Friday, March 11, 2011

First Church of Christ, Scientist: Divine Architecture

First Church of Christ, Scientist
First Church of Christ, Scientist
The First Church of Christ, Scientist is a long-standing landmark in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta, with historic roots that touch many people and many aspects of Atlanta’s history and today's local society.

The tour I went on was part of the annual Phoenix Flies program. Its tagline tells exactly what it is: "A Citywide Celebration of Living Landmarks." For 16 days in the month of March, the Atlanta Preservation Center is providing more than 150 free events, mostly tours, throughout Atlanta.

I never thought I'd have the privilege of touring the Christian Science church at the corner of Peachtree and 15th Streets, which is admired by so many in the architectural world, so this was a real treat.

On this particular tour, just prior to the tour beginning I had the pleasure of meeting Terry, the author of one of my favorite Atlanta blogs, Architecture Tourist.

Side Windows, 1180 Peachtree in background
Side Windows,
1180 Peachtree in background
There is a huge community of bloggers in Atlanta and it’s always exciting to meet my fellow bloggers in person. Many of us have a unique passion for what we do and like any community we appreciate the company of like-minded colleagues.

Terry in particular has become a great resource for me for all that is architecture in the great city of Atlanta. Through his tenacious sense of adventure, I've discovered quite a few landmarks and otherwise hidden gems for which I am very grateful.

Terry was also the one who turned me on to Phoenix Flies, so several of my forthcoming posts are a direct result of his sharing of information. "Thank you, Terry!"

The Tour

FCCS Tour Group
FCCS Tour Group
Our tour guide, Marilyn, greeted us in the foyer of the Church and invited us outside to view the façade the Church where we would begin our tour. Marilyn told us that she is a member of the Church as well as a member of its Board of Directors, which told me that this would indeed be an insightful event.

Standing before the Church’s six giant columns topped with Corinthian capitals, Marilyn told us of the founding of the Church, created by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston, Massachusetts. Mary Baker Eddy sent one of her students, Julia Bartlett, to Atlanta to teach Christian Science and its healing doctrine.

One of Atlanta's ladies of society, Mrs. Sue Harper Mimms, wife of then Atlanta Mayor Livingston Mimms, called on Bartlett for healing. Mrs. Mimms recovered and soon thereafter began conducting Christian Science meeting in her home, which stood where the Georgian Terrace Hotel now stands, across the street from the Fox Theatre. Coincidentally, Café Mims and Livingston Restaurant are inside the Georgian Terrace.

Marilyn told us what the cornerstone confirmed, that the Atlanta church was organized in 1893, the first edifice was erected in 1898, and the current church, the object of our tour, was erected in 1913.

Marilyn told us more, some of which you can learn on the church's website, and then invited us inside to explore the auditorium.

The Auditorium

Terry had told me that he already spoke with Marilyn about making photographs inside the church and they were not being allowed that day, but he said that Marilyn would speak with the Board to see if they would allow them on subsequent tours.

Windows of the Auditorium
Windows of the Auditorium
Once inside the auditorium, as it’s called by Christian Science (what other churches would call "sanctuary" or another word for the main meeting room of a church), Marilyn invited us to have a seat and proceeded to share architectural and Christian Science traditions highlights.

The auditorium is simple, yet quite elegant in design; practically unadorned (absent of symbols, save a few cherubs and lambs), yet incredibly beautiful; and is architecturally stunning, especially the ornate molding around the auditorium.

The soaring dome has an incredible chandelier, flanked by two smaller chandeliers on the right and left. The pews are rounded, not a straight pew among them, an elegant design feature, I think. And there's a modest balcony that gives a bird's eye view of the entire space.

Marilyn told us that the Board of Directors has to examine the entire property twice a year, in March and again in September. As a member of the Board, she's conducted the examination, including a visit to the copper roof 100 feet from the ground…a rather marvelous way to combat a fear of heights!

The windows, mostly original, are majestic and unique as church stained glass windows go. They're white and gold in color, with some clear glass mixed in, which looks blue but actually is the sky making its way into the auditorium.

At the front of the auditorium is a beautiful Moeller Organ, which was fully restored in 1984. It was shipped to Europe for its restoration.

The tour was made complete with contributions by Paul, Marilyn's husband, who has been actively involved in the restoration and maintenance projects of the Church. The two of them were excellent tour guides and together gave a much more comprehensive tour.

The Sunday School

Marilyn continued the tour downstairs (she first took a poll to gauge interest in seeing that part of the church and the group enthusiastically indicated a strong desire in seeing more).

Church Entrance
Church Entrance
The Sunday School is beautifully decorated as well, with obvious signs that it is indeed a learning center. In the middle of the room are pews where the attending children and young adults (aged 2 through 20), begin and close their studies.

Flanking the pews are tables where tailored "breakout sessions" are conducted for the various age groups and study topics.

At the front of the School is the original 19th Century reading table from the very first edifice of the Atlanta Church.

In the downstairs foyer, immediately in front of the Sunday School are exhibits featuring historic church artifacts, one that includes the Bible that was used in the dedication ceremony of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, current building.

Curious about the Christian Science faith, I asked Marilyn about its similarity to other denominations. "The Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta (formerly called the Atlanta Church of Religious Science) meets across the street at the Rich Auditorium and often gets questioned if they affiliated with Christian Science. Does this church get the same question? Do people ask if they you are associated with the Spiritual Living Centers?"

Marilyn said no, but that they are often asked if they’re part of Scientology. As it turns out, not surprisingly given the vast differences among so many denominations, Christian Science, Religious Science, and Scientology are as unique from one another as are the Catholic, Baptist, and Mormon denominations.

The Reading Room

Christian Science Reading Room
Christian Science Reading Room
Our final stop on the tour was the Reading Room. Marilyn had explained before that every Christian Science church is required to support a Christian Science Reading Room where members can study the Bible and Christian Science publications, including the well-known Christian Science Monitor.

This particular Reading Room is in a former residence, purchased by the Church a number of years ago and repurposed for its current use. In the Reading Room, there is a quiet room for studying, a children's room, and various items available for purchase including books, cards, music and art.

Jamie, the Reading Room librarian, who Marilyn introduced us to, was quite charming and made us all feel welcome.

About Phoenix Flies

In 2003, the Atlanta Preservation Center created Phoenix Flies: A Celebration of Living Landmarks to mark the 25th anniversary of the saving of the Fox Theatre and as a way of "creating a period of time in our great City when our rich assets are celebrated and strengthened to the benefit of all."

First Church of Christ, Scientist
First Church of Christ, Scientist
Phoenix Flies today is an annual program that has since its creation presented more than 1,000 events to more than 18,000 people and hopefully quite a few tourists in the coming years.

The events are as diverse as the city and include historic neighborhood walking tours, architecture tours, poetry readings, storytelling, bicycle tours, tours of historic homes, historic cemeteries, and historic churches, and interactive children’s activities.

Some of the events require reservations, but many do not; some necessitate pay parking, but many have free parking.

There is one additional tour of this church as part of Phoenix Flies (Tuesday, March 15), otherwise there are no regularly provided tours, but the church does on occasion opens its doors for special public programs and the church’s doors are always open to anyone who wishes to participate in services.

The Return

Would I go on another tour of the First Church of Christ, Scientist? Certainly, I would! It's a beautiful space, the hosts were most welcoming, and I am always open to any opportunity to learn more about the people, and architecture, in my community.

Touring the First Church of Christ, Scientist

Date toured: Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Future Tour: Tuesday, March 15 at 12:30 p.m.
Location: 150 15th Street, NE (directions and map)
Parking: Street parking and pay parking nearby
Cost: Free

First Church of Christ, Scientist, with Promenade II in the background
First Church of Christ,
Scientist, with Pomenade II
in the background

1 comment:

Terry said...

Travis, awesome post. I'm delighted to meet you. Hope we can get some interior picture.