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Neither Christian nor Scientific


christian science

Fred Shellabarger kindled my interest in architectural history, among other things. Teacher, Designer, Practitioner—he got two of those right, and teaching was among them. Then there was Bill Burgett, but that story will wait for another day.

As you’ll recall, Fred (who we knew less formally as Shell) was also an Episcopalian of the High Church persuasion and disinclined to view other religious systems without a modicum of prejudice. So, for example, when an occasion arose to invoke Mary Baker Eddy, reluctant founder of Christian Science, Fred prefaced whatever tidbits of information he might have to share with the parenthetic insertion “neither Christian nor scientific”.

Mrs Eddy’s vision revealed that Holy Writ offered a path to physical wellness. Her book Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures ensued and was offered to all of Christianity—except none would have it. So, without intention, she created yet another of the 19th century’s shards of the One True Faith. Its official name “The Church of Christ, Scientist” is usually abbreviated Christian Science, but Fred, of course, would have none of it. [Viz. the end of the previous paragraph.]

Christian Science may not have been unique in its attitude toward women, but it was certainly unusual: 1) Mrs Eddy’s church has no clergy; it has no schools of theology and no requisite ordination; and 2) its services are conducted by two members of the congregation, one of each gender identified only as “First Reader” and “Second Reader” of texts from the Bible and Science & Health. Practitioners of CS do receive training and serve as spiritual guides, counselors of sorts. But their Sunday service is egalitarian and their architecture uncannily reflective of that vision.

For these reasons, most of the earliest converts to CS were women; their husbands came along for the ride. No surprise there. And from my perspective as an historian of architecture there are two designers of note in the denomination’s early history: Solon Spencer Beman, Chicago architect who designed dozens of CS churches across the region, and Bernard Maybeck, Bay Area architect who designed only two. They became my inspiration for Agincourt’s 1910 First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Imagine melding the styles of two influential architects. Beman designed dozens but is barely remembered; Maybeck’s best example in Berkeley has become iconic. I had imagined that Beman had been involved by default, but that his formulaic variation-on-a-theme economies might also have been tempered by Maybeck—through the agency of someone who had seen the Berkeley church. I’ve written about this much earlier, but it seems worth revisiting in light of The Franklin apartments cattywampus across Fennimore avenue.

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