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Whidbey's Christian scientists celebrate 50 years in one place
After surviving years of moves, borrowing rooms and being cramped in tight quarters, the First Church of Christ, Scientist finally found a place of its very own in Oak Harbor. The white structure off Scenic Heights Street is inviting and cozy. With plush chairs in its library and fresh cut lilacs decorating its chapel, it’s no wonder that the church’s members have decided to call the building home for half of a century.
Sunday, June 5, the First Church of Christ, Scientist will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Scenic Heights with a community open house. The religion has a long history on the island dating back to 1930s.
According to longtime member Charmian Lander, her father, Peter Anderson, was healed by a Christian Science treatment in 1932 after being deemed terminally ill by the staff at the Bremerton Naval Hospital.
“He had been in really tough shape for a long time, and they sent him home to die,” Lander said.
But Anderson went on to live well into his 80s, and the church’s following on the island began to grow. In 1945, Elna Iverson Pike came to Whidbey and joined together with the Andersons and other families to hold services.
The congregation met in many different places during its early years. In the 1940s, church members gathered in a Quonset hut near Navy base housing and later moved to an elementary school basement in 1949. Since the school was full of children during the week, members would have to cart in their own chairs, Sunday school play pens, hymnals and tables for services.
Another early location was a little house on Dock Street, next to what is now the American Legion building. It served as a daycare during the week, but on Sunday mornings, a makeshift desk consisting of a big cardboard box, folding table and green wool blanket tablecloth was brought in for church service readers.
“The building had steam heat, but no heat on the weekends,” Lander said, “so we came bundled up on Sundays.”
In 1959, the members bought excess building supplies that were being sold to nonprofits after additional Navy housing was constructed, and the members’ friends and families donated land and labor for the Scenics Heights building.
Member Mia Wallgren said she remembers attending the first service at the new location in June of 1961. She moved to the island was she was 20.
“I was so grateful for this church,” Wallgren said. “I joined in 1961 and this became home.”
Wallgren said many of the church’s members are Navy families or women with husbands are on deployment.
“I think this is a big comfort to them,” she said.
The members said they’ve always had a group of consistent followers but that they’ve never had a large congregation. Wallgren said she hopes the open house will help people to understand that the church is there and that its members are eager to share what they’ve found.
“People can come and find out for themselves about Christian Science and how it can service their needs,” she said.
Lander said a popular misconception is that Christian Science is linked to Scientology, but that’s not true. Unlike Scientology, which is not a Christian religion, Christian Scientists study the Bible and believe in God.
“As much as we’d like to claim Tom Cruise, Scientology is totally different than Christian Science,” member Joy Odemeyer said.
Christian Science services are led by two readers who offer passages from the Bible and “Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy. The church’s mission statement reads, “The mission of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Oak Harbor, Washington is to teach and preach the Gospel, and heal like our Master, Christ Jesus. We strive to grow spiritually, correct false beliefs, and to share Christian Science with our community through church services and other activities.”
When Christian Scientists refer to “healing” or “treatment,” they’re referencing a specific kind of prayer that they believe heals. According to an article in the “Christian Science Sentinel” by Allison W. Phinney, Jr., “(Christian Scientists) are not just “hoping” prayer will bring a positive response from God but they are clearly expecting prayer, or treatment, to have a healing effect.”
Wallgren said her children were healed from all sorts of childhood diseases through Christian Science.
“It’s like mathematics,” she said. “Once you know the math formula, you can use it to solve a number of problems.”
The First Church of Christ, Scientist members invite the community to their open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 5. They’ll be honoring their 50 years on Scenic Heights with refreshments and will have a 1941 Subscription Edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures available for viewing. Everyone is welcome to the event to explore and ask questions. The members also point out that the church’s reading room is open during the week and that newcomers are always welcome to Sunday and Wednesday church services.
“Many people have a belief in God,” Wallgren said. “But through this study of the Bible you get to know God.”
Celebration set for June 5
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 721 SW 20th Court at Scenic Heights Street, Oak Harbor, will hold its 50th anniversary open house from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, June 5. Church services are: Sundays, 10 a.m. and Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.
Visit www.christiansciencewhidbey.com for more events.