Down Chapel Street, on the way to pornography store Nu Haven Book and Video, lies the Christian Science Reading Room, a place that offers a different — and considerably more wholesome — kind of reading material.
Located between Bottega Giuliana and China King and across from the New Haven Green, the Christian Science Reading Room offers Yale students and other members of the New Haven community an opportunity to examine texts and explore their spirituality. While there are a fair number of Christian Scientists at Yale, there are also a number of students who have noticed the reading room in passing, but say despite their curiosity, they were too uncomfortable to enter.
Christian Science — a religion based on the Bible and the teachings of Christ as interpreted by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the faith — is a denomination of Christianity that many Yalies are unfamiliar with. The reading room’s front room looks like a sparsely stocked bookstore, with shelves lining about half of the wall space and armchairs placed around the room. A smaller room in the back provides a place for quiet study. At the same address is a modestly-sized church, with approximately ten pews, a small piano and bare white walls.
Laura Manville ’06, a member of the Christian Science Organization at Yale, attends the church on a regular basis. She said she also frequents the reading room, which she considers a useful place to study and seek spiritual growth. Manville emphasized the reading room’s ecumenical nature.
“It is a very welcoming, open place,” Manville said. “People should not feel like they should not go there just because they are not Christian Scientists and have no interest in becoming ones.”
Nancy Alexander, a church member who works at the reading room, said people come in for spiritual growth, study and exploration.
“The people who come in are spiritual seekers or people with strong religious backgrounds exploring new ideas, and seeking to build on what they already know,” Alexander said.
However, some of the people who come in are not so open to new ideas.
“There are some visitors with great antagonism toward the religion too,” Alexander said.
Emily Mimnaugh ’07, an active member of the Roman Catholic community at Yale, said she was curious about the reading room.
“I have never noticed it as I passed,” she said. “But I heard about it and I am interested in going in to explore different spiritual ideas and getting some general knowledge about their faith.”
But Mimnaugh also said she has reservations about actually going in.
“I didn’t go the reading room, though, because — to be honest — I found the idea a little intimidating, like I might be evangelized or feel uncomfortable,” Mimnaugh said.
Alexander, however, insists the reading room is open to everyone of any religious background. She said it can provide both lessons and healing.
“This is a place where people can come to explore the ideas of Mary Baker Eddy and relate them to their own lives and to scripture,” Alexander said. “They can especially come to find healing, which combines two senses — one is to make whole and the other is to make holy.”
Alexander said there are a fair number of Christian Scientists at Yale, but many are more inclined to participate in the campus Christian Science organization than to attend church regularly. Manville lauds it for its integration of student life and current events with spirituality.
“At last week’s meeting we prayed about the election,” Manville said. “We find ways to talk about spirituality as it relates to everyday life and what we are going through as students.”
Jane Winner, who works in the Christian Science Reading Room activities office at the world headquarters in Boston, said reading rooms originated as places to disseminate the message of Eddy’s book on Christian Science, “Science and Health.” She said the stores also offer magazines like the Christian Science Sentinel, which features articles from people using the ideas in Edy’s book to experience healing and personal growth
Alexander also emphasized the contemporary appeal and applicability of “Science and Health.” Manville said she appreciates the work for its innovative approach.
“It is an interesting book because it gives such a radically different viewpoint of God than is found in other denominations,” Manville said.
Winner said there are similar reading rooms across the country and internationally.
“There are reading rooms all over the world. Every Christian Science church in any community would have a reading room,” Winner said.
But despite the profusion of reading rooms across the country, and outlets for Christian Science in New Haven, many Yale students said they would prefer to learn about the religion in a more low-key environment. Mimnaugh said she preferred to learn about the religion through personal interaction with her peers, rather than through books.
“I think here at Yale there is such a wonderful variety of faiths that you can really just meet people of other beliefs on your own,” she said. “That’s when I think you really get to understand a religion — when a friend is comfortable sharing their beliefs with you. And here at Yale most people not only have strong views, but they’re vocal about them too.”
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