Monday February 4, 2013

MARK E. RONDEAU

County News Editor

BENNINGTON-- The Christian Science Society of Bennington is looking to sell its 3,052-square-foot building at 125 Hillside St. in order to spend less money on maintaining a building and do more for the community.

"We talked about instead of having to maintain a building, and put all the money into the building, we wanted to do more things for the community," said Donna Oyama, one of the church's three-member board of directors, who also holds the position of second reader. "And so selling the building is going to give us the money so that we can do things for the community."

Oyama is a former director of the Career Development Center; she retired from the position in 2008.

"There's such a thing as a board of lectureship, and they go all around the world and give lectures or talks on Christian Science," Oyama said. "We'd like to have some of that here. We haven't been able to have a lecture for a while."

As for possibly moving into a new space, "We've talked about that, and we're listening to God to see what our next steps are, but we have thought about ... something maybe right down on Main Street or something close by," she said. "It's kind of out of the way right here. We'd like something more visible."

The building at the corner of Silver and Hillside Streets and next to the Second Congregational Church sits on just under a half acre, was built in 1936, and has always been a Christian Science facility.


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The property was originally listed last June for $225,000 and lowered On Oct. 23 to the current list price of $175,000. There have been 10 showings of the property to 10 different parties but no offers on it yet, according to Jenifer Y. Prouty, of Maple Leaf Realty, the agent representing the property.

Prouty said the building is located in the Office and Apartment zone, which has 24 allowable uses, including a single-family or multi-family residence, home occupation, professional offices, medical clinic, daycare, school, or personal service establishment, such as a beauty salon or artist/photograph studio. "The possibilities are really endless," she said.

Oyama said members of the society have been meeting regularly in the church until recently, when they decided to conserve heat and suspend services until warmer weather in March. The interior of the building is neat and uncluttered. As presently configured, it has a small office and reading room on the east side, space for a Sunday school in the back, a small lobby in the front, and a large sanctuary or meeting room takes up the majority of space in the building.

According to the official Christian Science Church website, www.christianscience.com, Vermont has 10 churches and societies, the closest to Bennington are in Brattleboro and West Rutland.

"It's small," Oyama said of the local society membership. "We don't count our members, but it is small. There's people from New York and Vermont and Massachusetts that come here."

According to the Christian Science website, "In 1866, after many years of study, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) discovered what she considered to be the Science of the Christianity which Jesus taught and lived. She dedicated herself to teaching, preaching, and healing others through this system for applying spiritual laws -- Christian Science -- and in 1875 she published her primary book about it, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." By 1879, she founded the Church of Christ, Scientist."

The site adds that it is not necessary to belong to the church to study Christian Science, but today there are church members in more than 130 countries. Democratically run churches are present in 75 countries.

"The heart of Christian Science is Love," the site adds. "It addresses major points about God, good and evil, life and death, sacrament, salvation, and more. Christian Science encourages people to see things from a spiritual perspective, as Jesus taught."

Christian Science has no formal clergy and is known for its distinctive ideas on health and healing. "It's up to each person who practices Christian Science to choose the form of health care he or she wants," the official website states. "Many Christian Scientists decide to pray first about every challenge--including health issues--and find it effective. Many health care professionals today are recognizing options outside of conventional medicine."

The Bennington church has "God is Love" written in front of its sanctuary. A quote on a plaque from the gospel of Luke greets those who come in the front door of the building: "And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God. And to heal the sick."

Venerable as it is, the Hillside Street church was not the first Christian Science building in town. According to a short history of the church Oyama provided, "early in 1900 three earnest students of Christian Science met each Sunday in one of their homes in Bennington to read the Lesson-Sermons given in the ‘Christian Science Quarterly.' Their number increased, and formal Sunday Services were begun in 1902."

It adds, "In December 1906, a place of worship was provided at the corner of Park and Scott Streets, where Sunday Services and Wednesday Evening Meetings were held each week. A Sunday School and Reading Room were also established. Early in 1909 The Mother Church recognized this group of twelve members as Christian Science Society, Bennington, Vermont."

Beginning in 1916, this group rented and then purchased a building at 606 Main St, "where regular services, a Sunday School and public Christian Science Reading Room were maintained."

The local society was incorporated under the laws of the State of Vermont on May 3, 1918. "In May, 1928, this Society was recognized as a branch of The Mother Church and became First Church of Christ, Scientist, Bennington, Vermont."

The history adds, "In the winter of 1936-1937 the present edifice (corner Silver and Hillside Streets) was built as the result of the entire cost being bequeathed by the family of one of the first members. It was dedicated free of debt in June 1937."

In January, 2008, the members voted to change their identity from First Church of Christ, Scientist to the Christian Science Society of Bennington.