…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. —II Corinthians 3:17
When one’s heart has been touched by what they're learning in Christian Science, there is often a desire to share that good with others. While there are many ways that sharing can take form, one way is through institutional work and volunteer chaplain programs in prisons, juvenile detention centers, veterans hospitals, and other institutions. Christian Science chaplains approach their work with the goal of bringing compassion, hope, and healing to individuals in these facilities.
Although the term chaplain is usually reserved for ordained clergy, many institutions rely on lay chaplains to help meet the spiritual needs of their inmates, patients, or residents. These volunteer chaplains are often supervised by a professional, seminary-educated chaplain.
Interested in serving?
Christian Scientists working in institutions are usually required to present a letter from their branch church or their State Institutional Committee verifying their appointment. Most institutions also require volunteers to go through a training program before serving.
Interested individuals and branch churches should contact each institution for their specific requirements for volunteer chaplains. Those who meet the requirements may also serve at local military bases, either as professional, active duty chaplains, or as religious volunteers. Learn more about Christian Science military chaplains.
A sample letter of introduction for those wishing to serve in institutions is included below.
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)
Resources for active volunteer chaplains
Literature distribution is often a part of institutional work, and the Christian Science Publishing Society accepts applications for bulk licenses to the Christian Science Bible Lesson, The Christian Science Journal, Christian Science Sentinel, and The Herald of Christian Science. Bulk licenses offer an economical, flexible way for institutional committees to print their own copies of the Bible Lesson and magazines for use in their work.
Please review the bulk license introductions for details on how to apply.
Journal, Sentinel, Herald
For more information on discounts available for subscriptions and books, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Baker Eddy and institutional work
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).