Then one Sunday after church, A___ laid down and didn’t get back up. She just laid there with her eyes closed, skin blotching up, listening to Christian Science tapes. I was scared. Still, nobody said anything, but frequently housemoms–the women employed by Principia to live in the dorms with us, one per wing, and act as our guardians, would walk by and look in the door at A___ without comment to either of us. Eventually a housemom came and took A___ away. The dorm got really quiet. Lots of kids came down with it the same weekend that A___ did. I’m happy to presume I felt this way for my own reasons, but I definitely felt that I was expected not to get it, in the same way I would be expected not to sneak off campus or expected not to skip my homework.

The housemoms never said ‘measles’, only the kids spoke of it: “some kids have measles”, “this one has it now”, or “so and so’s roommate was gone when she came back from practice.” But no one in the administration talked about it. They would just tell you reassuringly that they were “taking good care of” your roommate (anyone who got spots disappeared shortly thereafter). The housemoms did not say anything about your symptoms, they would just appear at your bedside after you’d been down for the count for a few hours to a day, and they’d say, “Come with me, honey. Is there anything you want to bring?” There was no communication from the administration otherwise. Continue reading “1989 Measles at Principia Upper School: Elizabeth’s Story”

My eyesight was on the line!

By Jenny, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

When I was in my final year at Principia College, I developed some kind of eye infection. I went to the emergency room secretly, but was still somehow found out by a Christian Science nurse who interrogated me about why I was there. When I refused to tell her, she called my house mom and the dean of students. They each spent an hour or so interrogating me, trying to get me to tell them why I was at the hospital.

The crux of the issue for them was not my well-being or health or whether my eye problem was contagious, but whether I had been given a prescription. They told me that if I didn’t tell them they would have to make me move to Cox Cottage or possibly kick me out. I told them it was my body, my choice, and that I felt it was confidential.

We eventually reached a truce when I told them that if it would make them feel better I would be more than happy to lie to them and tell them that I was not taking a prescription. It was one of the single weirdest experiences of my life. My eyesight was on the line! What would have happened if I had been less sure of my decision or more concerned about public perception or what my parents would say if I was asked to leave?

Ruth’s Story: Turn to Medical Hospice

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.
hospice/end of life header

This is the story about my mother’s turn to medical hospice in the final weeks of her life. She is not alive to tell the story herself, but I believe she would approve my account of it here.

My mother (her name is Ruth) was a devoted, life-long Christian Scientist who practiced ‘radical reliance.’ She would tell you that she experienced many wonderful healings in Christian Science.

In her mid-80s, Mother began experiencing worrisome symptoms that did not yield to Christian Science treatment. She worked diligently to heal the problem, and she had the help of one, and then another, Christian Science practitioner. In time, her condition worsened to the point that she could not eat, and she decided to admit herself into a Christian Science nursing facility.

Her condition deteriorated, and she finally acknowledged that she was not going to ‘meet’ the problem and that she would ‘pass on’. Mother was not afraid of dying, but she was disappointed in herself. She had sometimes said that, “Christian Scientists should not get sick and die.” Rather, she believed that when the time came to die, they should demonstrate a quick and painless passing from a healthy human state to their next plane of existence. But that’s not how it worked out in her case.

The Christian Science nursing staff at the sanatorium made no adjustments to my mother’s care as her distress, exhaustion, and pain increased. They continued to place a full tray of food in front of her three times a day, even though she could not keep any food down. Neither could she sleep. My brother and I smuggled some sleeping pills to her, which she was grateful to have.

One morning she telephoned, begging me to transfer her to a medical hospice. Later that day, I and a social worker from the hospice accompanied an ambulance to the Christian Science nursing facility to accomplish her move. The director was at first reluctant to release her, but after a discussion she was allowed to leave.

Mother was admitted to the hospice and was made comfortable in a room by a medical nurse. The attending physician came by to interview her and explain what care they would provide to ease her through the death process. Mother asked a few questions and seemed satisfied. After the physician left, she turned to me and said, “these people are so much more professional.” Those are her exact words. Mother died peacefully under palliative medical care about two weeks later.

Mother remained committed to Christian Science to the end. In her view, her turn to palliative medical care in her final days was consistent with Mary Baker Eddy’s provision for relief from extreme pain as stated in Science and Health (p. 464). As I reflect on her experience, I am at a loss to understand how the Christian Science community can avert its eyes from the suffering of their faithful members as they go through the human death process.