Church of Religious Science explores identity crisis

Claremont congregation considers changing name to avoid confusion with denominations that have similar names but different philosophies

Los Angeles Times/May 24, 2002
By Joanna Corman

When Edward Graff talks about his church, its philosophy and spiritual basis, people listen and seem interested. But the moment he mentions the name, he senses a change.

"They get a little standoffish," said Graff, board president of the Claremont Church of Religious Science.

That's because many people view religion and science as eternally separate and any efforts to meld them as hopeless. That is further complicated by the fact that some also confuse the Church of Religious Science with two other churches: The Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Church of Scientology. So the Claremont church put out a request to its members to come up with a new name. So far it has collected 47. A nine-member committee representing a cross-section of the church will whittle down the names. In February, at its annual membership meeting, the congregation will vote on whether to change the name, and then if so, what it would be, Graff said.

When he explains the beliefs of his church, Graff said, people show curiosity. Once he says Religious Science, "they're not as open and they don't feel as easy."

They get "a little worried when they hear science and religion in the name of a church," Graff said. "We didn't want a name that was too confusing or too threatening."

The Church of Religious Science grew out of the studies of Ernest Holmes, born in 1887 in Maine. It's more philosophy than religion, Graff said.

"He was looking for the common points among all the various religions," Graff said.

Religious Science holds the belief of an infinite God, the law of reciprocity -- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And the power of the mind to influence how a person interprets the world -- "It is done unto you as you believe."

Religious Science is different from Scientology and Christian Science, said Pastor Patt Perkins of the Claremont Church of Religious Science.

"I believe that Scientology has got a pretty bad reputation," Perkins said. "We don't want to be identified with that because that's not who we are."

Orthodox Christian Scientists, she said, "don't believe in physicians and we do believe that God works through physicians and medication."

Christian Science and Religious Science both grew out of the New Thought Movement in the second half of the 19th century, which stressed that sin and disease are matters of incorrect thinking. But they went in different directions, with Christian Science's strong adherence to the belief in the crucifixion, resurrection and divinity of Christ and Religious Science stressing "affirmative prayer" to draw on the infinite power of God.

Other Religious Science churches have changed their names for similar reasons, Perkins said. In fact, officials of the denomination, whose headquarters is in Los Angeles, are talking about changing the denomination's name, Graff said.

"The question has come up but it's still being talked about," said Annie Glasgow of the United Church of Religious Science in Los Angeles.

Glasgow said that while the name Religious Science still has to be in each church's bylaws, Religious Science churches are changing their names to "become more modern," Glasgow said. "If you stay with one name, one way of doing things and you don't modernize, you don't speak to the new generation. You can't hope to capture them."

If the Claremont church changes its name, it will be the church's fourth in 53 years. Suggested names include: Learning Center for Spiritual Growth; Church of Serenity; Spirit, Mind and Body Institute; or Claremont Community Church of Wisdom.

"In no way are we leaving religious science but simply to make a different name that might make it easier for folks to remember," Perkins said.

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