…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Mary Baker Eddy supported and promoted work in institutions of reform throughout her life. Her interest in working with prison inmates began through an early connection with the Pilsbury family, well-known for their humane and innovative methods of prison reform. Captain Moses Pilsbury, friend of the Baker family, was warden of New Hampshire’s state prison in Concord (1818–1826 and 1837–1840). Her relationship with the Pilsburys deepened through her brother George’s employment under Captain Amos Pilsbury at the Wethersfield, Connecticut prison, and her sister Martha’s marriage to Luther Pilsbury, deputy warden in the New Hampshire State prison.
On May 12, 1900, in a note to one of her students after he had arranged for Christian Science services to be held in the Merrimac county jail, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “I am glad you have begun the Christian Science mission with faith that you can open the prison doors and set the captive free. God will bless us in this way of his appointing . . . ” (Tomlinson, Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy: Recollections and Experiences, Amplified Edition, p. 243).
Prison ministries continued to be important in the lives of members of her church. She often read testimonials from workers and the inmates they’d helped at Wednesday church services and published them in her periodicals—The Christian Science Journal and the Christian Science Sentinel. Her own life and writings include similar accounts such as when she healed an insane man who had escaped from an asylum (1868), when she visited President Garfield’s assassin imprisoned in Washington, D.C. (1882), and in published statements of healing and reformation brought about by reading Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (see Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 405–406).
Continuing that compassionate commitment to those incarcerated, Christian Science branch churches around the world support institutional work through volunteer chaplain programs. Although the term chaplain is usually reserved for ordained clergy, many institutions rely on lay ministers to help address the spiritual needs of their inmates, patients, or residents. These volunteer chaplains are often supervised by a professional, seminary-educated chaplain.
Christian Scientists working in institutions usually receive a letter from their branch church or their State Institutional Committee verifying their appointment. Some institutions also require volunteers to receive training from the institution’s professional chaplain before serving. Interested individuals and branch churches should contact each institution for their specific requirements for volunteer ministers.
Those who meet the requirements may also serve at local military bases.
Find out more
An Institutional Committee Liaison is available to answer your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve also provided sample letters of introduction for those wishing to serve in institutions or at military installations.
Please copy this draft letter and adapt it for your Christian Science Branch Church or Society or Institutional Committee use.
Attention: (Institution’s Chaplain)
This letter certifies that (Christian Science Volunteer name), has been appointed the Christian Science (Chaplain/Worker) at (Institution’s name). (Chaplain / Worker name) has been a member of (Christian Science Church or Society) for ( ) years. (He/she) has been interviewed and evaluated for service in (Institution’s name) by (Church / Society Board or Institutional Committee) as to his/her qualifications to do this important work. (Chaplain/Worker name) is bound by the guidelines of (Church / Society or Institutional Committee) as approved by the Executive Board of (Church / Society and location).
Subject to (Institution’s) required training and institutional regulations—(Chaplain/Worker name)—as volunteer (Chaplain/Worker) has the approval of the (Church/Society and Board), to perform the following functions:
Initiate contact with persons who either identify themselves as Christian Scientists or request Christian Science church services.
Provide prayerful support to enable individuals to deal with moral, spiritual or physical problems. (Note: this applies to Chaplains in practitioner/patient role.)
Conduct Christian Science services whenever there is a need.
Distribute Christian Science literature to those who would like to have it.
(He/she) has been instructed to clear all denominational activities through your institutional chaplain’s office. We will appreciate any courtesies and assistance you may offer, such as granting access to current lists of persons who have declared their religious preference to be Christian Science. Please feel free to contact (him/her) at any time if you become aware of individuals requesting ministry from a Christian Scientist. (His/her) contact information is: (phone and email address). You have our assurance of continued support of your religious program and of our desire to be of service whenever possible.
(Clerk for / or President of Board of Church / Society or Institutional Committee)
(Church / Society or Institutional Committee name)
(Church / Society or Institutional Committee address)