It was a plain and well-ordered service.
A dozen believers gathered in the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Schenectady Thursday morning for an hour of thanksgiving. Prominent member James Pennington stood at the pulpit, reading Scripture in a calm, sure rhythm. In the high stark-white chamber, the rustling of the Bible pages were as clear as his words.
He said the event was a combination of their normal Sunday service, which involves a sermon and hymn singing and their Wednesday night meetings, which concentrate on individual testimony.
“The Thanksgiving service is very special,” he said, explaining that members get the chance to recount their blessings.
The holiday has been adopted by most Christian denominations, but the origin of the Christian Science Church makes Thanksgiving a little extra significant.
By way of explanation, Pennington laid out a hundred years of the church’s history.
Mary Baker Eddy in the late 1800s had a religious epiphany likened to the apostle Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus. She went to her pastor with new knowledge she believed had come from God, but was turned away.
Her own and many other churches barred Eddy from attendance, saying her denial of original sin was heretical.
“Even after losing her own congregation, people flocked to her because she could heal,” Pennington said.
To this day people are drawn to the church for the same reason, he said.
Stepping into a back room, he pulled out a thick binder of professed healings. Inside were notes and hand-written letters telling of broken bones that fused on their own and cancerous growths that shrank away under prayer alone.
This belief in the healing power of prayer is a cornerstone of the Christian Science Church.
Pennington said it’s rare for members of the congregation to seek medical treatment for illnesses. Instead, they trust in what he called “prayer-inspired healing.”
Elaine Bariess, a longtime member, came to the church after she said her chronic back injury was healed.
“The doctors couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.
Every day, but especially on Thanksgiving, she said she’s thankful to the Christian Science Church for teaching her to pray for healing.
After readings from Scripture and the writings of Eddy, several other members spoke.
“I’m thankful for this church,” said Robert Vessels, adding that the congregation supported him through tough times this year.
Another member, who wished to remain anonymous, said one of her show horses was healed from a severe leg injury when she prayed. Since, the animal has won a few prizes at equestrian events in the area.
“But Christian Science means so much more than physical healing,” she said. “It’s healing of thought.”
Despite the healings professed by its members, attendance at the church has dwindled for years. The organist and singer are hired musicians. Many of the pews were recently removed to repair water damage and never missed.
The members that still attend are highly educated and well-read, Pennington said, there just aren’t that many of them.
“It’s a sign of the times,” he said.