History of the Christian Science Reading Rooms
by Lynda Spencer
I was struck the other day, as I read some historical information about Christian Science Reading Rooms, how much our Plainfield website embraces a similar spirit to the early workers sharing Christian Science. These devoted individuals worked hard preparing a place of refuge and learning for the public.
The first Christian Science Reading Room was located on the second floor of a hotel in Boston, but eventually was moved to a more accessible location. The space included the offices of The Journal, the Christian Scientist Association, and a Dispensary (a service offered at little or no cost for individuals unable to afford practitioner support). Publishing houses of that period often offered reading rooms for people to explore their publications. Christian Science literature up to that point was distributed from bookstores, students’ homes, and practitioners’ offices.
These new Christian Science Reading Rooms included an assortment of Bible translations and Christian Science literature for purchasing, reading, lending, or giving away. If a Dispensary was instituted in an area, it appears to have been combined with a Reading Room. The Dispensary’s main mission was to provide those, who, because of their circumstances, would not ordinarily have an opportunity to learn about Christian Science. At some point 30 dispensaries were in operation in big cities. The Dispensary work was instituted in Boston from 1887-1889.
A Christian Science Dispensary association was organized May 1889. Mrs. Eddy became its honorary president and the first meeting was held in her sitting room with her present. The Free Dispensary of Christian Science Healing was open daily, either in the afternoons or evenings. Activities included discussions and answers about Christian Science healing, Bible classes, Sunday and Wednesday services, and a Christian Science Reading Room.
The Dispensary Association was eventually discontinued by Mrs. Eddy in 1894. In 1899 a by-law for Christian Science Reading Rooms was established in the Manual of the Mother Church. It appears Mrs. Eddy gave little instruction regarding Reading Rooms. In my research, it looks as though she wanted Christian Science be made easily available to the community searching for spiritual answers to life’s questions and problems, and not just for those already studying the religion. There is an indication she wanted to leave it up the individual churches how to best provide this service.
Our Plainfield website, sharing Christian Science with our worldwide community, encompasses the qualities found in the early Dispensary and Reading Room mission work.
“Mission work will draw the world’s attention more distinctly to the humane character of Science, than any degree of generosity and self-sacrifice, in the routine of a private practice….” Dispensary Meeting and Work July 1889 Christian Science Journal.