Growing up in Christian Science

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about growing up in Christian Science. 


It was very difficult to explain my religion’s beliefs to my friends. I was always trying to make it sound like a more ‘normal’ religion, in fact writing “United Church” on a form once because I was embarrassed to write Christian Science. I so wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t want my friends to know that there was no minister at our church, that there were two people on a podium and one read from a book of garbled language I couldn’t understand and finally, it was mortifying to explain that I had to go to Sunday School instead of the church service until I was twenty!

– Tessa

When I was growing up, we definitely had pictures of Mary Baker Eddy around our house. My parents gave me a framed portrait to keep on my bedside table, in fact. I was pretty much a believer throughout my entire childhood. Then I went through the ‘it works, it’s just not for me’ phase. I think I was in my late twenties when I finally realized how much I had been misled. It’s hard to know better when everyone around you, particularly your loved ones, are fervent believers.

– Beth

When we would come home from school and announce fearfully that measles or something else was going around, my mother would say firmly, “Contagion is all in the mind!” and send us back to school. I would brag to the other students that my siblings and I never got sick because sickness was all in the mind. Then I got chicken pox. I had no idea what was happening to me and of course my mother wouldn’t have had any medical education to help with that. I remember lying alone and sick in my room staring at every inch of my skin. Where was the chicken that I was sure would be sticking to me?

– Tessa

I did everything I could to hide the fact that I was a Christian Scientist. Even my closest friends didn’t know. It was embarrassing. It made me different in ways I didn’t want to be different. Sunday School was an hour of torturous boredom, and often my parents had to fight with me to get me ready in time to go, and when I was a little kid, I couldn’t stand the little old ladies who always wanted to pinch my cheeks. Ugh! I hated that! That is why to this day, I am always extremely respectful of peoples’ personal space–especially children.

– Jeremy

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 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”

1989 Measles at Principia Upper School: Paul’s Story

By Paul, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

I was a student at Principia Upper School during the measles epidemic in Fall 1989, and I contracted measles. I had the good fortune of being a day student, so instead of being on lockdown in ‘Gulag Clayton Road’, I was at least able to suffer in the discomfort of my own home.

I remember being really freaked out because I had to get my blood tested to see if I was immune, and I was scared to death by the process of the blood draw. My, how far we’ve come… Anyway, it was pretty pointless because I more or less felt like crap by the time I showed up at the lab. I drove home, took a nap, and began to notice blotches when I awoke. I can’t recall how many days I was ill—it seemed like forever. I couldn’t get comfortable, etc., as I’m sure all of us experienced. The whole experience was utter hell. At least I could shower as often as I wanted and didn’t have to deal with petulant houseparents.

They sent the principal and dean of students out to deliver ice cream to all of us day students who were de-campused due to illness, and we had to come to the door to get our goodies. I realize now they were probably sent out to check on us to make sure none of us was at death’s door so the Christian Science Committee on Publication could be given a heads up if we were.

1985 Measles outbreak at Principia College: Garey’s Story

By Garey, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

The measles outbreak at Principia College in 1985 was awful. Two students, one of whom I knew and took a class with, and another, the child of a faculty member, died. At one point, more than a hundred students were sick.

I shared a dorm room with two guys who remained my best friends for years, and we had to pretty much order one of our roommates out to Cox Cottage, the on-campus Christian Science nursing facility, because he was that sick. I was sitting next to a student who almost collapsed during the meeting announcing students could get vaccinated. Many had never been to a doctor. I had been vaccinated as a kid, although I ended up getting the shot again so I could leave Prin for spring break, because the entire college campus had been quarantined.

I remember hearing about Scott Shadrick’s death as if it were yesterday. Things were pretty rough around campus, with 100+ students sick with measles. We left the dining room after dinner that night, returning to Brooks North with friends. As we climbed the stairs to the main floor, we saw a notice announcing Scott’s death. His was the second student death. We were very upset. Before that, we were thinking that perhaps things were getting better on campus. But that news was a real downer. I wasn’t close friends with him, but it was sad to see someone I knew die so young from a preventable disease. I’d never checked before today, but neither student is listed in the Principia College directory.

So many deaths at Prin. Early, unnecessary deaths of fellow classmates, and parents, teachers & professors from both campuses dying way too young. My doubts about Christian Science started during the measles outbreak. What I find bewildering is how many hardcore Christian Scientists are still at Prin, especially with all the premature deaths.These memories are wedged in my mind forever. I always wonder how those lives would have turned out.

1985 Measles Outbreak At Principia College: Patient #5

Editor’s note: The following has been reprinted with permission from It was originally published there on Feb. 15, 2015.


I look back at my days during the 1980s at Principia College with a lot of mixed feelings. Though initially the place captivated me by the nature of the area, and the intelligence of the teachers, the college and its religious principles quickly shaped a lot of my core beliefs on what NOT to do in life.

Nothing would help plant and then solidify a wide range of negative feelings about Principia and the Christian Science religion then when the campus was overtaken by the measles back in 1985.


One thing I discovered when living at Principia College was that important facts and stories were often regulated to rumors, and the beginning spread of the measles epidemic on the campus in 1985 was a vague topic at best.

I heard a few inklings from various people, a mention here and there with lots of missing facts. First there was talk of one person who got a case of measles and disappeared from class; then I heard about a person who might have left to get treatment at a local hospital and died or did they? No one really knew for sure. And then I heard of another person who I knew by name only who mysteriously disappeared but was then rumored to be at the infamous Cox Cottage Christian Science treatment area.

But how did this all happen? Just what was the measles anyway? At the time I couldn’t remember what vaccination shots I got back in my early days. Was I vaccinated for measles? Maybe I got a shot for something–I remember getting some sort of needle prick when I was four or five. But then, I was never told anything–ever. In my early years when the subject did come up with school administrators, there was just a lot of hushed talk and paperwork. So, was I protected? Or did the Christian Science faith protect me? Did I have anything to be concerned about? How should I deal with a possible outbreak that seemed to be occuring? Ignore it? Pray about it?

Then one Saturday, about a week after the mumblings around campus, I found myself busily working away on a project and suddenly losing energy. Thinking I had just overworked myself, I put it off and just got to bed a little earlier than usual. But, come Sunday, I definitely felt like things had really amped up. A heavy, foggy sensation seemed to grip me and I became deeply concerned. Then some friends convinced me it might be a good idea to check in at Cox Cottage to just get back on track. Reluctantly, I went off to the somewhat mysterious environment of Christian Science care.

Cox Cottage felt like a combination reading room and some sort inn your grandmother might stay at. It didn’t really seem much like a health-oriented place. I was put in a room and told to rest. The next day, I woke up and much to my surprise there was a top college administrator looking down at me.

“Are you ok? How are you feeling? Have you looked in a mirror? Did you notice any sort of red marks on your face? We think it’s a good idea that you stay here for a couple days.” Sometime during the next day, I was moved to another much larger room on a side wing, and then my situation started to become much worse. My body was reacting to something, and huge waves of heat and discomfort would flood me for hours on end. Was it a day or two or three that went by? I hadn’t left the room except to occasionally struggle to the toilet down the hall.

Horribly uncomfortable and fed up one night, I got up and walked into the small, dark lobby that was within a few feet from my room. It must have been three or four in the morning, and I sat reading one of the magazines when one of the nurses came in and completely freaked out–frantically asking me to get back to my room immediately. It was then that I was informed that I was quarantined. I came to the conclusion that I must have gotten the measles. How did that happen? What should I do now? What’s the way to get better? No one would answer these questions or even talk with me about what was happening.

As I lay on a bed struggling with the disturbing sensations of an illness running its course, my own ability to do much of anything was regulated to a sort of zombie, living dead like existence. I could barely move; just taking a shower was a harsh adventure in pain. After only a few days, new patients were showing up in vast numbers. Before I knew it, there was another bed moved into my room, then another, and another. At all hours of the day, people were groaning in pain, throwing up, yelling out various Bible verses, or just quietly reading the lesson while suffering in pain. But still, no one in authority said anything about what was happening, or how to best deal with it. I had no idea that getting measles in your adult years in particular, was a really dangerous thing that ultimately could be life threatening.

After about a week, I got my parents on the phone. I remember pleading with them to do something, but was met with a quiet resignation to just do as I was told, informing me that the best they could do was get a practitioner on the case. At various points during the ordeal, I had visitors who could only speak from outside through the window. They would tell me that the campus was under siege with sick people everywhere, students were not allowed to leave at all and one of the houses was going to be converted into a mass quarantine zone with Christian Science nurses flying in from all over the United States to deal with the huge numbers that were contracting the illness. The story of Principia’s ordeal was on the national news with an interview with the school’s president too.

Then one night, a top school administrator/teacher came by the room to visit one of his students – I remember hearing their discussions about what was happening with a lot of Bible chapters and Science and Health versus thrown in by the administrator. Then he said something I’ll never forget–directly blaming the entire outbreak of the disease on the student body themselves claiming we had “not been praying hard enough.” According to him we had brought the disease on ourselves. Even in my disturbed state I remember feeling an intense anger towards him; a complete disbelief that someone could say such a thing.

Finally, after many weeks of pain and redness, the disease disappeared in its appearance from my body, and I was let go from the care of Cox cottage. Apparently, I was ‘well enough’ to be let back into the college. But, ‘well enough’ was a questionable term. I felt like I was still a zombie–barely able to navigate walking, and missing a number of abilities like taste, smell, and any sort of long term or short term memory. And, there were some issue with my hearing too. But, at least I was out of that Cox Cottage prison of Christian Science ramblings and hushed talk. In the coming weeks, I tried to function, but it was clear I wasn’t up to it. I’d sit in classes and not be able to remember anything at all. My hair started falling out, and later when it grew back in it had changed color and was curly, and remains so decades later.

It would end up taking several months before my senses completely returned. I was most concerned about my hearing, which due to that experience, had changed in one of my ears. I went back to Cox Cottage, and they said not to worry about it; pray, and everything would be fine. It wasn’t. And a few weeks later, I forced my parents to get me in to an ear doctor who found the problem (which the measles had caused), fixed it, and claimed if I hadn’t dealt with it when I did, I probably would have lost all of my hearing.

Eventually, it was revealed that some of the early ‘patients’ were let out “a little too early.” The days after, I struggled to come back; spending a lot of time just slowly moving from class to class, and getting a lot of sleep. I remember returning briefly to Cox Cottage to try and cheer up a friend who also was swept up in the epidemic many weeks after I was; he looked terrible, but felt like he was doing better. Several days later, he died. For spring break, many were given the option of either taking a vaccination shot or staying on the campus until the quarantine was over. Many took the shot.


I can’t remember the tally of just how many people got the disease; two people died, and it seemed from the inside that it had affected hundreds. I attended the wake of my friend that passed, and I wondered what more could have been done to save him. To me, nothing was done. The entire plan from the school’s perspective seemed to be all about praying and praying; but, in the end, it was all about letting things run their course. The results speak for themselves.

As my years went on at the college, I would meet this ‘you’re not praying hard enough’ belief system over and over again. In time, like many others I knew who attended the college, the Principia experience served as the catalyst for a complete and total abandoning of the religion; in fact, all religions.

Now, over 30 years later, I look back on the experience in a new light. As students caught up in this epidemic, we were not given the information needed to make any sort of decisions on our own, and we were left to play a sort of Russian Roulette in a backwards faith game. The people in charge and their belief system caused students to be horribly tortured and a couple of students left to die. And thus, at its most fundamental, basic level, the college, staff and most important, the religion completely FAILED; revealing its arrogance, ignorance and utter stupidity. I cannot forgive or forget what they did; to do so would be to comply with the same criminal behavior they engaged in. No, I remember….

About Patient #5

Patient #5 spent over 20 years involved with the Christian Science faith out of default. From the first remembered experience at a local Sunday School at around the age of 4, Patient #5 had strong internal feelings of not being able to relate to the religion on any level. But, parental pressures forced a course of continued involvement.  This path persisted throughout early life as experiences included forced weekly church attendance, Cedars Camp, and finally Principia College. After graduating from the college in the 1980s Patient #5 had experienced enough and completely abandoned the religion and any of its affiliations. Thirty years later, Patient #5 has come to the strong conclusion that Christian Science has many disturbing cult like tendencies that keep its members from having open minds or the logic to deal with important physical issues. Although Patient #5 ultimately chose a course of abandoning all organized religion, certain religious concepts have been retained. One in particular, from the Buddhist faith, is the law of Karma. Looking now at Christian Science’s countless empty, closed or closing churches, and continued failed member replacement, it appears quite clear to Patient #5 that the law of Karma is fully engaged.