FAQs for the General Public
1. What is Christian Science?
Christian Science is a religion and way of life that is based on the Bible and the teachings of Christ Jesus. For more information, please consult www.christianscience.com.
2. What does a Christian Science Chaplain do?
They visit institutions where people are confined in California (e.g. penal facilities and VA hospitals) to share the Gospel (“good news”) that the kingdom of God is at hand within each one of us and God loves each one of us unconditionally. This spiritual perspective reforms and heals through God’s grace. Some conduct worship services and some meet in one-on-one sessions and some correspond with those who don’t have access to a Christian Science chaplain at that facility. They do not offer counseling or delve into the past actions or psychology of those they meet but confine themselves to sharing the life-changing blessing that comes from a better sense of God’s presence and power and love for us as taught by Christ Jesus.
3. How are Christian Science Chaplains trained and supervised?
All Christian Science Chaplains have taken an intensive two-week course in Christian Science and have had years of Bible study and have been reviewed and approved by both their church and by the local Christian Science institutional committee and by the Christian Science Committee on Institutional Work in California (the “State Committee”) as qualified to be a Christian Science Chaplain. Chaplains also report on a monthly basis to their local Christian Science institutional committee on their activities where their work is reviewed and supervised and these reports are also reviewed by the State Committee.
4. Do Christian Science Chaplains meet with inmates who are not Christian Scientists?
Yes. The vast majority of contacts are with people who are not Christian Scientists. The purpose of these meetings is not to gain converts to Christian Science but to bring spiritual light and uplift to those who want to learn more about God. Chaplains bear witness to the fact that we are all the sons and daughters of God and they share the good news that His light and truth and love is available to us all.
5. How can I find out if there is a Christian Science Chaplain for a particular institution or facility?
Contact the Executive Secretary of the State Committee as follows:
Sharon Maxwell, Executive Secretary
Christian Science Committee on Institutional Work in California
P.O. Box 1237
Hollister, CA 95024
6. How can I get a Christian Science Chaplain to visit or write to someone who is incarcerated?
Contact Sharon Maxwell, Executive Secretary. See contact information above.
7. Can you help someone who is incarcerated at an institution where there currently isn’t a Christian Science chaplain who visits regularly?
We do our best to meet all requests but the answer to this question depends upon all of the circumstances. Please contact Sharon Maxwell, Executive Secretary, so we can explore what can be done.
8. Do you lobby for legislation or support candidates for public office?
No. We qualify as a nonprofit organization under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)3 and we are prohibited from engaging in such activities.
9. What is your attitude towards other religions and other religious volunteers in institutions?
We appreciate the efforts of all religions and all religious volunteers who are trying to help those in need. We respect the work of all volunteers and wish to work together with them in whatever ways we can.
10. How is the Christian Science Institutional work in California organized?
Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants report to local Christian Science institutional committees. There are approximately 17 local institutional committees in California at this time. These local committees are made up of representatives of the local Christian Science churches in those areas. The Christian Science Institutional Committee in California (aka the “State Committee”) is an umbrella organization that coordinates and supports the work of the local committees and the Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants. The State Committee’s work is supervised by six designated California Christian Science branch churches.
11. Can I help your efforts even if I am not a Christian Scientist?
Yes. If you are involved in the correctional system or the VA Hospital system or are another religious volunteer in these systems we would love to hear from you so that we may expand our network of contacts and see if there is any way we can better help and support what you are doing. If you are a member of the public and are looking for ways to become involved in helping those who are involuntarily confined, then we would be glad to hear from you to help put you in touch with an appropriate person in your area to help facilitate your involvement. If you like what you see on our website and want to support our work, we are also always happy to accept donations made payable to the Christian Science Institutional Committee in California and sent to our Executive Secretary at the address given in #5 above.
FAQs for Christian Scientists — Becoming a Chaplain or Chaplain Assistant
1. What do Christian Science Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants do?
Chaplains visit institutions where people are confined in California (e.g. penal facilities and VA hospitals) to share the Gospel (“good news”) that the kingdom of God is at hand within each one of us and God loves each one of us unconditionally. This spiritual perspective reforms and heals through God’s grace. Some conduct worship services and some meet in one-on-one sessions and some correspond with those who don’t have access to a Christian Science chaplain at that facility. They do not offer counseling or delve into the past actions or psychology of those they meet but confine themselves to sharing the life-changing blessing that comes from a better sense of God’s presence and power and love for us as taught by Christ Jesus.
Chaplain Assistants visit the same kinds of institutions and they help and support the work of a Chaplain when a Chaplain is present. They do not meet with inmates/patients in one-on-one sessions and they do not give Christian Science treatment to individuals but they participate in worship services (either with a Chaplain or without if no Chaplain is available) and they hand out literature and arrange appointments for Chaplain visits and they may interact with the staff of the institution to work out or avoid problems and to coordinate the work of the Chaplain and/or to coordinate Christian Science services for the institution.
2. How do I qualify to be a chaplain or Chaplain Assistant?
Qualifications for Chaplain’s Assistant
- Membership in The Mother Church
- Member of a branch church/society in California (any exception to this rule is subject to approval by the State Committee)
- An ability to articulate a useful understanding of Christian Science to one unfamiliar with it
- A deep desire to help others
- A commitment to follow the procedures of the State Committee, Local Committee, and of the institutions served
- An ability to work harmoniously with institutional staff, and religious service providers from all faiths assigned to the institution.
- Sufficient time to engage in the work
- An ability to read aloud from the Bible and Christian Science textbook and communicate the spiritual meaning to others
- Familiarity with these Institutional Procedures
- Must be nominated by their branch church/society and be in good standing
- The Local committee to which their church/society belongs interviews and either accepts or denies the applicant
- Need not be approved by the State Committee
Qualifications for Chaplain include the above plus:
- Must be Class taught
- Has proven ability to give effective Christian Science treatment.
- Experience work as a Chaplain’s Assistant is preferred but not required.
- Chaplains must also be approved by the State Committee
3. How do I apply to be a chaplain or Chaplain Assistant?
- Make a copy of the application as found on lightinprision.org
- Complete the Chaplain Initial Application Packet according to instructions on page one, or
- Complete the Chaplain’s Assistant Initial Application Packet according to instructions on page one
- Read “Our Institutional Procedures”, interview with the Local Committee (State Committee liaison present), allow the Local Committee and liaison to complete their parts of the application, and forward to the State Committee Office by the most efficient means.
4. Who is involved in supporting the Chaplain and Chaplain Assistant ministry?
The following people and committees support Chaplains and their ministry:
Participating Churches and Societies form, support, and oversee this ministry by:
- Appointing church representatives and alternate representatives
- The representative gives the church/society one vote on the committee
- Recommending qualified Chaplains and Chaplain’s Assistants
- Staying informed of committee activities and challenges
- Approving local committee bylaws
- Providing financial and metaphysical support
Local Committees — formed by and answerable to the branch churches/societies in their respective areas, consist of:
- Reps – vote on and carry out committee business
- Alternates – vote in place of the rep when not present
- Chair – elected from the Reps
- Secretary — elected from or appointed by the Reps,
- Chaplain’s Assistants
The State Committee – which coordinates funding, provides guidelines, state-wide functions, website, and approves Chaplains, consists of:
- Liaisons – 5-9 with statewide representation
- Executive Secretary – paid position with a renewable contract
The Sponsoring Churches – which oversee the State Committee – consist of:
Six California branch churches/societies, three in Northern California and three in Southern California, selected on their annual financial contributions and overall active support of institutional work to:
- ratify the bylaws of the State Committee
- approve the election of State Committee members
- review the annual financial statements
- supervise the work and composition of the State Committee.
- Decisions and actions of the Sponsoring Churches depend upon a majority vote of the Sponsoring Churches.
Details of the operation of the Local Committee and duties of each member are found in the Local Committee Guidelines. The State Committee Liaisons or State Committee Office may be contacted for clarification of procedures or policies.
5. What is the ministry like?
Prayer that demonstrates healing is the basis of the Chaplain’s work. He or she turns to divine Love, God, for guidance and works prayerfully to overcome any sense of resistance or limitation.
Chaplains meet with inmates privately or in Bible study groups, conduct Christian Science Church Services (which may be modified to fit circumstances), hold Sunday School meetings for youth, give Christian Science Treatment when requested, provide Christian Science publications and other information about the denomination where welcomed.
Chaplain Assistants, conduct Christian Science Church Services (which may be modified to fit circumstances), hold Sunday School meetings for youth, and provide Christian Science publications and other information about the denomination where welcomed.
Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants maintain a cordial, professional relationship with staff and officers, and work in strict accordance with the policies and procedures of the institutions in which they serve. Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants do not provide any personal or family assistance, advocate or participate in legal proceedings, receive or give personal objects or messages of any kind, or form personal relationships with those who they serve when in or out of the institution. Chaplains assist with establishing continuity of contact with Christian Science Chaplains to those moving to new institutions or with Christian Science practioners or church services for those leaving the institution and returning to their communities.
What Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants do:
- Obey all institution, State Committee, and Local Committee rules.
- Serve only in institutions assigned to them
- Report to the Local Committee
- Report to the institutional authorities any untoward action directed against the Chaplain or Chaplain’s Assistant by an inmate/patient. (Most institutions require an immediate call for assistance in case of a disturbance.)
- The State Committee has no objection to the Christian Science Chaplain and/or Chaplain’s Assistant conducting a funeral or memorial service if requested by the institution or the family of the deceased to do so
What Chaplains do:
- Only one Chaplain should be working with an inmate/patient
- Chaplains guide inmate/patients in mining the truths of the Bible and in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy
- Provide and sign inmate applications for membership in The Mother Church in accord with Articles IV (pp. 34-39) and the Appendix (pp 109-119) of the Manual of The Mother Church if requested
- Must follow institution rules regarding signing such documents
- Should be able to state that the applicant has a record of good behavior, and that the applicant does not violate the institution’s rules.
What Chaplain Assistants do:
- Follow the direction of the Chaplain
- Assist with services and may answer general questions about Christian Science in that situation
- Refers all personal inquiries and requests for Christian Science treatment and one-to-one interview from an inmate/patient to the Chaplain. (The Chaplain’s Assistant never gives treatment or participates in interviews with inmates within an institution, even if the Chaplain’s Assistant is a practitioner listed in The Christian Science Journal)
6. How do I know what not to do as a Chaplain or Chaplain’s Assistant?
There are two sets of prohibitions. One is the set created by the rules and procedures of the facilities in which a Chaplain or Chaplain’s Assistant serves. The other are the rules of the State Committee.
The State Committee prohibitions for both Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants are as follows:
- Don’t depart from the letter and spirit of Christian Science in your work
- Don’t neglect to be guided in your work through selfless, constant prayer
- Don’t ignore or neglect to learn and stay current on the instructions for your position made by the State Committee and/or your local committee
- Don’t get into any kind of argument or heated dispute with anyone at a facility where you serve
- Don’t lie to or misrepresent anything about yourself or your institutional work to anyone
- Don’t neglect to file timely reports on your work and keep your local committee fully informed about your institutional work
- Don’t disregard the instructions of your local committee or the State Committee
- Don’t divulge the name or confidences of someone to whom you have ministered except in accordance with State Committee rules
The State Committee prohibitions for Chaplain Assistants also include the following:
- Do not act as a Chaplain. Refer all requests for help or explanations beyond simple, basic facts to the local Christian Science Chaplain or to the Bible and Science and Health or other Christian Science literature.
It is very important that you learn and stay current with the rules and procedures of any institution in which you serve. Some of our Chaplains have been disciplined and suspended and some have jeopardized the access of other Christian Science Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants by their failure to follow the rules that govern the facility in which they work. There are different rules at different facilities so you cannot assume that the rules at one facility are the same at another even if they are in the same jurisdiction. Here are just a few examples of some of the prohibitions that are commonly found in many institutions:
- Do not take any literature into a facility without clearance
- Do not give anything to an inmate/patient unless specifically given permission after following the correct procedure to get permission
- Do not touch an inmate/patient
- Do not pass any messages to anyone on behalf of an inmate/patient
- Do not give any kind of human counseling or advice
- Do not give out your last name or any personal contact information to anyone who is incarcerated. Always use the State Committee contact information instead.
- Do not have contact with anyone to whom you have ministered after they leave your institution (whether they leave through transfer or release).
The foregoing list is just a short sample of some of the common prohibitions. There are many more prohibitions that may apply in any particular facility. Not all of these prohibitions apply at all facilities. It is of the utmost importance that you know and stay current with and abide by the rules and procedures of the facilities in which you serve. If at all possible, you should obtain a written copy of a facility’s rules and procedures that govern your situation and review them frequently.
7. Do I first need to become a Chaplain’s Assistant before I become a Chaplain?
Although the answer is no, the mentored experience is highly recommended for the individual to gain a working knowledge of the institution and the interaction between inmate and the Christian Science Chaplain.
8. What other requirements are there for Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants?
- All Chaplains and Chaplain’s Assistants must read these Procedures
- Chaplains must attend a workshop or equivalent event sponsored by the State Committee when one is offered
- Exceptions to workshop attendance must be approved by both Local and State Committees.
- Chaplain’s Assistants are strongly encouraged to attend annual workshops when one is offered
- Chaplains and Chaplain’s Assistants are reappointed every two years
- In the years that Chaplains and Chaplain’s Assistants are NOT reappointed, they may complete the “Biennial Reviews” to maintain their active status
The Biennial Review is found on the Member’s Only section of Lightinprison.org under “Forms”. When the Chaplain or Assistant Chaplain takes the review there is instant feedback as soon as the submit button is clicked. A copy goes immediately to the submitters own email box. Next the Chaplain or Chaplain Assistant forwards the email to the local committee secretary who can forward it to committee members for review.
The Corresponding Chaplain Biennial Review is available only online and is for Chaplains who communicate with an inmate exclusively by letter. Other Chaplains do not need to take this Corresponding Chaplain Review.
9. Can Chaplains work in juvenile facilities with youth?
YES. THE FOLLOWING FEW RULES APPLY SPECIFICALLY TO JUVENILES:
- Chaplains may serve in Juvenile facilities, ministering only to those who request or want their help.
- Chaplains should inform authorities that any religious instruction they give are modeled after Christian Science Sunday School classes
- Chaplains must avoid even the appearance of proselytizing
- Chaplains may distribute literature only to those requesting it
- Chaplains may give Christian Science treatment to a juvenile requesting it, unless the juvenile is receiving medical treatment for the problem from, including but not limited to:
- mental health counselors
- conventional medicine
Note: The Northern California and Southern California Committees on Publication no longer comment on the legalities of working with juveniles.
10. Can Chaplains Work with Veterans?
The ministry in Veterans’ Administration hospitals and clinics is under the regulation of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Washington, D.C. The Senior Chaplain at the VA is responsible for providing religious ministry to all patients, and gives prior approval for Christian Science activities conducted in the VA.
- Chaplains at Veterans’ hospitals are appointed through the Local Committee
- Appointment of Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants is regulated by the department of Veterans’ Affairs.
- The work of Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants in VA Hospitals must conform to the rules of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs as well as to our normal rules.
Christians Science Chaplains who Minister at Veterans’ Administration hospitals and clinics may engage in the following activities:
- Visit veterans who enter “Christian Science” as their religious preference on their hospital records
- Visit those who request to see a Christian Science Chaplain
- Help veterans through prayer
- Provide free Christian Science literature to those who request it
- Hold Christian Science services when approved by the senior Chaplain
- Become familiar with VA charting requirements
Chaplains must observe patients’ rights to privacy and freedom from proselytization, as provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics have regulations against the distribution of literature which is derogatory toward other religious. Therefore, if literature is found that maligns Christian Science, the appropriate Chaplain at the hospital should be asked to forbid further distribution. Since these regulations are designed to protect all faiths, the Christian Science Chaplain should receive full cooperation.
Oversight by the Local Committee
The Department of Veterans Affairs endorses the appointment of a Christian Science Chaplain and sees that the work is properly conducted. This does not, however, relieve the Local Committee from the responsibility to oversee the Chaplain’s work. It would not be appropriate for one who has resigned as a Chaplain on a Local Committee to continue to serve at a VA hospital.
11. How can I learn more about becoming a Chaplain or Chaplain Assistant?
- Spend time studying the information and accounts of healing and reform available on the Lightinprison.org website.
- Talk to your branch church representative to your local institutional committee or, if there is no branch church representative, then contact the State Committee Executive Secretary (Sharon Maxwell at 877-782-0063 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org) and she can answer your questions and provide more information and put you in contact with your local committee.
- Obtain a copy of the full policies and procedures of the State Committee from your local committee or from the State Committee Executive Secretary to review.
- Attend your nearest local committee meeting and talk to the branch church representatives and Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants you meet there.
- Depending upon the rules of the local institutions served by your local Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants, you may be permitted to obtain a temporary pass to accompany a Chaplain or Chaplain Assistant as they go about their work in a local institution.
FAQs for Christian Scientists about Working on a Local Committee
1. What does a local committee do?
Local Committees coordinate, supervise and support the Christian Science ministry work that goes on in institutions. There are currently 17 local institutional committees located all over California. The local committees consist of the representatives of the local Christian Science branch churches in that area along with the Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants in that local area. Local committees interview and recommend those who apply to become Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants, they keep the Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants supplied with Christian Science literature to give to inmates/patients in the institutions, they help coordinate Christian Science lectures in institutions that are sponsored by one or more branch churches, they work with the Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants and with the State Committee on any problems or issues that may arise and, most importantly, they pray in support of the institutional work of the Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants.
2. How does someone become a representative to a local committee?
You must be a member of a Christian Science branch church to become a local committee representative. If your branch church does not already have a representative to the local committee, then you request that your branch church appoint you as its representative and if the branch church does so you then notify the State Committee Executive Secretary (Sharon Maxwell, 877-782-0063) of your appointment and she can put you in touch with the local committee. If your branch church already has a representative and an alternate representative, then you can let your branch church know that you would like to be considered for one of those positions the next time one is available. The main qualifications are a sincere interest in the institutional work and a willingness to spend some time on prayer for this ministry and attend the local committee meetings and the State Committee workshops.
3. How often are local committee meetings and State Committee workshops held?
Each local committee determines its own schedule of meetings. Some are held monthly, some every other month and some quarterly. Most are held in-person but some are held via computer or conference phone call. The State Committee sponsors workshops and online conferences from time to time to which local committee representatives are invited but attendance by local committee representatives is not mandatory.
4. May I attend local committee meetings if I am not an official representative of my branch church?
Yes. Even if you are not an official representative, you are welcome to attend meetings of the local committee as a guest to become more familiar with the work of the local committee and the Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants and any Christian Scientist is more than welcome to support the institutional work through prayer.
5. How do the local committees stay coordinated with the State Committee and stay in touch with what other local committees and Chaplains are doing?
A State Committee Liaison generally will attend every local committee meeting either in person or by phone or computer connection. In addition, the State Committee sends out monthly communications to the local committees via email and also sends out special emails as the need arises. The State Committee also hosts workshops and video conferences during the year. Some of these programs are just for Chaplains but representatives and Chaplain Assistants are invited to most of them.
6. What is the State Committee and how does it function?
The Christian Science Committee on Institutional Work in California (the “State Committee”) is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that exists to coordinate and support the local committees and all their Christian Science Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants. The State Committee, in turn, is supervised by six Christian Science branch churches (the “Sponsoring Churches”), three from northern California and three from Southern California. The State Committee is composed of 5 – 9 individuals who are nominated to serve by their branch churches and then are approved by the existing State Committee members and by a majority of the six Sponsoring Churches. Each individual member of the State Committee is sometimes referred to as a “Liaison” because each member of the State Committee is assigned to be the coordinator or liaison with specific local committees.
7. How can I learn more about Christian Science institutional work in California?
- Take the time to review all the information and videos and blogs available on the Lightinprison.com website.
- Talk to your branch church representative to the local committee (and if you don’t have one, then apply to your branch church to become the representative).
- Attend local committee meetings.
- Talk to Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants.
- Attend a workshop organized by the State Committee.