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Historic Christian Science church reopens its doors

When Jim and Linda Leindecker stepped into First Church of Christ, Scientist, here in Oconto, Wisconsin, in summer 2010, they found dust, cobwebs, and some old paint.

They also discovered a quaint house of worship, charming in its simplicity, that the Leindeckers well knew held a unique place in the denomination—the first building erected for Christian Science anywhere, in 1886.

As former readers of the Church of Christ, Scientist, in Green Bay, the Abrams had been called upon to close the Oconto church. It had been several years since it hosted services.

“We just walked in and said, ‘It doesn’t seem right,’ ” Linda said.

After discussion and prayer, the Leindeckers transferred their membership to the Oconto church, and prepared to “open the doors for a while to see what happens.”

The couple kept busy the next three months, cleaning, painting, and freshening up. Their first service was held Sunday, Dec. 5, with several guests attending.

Among the guests were several members of the Damkoehler family. Mark Damkoehler, now of Milwaukee, attended Sunday school there in the 1970s. He said his brothers and late mother Edna support the Leindeckers in their effort to revitalize the church.

“Bless their hearts for being authentic enough, inspired enough, and courageous enough to get something going, in a time when a lot of churches are in decline,” Damkoehler said.

For Jim, the first service was a reunion of sorts. He attended Sunday school on the lower level of the church for many years. After class, youths would go upstairs to the service.“There was a big speaker on a pedestal,” he said. “And we would sing with the rest of the congregation.”

Until last fall, his last visit to the church was at least 20 years ago. As far back as he can remember, his grandmother was a reader at the church.

“Her mother was introduced to Christian Science, as my mother was, through a healing,” Jim said. His great-grandmother “went by horse and buggy to Shawano to see a CS practitioner.”

The denomination was founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy with the objective to “restore primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.”

“So the Church is not only a religion but a system of health,” explained Joseph Farkas of the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Wisconsin. “Its members are free to choose whatever form of health care they choose, but most, typically, rely on prayer as taught in Christian Science.”

There have been more than 80,000 verified healings, he added, documented in volumes that can be found in Christian Science Reading Rooms around the country.

That’s how Linda embraced Christian Science. The couple met in the mid-1980s, she took the faith to heart after reading material Jim gave her after a dance. She had been seriously ill in the past, and the condition recurred after they married in 1987. A Christian Science practitioner was called and worked with them.

“I was healed, and the rest was history,” she said.

In Christian Science, there are 26 weekly Bible Lesson topics set down by The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, known as the Mother Church. The topics are repeated once each year.

Jim is first reader [at the Oconto church], selecting the hymns and scripture that correspond to the lesson that week, and reads the appropriate selections from Science and Health with Key to Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science.

As second reader, Linda reads the Bible. “It is a lay church,” Linda explained. “There are no personal preachers. We believe the pastor is the Holy Bible [and Science and Health].”

The Leindeckers also lead additional services on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. At those services, Jim ties national, state, or local topics into the discussion if possible, “things that might be on people’s mind and (we) can offer an inspirational perspective.”

Their faith has allowed them to remain steadfast, as few people have joined them for services over the past 11 months. They acknowledge they haven’t spent enough time letting people know the church is open again.

“We haven’t done our work yet,” said Linda, who manages a federal child nutrition program in 18 counties in Wisconsin.

“It’s a work in progress,” added Jim, a computer technician for an insurance company in Green Bay. “It’s not been easy, but we know that we didn’t come in with blinders on.” 

The couple also notes they need to work at countering misconceptions about Christian Science, but also wonder if the public perception of religion and faith in God has changed. “I think people used to go to church to be inspired, but not today,” Linda said. (Now) they go to hear something they agree with.”

The Leindeckers say anyone can learn about and apply Christian Science, regardless of their denomination.

They hope to break down doctrinal barriers so everyone can benefit.

“You don’t have to join this church,” Jim said. “You just have to think.”

“It’s not your God and my God,” Linda said. “It’s all one God for all of us.”


Kent Tempus - 

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