One religion’s cozy storefront has storied history in The Village

Christina Welton and Virginia DeGeneres talk about their faith in Christian Science at the church’s reading room on Girard Avenue.
Christina Welton and Virginia DeGeneres talk about their faith in Christian Science at the church’s reading room on Girard Avenue.
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Christina Welton (left) and Virginia DeGeneres talk about their faith in Christian Science at the church’s reading room on Girard Avenue. Pat Sherman photos

Christian Science Reading Room

Where:

7853 Girard Ave., La Jolla

Hours:

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays and holidays

Contact:

(858) 454-2807

Notable Christian Scientists

Val Kilmer (“Top Gun,” “Tombstone”)

Alan Young (Wilbur Post from TV’s “Mr. Ed”)

Robert Duvall (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Godfather”)

Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker from TV’s “All in the Family”)

By Pat Sherman

For more than four decades, people walking past the Christian Science Reading Room on Girard Avenue have peered inside quizzically, wondering what Christian Science is, and what takes place within its ubiquitous storefronts — of which their appears to be one on nearly every “Main Street” in America.

“They all want to know if we know Tom Cruise,” joked La Jolla resident and Christian Scientist Virginia DeGeneres, referring to Scientology’s celebrity defender-in-chief.

Like Scientology, the equally enigmatic Christian Science religion has its own high profile advocate in actor Val Kilmer (who, coincidentally, was Cruise’s on- and off-screen rival when they starred together in the film, “Top Gun.”)

Kilmer is currently producing a movie about Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, and author Mark Twain, who was one of the church’s most staunch critics.

“Twain wrote an (essay) called ‘Christian Science’ and it’s one of the funniest books I’ve read, though most people don’t like it because he’s criticizing Ms. Eddy,” said Pacific Beach resident and longtime Christian Scientist, Sheila Kelly.

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Reading room librarian Christina Welton displays publications and items for sale at the Christian Science Reading Room on Girard Avenue.

Getting right with God

Founded by Eddy in the late 1800s, Christian Science has been the target of much criticism — and misunderstanding, adherents say — largely due to the fact that Christian Scientists don’t, as a rule, visit a doctor when they’re sick (or, for that matter, believe that illness is anything more than an illusion that can be cured through prayer and a closer kinship with God). Christian Scientists believe the type of healing practiced by Jesus is possible today through prayer and communion with God.

Baker was said to have founded Christian Science after being miraculously healed through prayer after a debilitating fall on the ice.

“She spent the next three years alone, just studying the Bible and praying — and she discovered the secret of how Jesus heals,” Kelly said. “It’s a science that she discovered. It was always going on, except you had to be spiritually minded to discern it.”

The Christian Science emblem features a crown and cross and the words, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (from Matthew chapter 10, verse 8 of the Bible).

“We come to learn in Christian Science that it’s God’s will for us to be well,” said reading room librarian Christina Welton. “That He sent his Son for three years, healing every kind of discord or disease that would confront Him, is to me very clear evidence that it is God’s will for us to be well, happy, provided for and content.”

Adherents say the “science” behind Christian Science isn’t as fanciful as some make it out to be. They cite studies that affirm the power of positive thinking, or of people who have been healed when a placebo is administered in lieu of an actual pharmaceutical drug.

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