Spiritual group sheds church label

Hoping to draw new members wanting a spiritual home but not a church, the United Church of Religious Science has changed its name to United Centers for Spiritual Living.

The new identity is more inviting to people who want to live spiritual lives but who don’t want to belong to a church, said the Rev. Don Lunday, whose Sun City congregation installed a sign identifying it as a Center for Spiritual Living this week.

“We’re quietly changing our image,” he said. “We are structured more as a philosophy than a religion. We recognize there is only one god, and it is the same for Islam and Catholics.”

Delegates attending the United Church of Religious Science annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, last March supported the new identity. As a legal entity, the denomination remains the United Church of Religious Science doing business as United Centers for Spiritual Living.

The name change is optional for the denomination’s 200-plus congregations, said the Rev. Alice Bandy, ecclesiastical core coordinator at the Burbank headquarters.

“In major metropolitan areas many churches had already changed their name to a center,” she said. “Those churches found when they did their membership began to increase.”

Lunday said he hopes his congregation’s new identity will attract Menifee Valley residents who do not attend church.

“People are looking for a power greater than themselves,” he said. “We’re attempting to reach out to the elderly in the community and creating a presence for youth.”

The change also will help congregations in countries like Ukraine that persecute organizations identifying themselves as a church, said the Rev. Michael Kearney, minister of the Palm Springs Spiritual Enhancement Center.

Religious Science churches in Ukraine began calling themselves Centers for Spiritual Living “because they could identify what they were doing but not be labeled as a church,” he said.

The new name also may end confusion among people who think it is the Church of Scientology, the movement based on the writings of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, Kearney said.

Although the denomination does not formally track membership, Bandy said there could be as many as 200,000 members in 22 countries.

“Our dream is that no matter what religious faith anybody is, they agree that we can be one human family all living spiritual lives,” Bandy said. “We want to break down the barriers of religion.”

The foundation for the United Church of Religious Science was laid in 1927 with Ernest Holmes’ publication of “The Science of Mind,” which laid out a philosophy that certain truths are present in all of the world’s faiths and that religion and science are complementary.

There are no rituals, and clergy read from sacred texts including the Bible, the Quran and the Hindu Upanishads.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Press-Enterprise, USA
Oct. 4, 2006
Bettye Wells Miller

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This post was last updated: Thursday, October 5, 2006 at 10:16 AM, Central European Time (CET)