By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.
I was chatting with a woman in line at the bakery this morning. She got her grandson a sticky roll and hot chocolate and was expecting him to behave in church. I got my children something similar, and we went to a nearby park.
I sat and watched the kids play, occasionally coming back to check in with me, and to eat a few more bites of their pastries. When they tired of climbing, swinging and sliding, we went for a walk along the trails through the protected nature area adjacent the play area.
As we walked, I thought back to the little boy and his grandmother who were heading off to church. I remembered all the Sundays growing up, where I had wanted to sleep in, but instead we were hurried off to church, a twenty minute drive, and we often had to get there early so my parents could usher, or my mother could mind the childcare room.
Almost every Sunday from birth until I turned 20 (the magical age we were ‘allowed’ to attend with the main congregation), I was at church, either in the childcare room (until I turned three or four), and then in Sunday School. I did slack off a bit on Sunday School attendance when I was at Principia, but in my defense, being at Prin was like always being at Sunday School.
Christian Science was all around us, selected readings at house meetings, inspirational post-its on the bathroom mirrors, roommates who read the lesson, friends who attended the Christian Science Org. meetings on Tuesday mornings, and professors, practitioners, and lecturers who gave talks in the evenings about how Christian Science inspired them. Attendance, while optional, was recommended, and your absence was often commented upon.
Some days I liked Sunday School. It was one of the few places I could be ‘normal’. No one looked at me because I was weird for not visiting a doctor, or because I decided not to drink, experiment with drugs, or have premarital sex. I was free to talk about my understanding of God and Ms. Eddy’s seven synonyms and how they could apply to my life without being looked at like I was a freak.
Some days this felt more sincere than others, some days I felt I believed it, and some days I felt like I was parroting the party line, memorizing and regurgitating information. I had a lot of questions for my Sunday School teachers, I was eager to learn more, I wanted to know how Christian Science worked, I wanted answers.
I spent a fair bit of time ‘chatting’ with the Sunday School Superintendent (that sounds much more official than it was) about how I was ‘interfering’ with others’ spiritual growth and my questions were ‘not appropriate’. Sunday School teachers tried to put me off, by telling me I’d have to wait and take Class Instruction and all would be revealed, but I never made it that far as I was never ‘led to the right teacher’.
The best part were the Thanksgiving Day services. We all got to sit in the main auditorium; everyone, even the little kids (little kids being about six and up, the childcare was usually quite full those days). We would read the President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation which always included something about pilgrims, and then the most random people would stand up and talk at length until the reader had to say “THANK YOU” in a super firm tone and an usher had to come take away the microphone. It was like the Oscars of Christian Science testimonies.
When I made the non-optional transition to church at the age of 20, I hated it. There was no time for discussion, or questioning. You sit and are read the same lesson you have (theoretically) been reading all week. Christian Science church services are not fun, they fail at being interesting, they don’t engage the audience, and they’re tedious.
To the consternation of my mother, my children are not going to experience any of these things. As an adult, I do plenty of things I dislike that I have to do. Church attendance is not one of them, and forcing my children to attend Sunday School isn’t either.