CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003--

Christian Science in Latvia: Has the Last Obstacle Been Overcome?

by Nikandrs Gills - Center for the Study of Religions, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, University of Latvia

A paper presented at the CESNUR 2003 Conference, Vilnius, Lithuania. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

Upon entering the 21st century in Latvia, the process that began after regaining the state independence continues. It could be characterized as restoration – the the legalization and reinstating de jure comparatively old (ancient), long time forbidden (at least within the time lapse of fifty years of the soviet occupation), or unknown to the large part of younger generation religions, religious and spiritual movements. This concerns Dievturi and other groups of pre-Christian revivalism, Rerikh's movement, Baha'i religion and Buddhism, Agni Yoga and other Hinduism rooted spiritual movements, Methodists and different evangelical movements, Jehovah's Witnesses etc. The 16th of October, 2002 marks the closure of one of the stages of the restoration process – the Religious Affairs Department, Ministry of Justice of Latvia registered (reg. # 99500002983) the Christian Science Riga congregation, the history of which goes back to almost hundred years.

The history and teaching of the Christian Science and biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Church of Christ, Scientist is well described and well known. Therefore, I don't want to repeat and to recount here the Christian Science teaching postulates, but I will mention them within the context of Latvia. I would like just to remind the short definition given by Gail M. Harley, that "Christian Science is a metaphysical religion with a spiritual healing component based on the revelations of Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), revelations received after a fall on the ice in 1866."[1] and Bryan R. Wilson investigations on the Christian Science, that have been published in the books Sects and Society[2], The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism[3]. The present report makes use of conversations with the Christian Science Riga congregation Board chairperson Ms. Inese Gludina and the Board member Ms. Ilze Ilzina and her materials, of conversations with representatives of the Latvian Physicians' Association and Children's protection Center of Riga, as well as of materials from the Religious Affairs Department of the Ministry of Justice and Latvian State History Archive fund.

The beginnings in Latvia

In the beginning of the 20th century Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire, and Riga was the third largest city in the country, characterized by the rapid economical and cultural growth. The residents of Riga were of various nationalities in those times as well as they are today. The main nationalities among Riga residents were: Latvian, German, Russian, Jew, Polish, etc., representing the largest mainstream confessions - Lut Lutheranism, Russian Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Judaism, Old-believers. According to concurrent media publications, there was a growing influence and dissemination of Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals and other groups in the city environment, as well as deep interest in spiritualism, Eastern religions and teachings. As to Christian Science entering the Latvian scene, there is a story to be told rather than a documentary proof. And the story goes like this: In the year of 1907 some German merchant had come to Riga to visit his business partner. During the visit he told about religion that had helped to reach harmonious states instead of various disagreements in his family life. The business partner got interested in this unheard religion, and in order to study its teaching he subscribed to Christian Science literature in German. So gradually a circle of people formed that started to study the Christian Science. The first Christian Scientists in Latvia were German by their nationality. The year of 1909 stands out historically as it is the year when the first significant healing in Riga occurred - the heavy rheumatic patient was healed with the assistance of the practitioner from St. Petersburg. In 1913 the Christian Science library and reading room was opened in Riga. It became the central place where the Christian Scientists met to prepare for the weekly service. The same year the regular weekly Sunday services began, as well as monthly (on Wednesdays) Thanksgiving Testimony evenings. There is information, that up to 50 people gathered for services (this number of people appears in the mentioned above case description, when a man, incurable in doctors' opinion was cured). The First World War on the Latvian territory disorganized all public life, including Christian Scientists' activities, – the services were forbidden and the library was closed.

After the World War I and proclamation of the national independence, in 1920 the Christian Scientists wrote the by-law and submitted the notification to the Ministry of Internal Affairs regarding foundation of the Christian Science society. The society was officially recognized by the state. In 1922 Riga Christian Science society was declared as a Branch of the Mother Church (in Boston). The society consisted of 16 member, 8 of them were the Mother Church members as well. Mainly Germans attended by the services, but there were specially arranged translations for Latvians. This could be regarded as beginning of services in Latvian. It should be noted that there were also services in English.

A certain stable Christian Science in Latvia tradition was originated in 1924 – yearly Christian Science lectures, accessible to all and everybody interested. The Sunday school for children was opened the same year, as well as the committee for spreading literature was founded. In 1931 the society changed its name and was recognized as First Christ's, Scientist's, Church. It consisted of 18 members, 12 of them were the Mother Church members. At that point the number of people attending services in Latvian was approximately 100.

The Second Christian Science society was recognized as the Mother Church branch in 1931, and in 1934 it became the Second Christ's Scientist's Church. It consisted of 37 members, 26 of them were the Mother Church members. About 85 people attended services in German, 24 – in English. It should be noted here that there is the essential difference between Church and society. The Church is officially recognized practitioner like doctor whose help could be sought. To obtain the church status there should be at least one official practitioner, who is registered and recognized in Boston. Currently registered in Latvia congregation of Christian Scientists doesn't have the status of church.

In the situation, when after declaring the state of emergency in the country in May, 1934, hundreds of public organizations (including small organizations and societies of religious movements) were closed, the Christian Scientists weren't touched. There is not very reliable information, that the Head of the country President K. Ulmanis, who had studied in the USA in his youth, was especially sympathetic to the Christian Science: at one point he a kind of wanted to declare the Christian Science as the official religion in Latvia. Even it were true, it didn't exempt the Christian scientists from regular police supervision and service inspections, as it was stated by the regulations issued by the Riga prefecture in 1934. For example, from the report of one of the Riga districts supervisor, we can learn about the number of people attending the service, about the agenda and procedure, as well as the supervisor's subjective impression, that was quite characteristic of the average city resident's attitude towards this religion. Thus the supervisor of the VI Riga district V. Strauss in his report of the December 6, 1934 noted, that the First Christ's Scientist's Church service lasted one hour, it was attended by 130 "listeners", among them 110 women aged 45-60, but the rest "elderly men". 3 songs were sung, and there were readings from the Christian Science textbook. After that the service conductor invited the people to present testimonies of amazing happenings in their lives. Five people presented the testimonies. Narrating about their experience – the miraculous healing, the gained sense of happiness, the unprecedented luck, they praised God, Mary Baker Eddy and the Christian Science. In the supervisor's opinion, this kind of testimony presentation should be forbidden, as he could feel the prior preparation work done by the leadership of the Christian Science organization. In the conclusion of the report he noted that 3 women attended the service in English.[4] When the World War II began in the fall in 1939, a lot of Germans, among them the Christian Scientists, left Latvia for Germany.

The Soviet Period

Under the following soviet and nazi occupation in Latvia the Christian Science services were banned. Some Christian Science members were deported to Siberia. After the war, when Latvia was once more incorporated into the Soviet Union, it was not possible to renew the services. One Christian Science representative wrote to the Mother Church in Boston, that the church in Latvia is practically liquidated and that there are no services anymore. In 1947 information about services in Riga was withdrawn from "The Christian Science magazine" and "The Christian Science Herald".

It may seem that the stop should be made and the story continued beginning with the 90-ies, when Latvia regained the independence and religious freedom. But it would be a mistake, since despite the banning and repressions under the soviet regiment there was certain continuity in the Christian Science practicing and teaching. During this time period "old Christian scientists, those ladies, who knew" remaining in Latvia, served the Christian Science at their best. After the churches were closed, they took home all documentation - boo books and magazines. Of course, all these materials – quarterlies, books written by Mary Baker Eddy: Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and Church Manual – were old, printed in 20-ies and 30-ies, or even before the World War I. But despite this fact, the Christian Science followers and their friends continued to study the Christian Science lectures using the old quarterlies. At the same time the healing was practiced and new members joined the Christian Scientists.

After restoration of Independence in Latvia

When in 1990 three representatives-ministers of the Mother Church arrived in Riga, they were surprised to find here not only pre-war time "old ladies", but also two next generations of Christian scientists, who knew some of Christian Science. As a result, the newest literature was shipped from Boston, in the very beginning (before the restoration of independence) illegally smuggled.
In 1993, the Christian Science services began (at first every second week), once a month the Thanksgiving evenings were held. From 1994 every year the Mother Church started to send the Christian Science lecturers to deliver public lectures. The Christian Scientists in Latvia translate the fragments from Mary Baker Eddy's book, necessary for the service (at first there was a condition that the translation should be made by joint effort of three people), and the fragments are being distributed to parishioners a week before the service. Even in 20-ies and 30-ies the "Science and Health" by Mary Baker Eddy was not published in Latvian as a book, there were varieties of unauthorized translation manuscripts. At the moment the preparation of the new translation manuscript is in the process.

In 1996 the Christian Science branch by-law was composed and sent to Boston. At first they didn't satisfy conditions set by the Mother Church and were sent back for rewriting. It took two years to write such a by-law that would satisfy Boston, and, finally, in 1998 the confirmation was received that the group of Christian Scientists in Latvia are being recognized as the branch-society of the Mother Church in Boston.

After that the registration documents were submitted to the Religious Affairs Department, Ministry of Justice, Republic of Latvia. For the first time the registration was refused on the formal grounds - inc incompleteness of the submitted documents, but for the second time the registration was refused on the substantive grounds - the conclusions of the Latvian Physician Association and the expert from the faculty of Theology, University of Latvia. The Physicians Association concluded, that the principles of the religious organization "Christian Science Riga Congregation" stand against the health care interests of the Latvian population, as well as against the medical ethics. In the conclusion presented by the expert from the faculty of Theology, University of Latvia Mary Baker Eddy was characterized as mentally ill person, who had founded a fraud religious teaching, which threatens human health. The consultative board for investigating the New religious movements, sects and cults under the Ministry of Justice also gave the negative valuation, because they were not convinced by the answer to the question if "the spiritual healing" wouldn't threaten children's health. On the grounds of this judgment, but primarily on the grounds of the conclusion given by the Physicians Association, all following applications to register the Christian Science congregation were declined. In the summer of 2002 the president of the Mother Church visited Riga to present a lecture of the Christian Science. While in Riga, she and her lawyer went to the Religious Affairs Department of the Ministry of Justice in order to find the motifs for declining the registration of the Christian Science. The answer was previous, that the physicians wouldn't allow it. Then Mother Church found the Latvian lawyer Gatis Senkans (he is also the head of one of the Mormon congregations). G. Senkans wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Physicians' Association Mr. Boka asking about his opinion. V. Boka replied that the goal and task of the Physicians' Association is not to interfere in the registration process of other nongovernmental organizations. This meant that the question about the registration of the religious organization the Christian Science congregation in Latvia was outside their competence. This could be regarded as a turning point in this long lasting registration process. On October 3, 2002 the Consultative board for investigation of the new religious movements, sects and cults under the Ministry of Justice listened to information about the Christian Science activities in Latvia presented by G. Senkans. By the way, he noted that the main activity of the religious organization is to profess Christianity, not healing without medicine, and, in fact, each and every Christian religion professes healing through prayer and faith. The religious organization in question doesn't cure anyone and doesn't practice treatment in the medical sense, but it teaches how to receive healing from God. Listening upon to these arguments and the new conclusion of the Physicians' Association, the Consultative Board didn't have any objections.

In the end of my presentation I would like to say a few words about the Christian Science Riga branch. At present it consists of 25 members - not not only from Riga, but also from other cities in Latvia – Valmiera (3 members), Saulkrasti, Malpils (2 members), etc. They represent three generations. Each of them has become the Christian Scientist due to the personal conviction, the faith in God, His infinite Love and ability to do good, what they have experienced themselves. It has been the successful healing, the unbelievable luck being unemployed to win the competition in the employment exchange, and the prayers for some close person that had helped him. The Christian Scientists often mention the God's synonyms: spirit, soul, principle, reason, life, truth, love. One of the attributes of life is activity, health and everything real – what is created. The God hasn't created sick people. They stress that the God has created us – radiant and healthy, with possibility to self-realization. This statement is substantiated by the fact that a part of the middle generation Christian scientists are involved in the serious intellectual activities – science and pedagogy, more than half of the 8 youngest generation congregation members have been related or are related in business. There are professional musicians among this group.

During my conversation with the Christian Science Riga congregation board member Ms. I. Ilziņa I asked a question: Has the last obstacle been overcome? I. Ilziņa answered: "There are no administrative obstacles at present. We all pray for that - not only we, Latvians, but also the rest Christian Scientists in the world. The task of the Christian Science is not to influence others. It is the everyday work everywhere, keeping the thought on the certain high level. I have been always asked: How can you be so joyful. Really, I am joyful, because the joy is also one of the attributes, one of the attributes of life. I know that I live not in this hose, where, let's say, I have abided all my life, but live in the God's house. I live in the consciousness. The God's house is my consciousness."

[1] Gail M. Harley. 'Church of Christ, Scientist', in J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, eds., Religions of the World, Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford: ABC CLIO, 2002, Vol. I, pp. 314.

[2] Bryan R. Wilson. Sects and Society. London, Melbourne, Toronto: William Heinemann LTD, 1961, pp.121-218.

[3] Bryan R. Wilson. The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992, pp.128-148.

[4] Latvian State Archive, fund 1370, 1st description, case # 2552, p. 199.

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