Have Faith: What is Christian Science, anyway?

Christian Science healing practitioner Michelle Nanouche will visit the Island.

Michelle Boccanfuso Nanouche, member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship. — Courtesy Michelle Nanouche

If you’re anything like me (and I say that with trepidation), you have no real idea of what the tenets of Christian Science are, how its followers live out their faith, and what the heck being a member of the Christian Science Church means. I’ve read stories from the Christian Science Monitor, the church’s international publication, a few times, and I know there’s a Christian Science Center in Boston, but that’s about it. My knowledge of this particular denomination added up to zero.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received a press release in my inbox explaining that a Christian Science healing practitioner, Michelle Nanouche, would be coming to the Vineyard for a presentation on May 24 at 7:30 pm, at the American Legion Hall on Martin Road in Vineyard Haven. This was my big chance. Finally, here’s someone who might be able to explain what being a Christian Scientist means. I sent Michelle an email, because she is literally a world traveler and I was pretty certain I might never connect by phone. She lives in Paris with her French husband, and has a healing practice based there. She was raised in a Christian Science household; her father experienced healing of his depression through a Christian Science practitioner. Michelle says she has witnessed countless healings based on biblical teaching, and that Jesus is the ultimate healer. He shows everyone how it’s done right in the scriptures. So rather than me trying to explain everything, I think it’s better if you read Michelle’s answers to the questions I asked her.


Are you both a nurse and a healing practitioner? Or have you stopped working as a nurse?

I trained and worked as a Christian Science nurse from 1980 to 1989, before changing my focus and starting my public practice as a Christian Science practitioner. Christian Science nurses are trained to provide nonmedical physical care to those relying on treatment through prayer consistent with the theology of Christian Science. Nurses may help with bathing, nourishment, personal care, mobility, bandaging, etc., but no medication or physical therapy is involved.


Explain what a Christian Science healing practitioner does.

Christian Science practitioners pray for those who are relying on God for healing through prayer. Cases may involve physical, financial, relational, professional, mental, emotional, or any other type of problem. Practitioners pray, pure and simple. They don’t direct a person’s behavior or life choices, don’t offer human advice, interfere, or manipulate in any way. By turning to God in prayer, at a patient’s request, they support their patient in turning to God for all decisions. Christ Jesus’ theology included healing. Practitioners follow the healing methodology for prayer found in the Sermon on the Mount — Matthew, Chapters 5-7 — and this theology continues to heal today, as it did for Jesus, his disciples, and the early Christians who practiced it for about 300 years after Jesus.


Can you describe some tenets of your faith? I know very little about Christian Science, and would really like to provide a clearer understanding to readers.

The tenets of Christian Science are mostly theological points, and conclude with a promise. The theological points include being guided by the Word of the Bible — not by opinions and influence of personal preachers who may be mistaken in their interpretation, or offer undue influence over others. For example, in Christian Science churches, the services consist of Bible reading, and also listening to passages that explain the theology read from the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy — discoverer and founder of Christian Science, who restored primitive Christian healing to general practice in the late 1800s. Other tenets include belief in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — one God, one Christ, and the ever-present law of God with us. We also understand God’s creation to be made in God’s image and likeness as explained in Genesis, Chapter 1.

The Christian Science view of sin is that God, as universal Good, forgives sin by destroying it, and Christian Science teaches that suffering for sin endures until it is understood to be no part of God’s creation and thus we stop participating in it. Jesus holds a special revered place in Christian Science theology as the Christ-man and Way-shower to humanity. Christ Jesus showed us the way of salvation by healing sickness and overcoming sin and death. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus illustrate the allness of God and all He creates as eternal, thus showing matter to be nothing — that is, matter is not God-sourced and therefore is not the essence, substance, cause, creator, or destroyer of man. (This is a point that I explain extensively in lectures, because it is often a source of confusion for others.) And our final tenet is a promise: “We solemnly promise to watch, and to pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure.” –”Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” page 497.

There is no tenet of Christian Science which determines or influences an individual’s choice of care. Each member of the church chooses for himself/herself the best care and treatment for their health issues. That Christian Scientists often choose prayer as a primary and often only necessary recourse is based on their good experiences and outcomes with this method. However, Christian Scientists can and do resort to medical aid when they wish or feel they need to. As this relates to children, Christian Scientists are no different from other parents. Like most parents, we love our children and understand the responsibilities that come with parenting to ensure the health and well-being of our children. So Christian Science parents may choose whatever care they deem the best to respond to the health needs of children. As a parent myself, our daughter had many healings through prayer of childhood ailments, including broken bones. And in one instance, we took her to the emergency room for a foot injury. Each of these choices of care were consistent with the theology of Christian Science, and were made with her best interests at the fore of thought.


Have you visited Martha’s Vineyard before?

Never. Am excited to come.


Where do you live; where are you based? What is your family like?

I live in a town just to the west of Paris, with my French husband. Our daughter and her husband live in New Jersey and work in New York City. When I am not traveling for the Christian Science Board of Lectureship, I commute daily to my office in Paris, where I treat patients in Christian Science. I also teach an annual course in Paris on the fundamentals of Christian Science practice. I teach French-speaking pupils only, although my healing practice is conducted in English and French. I have family across the U.S., and often visit my 92-year-old mom, who lives alone and cares for her big house and lawn all by herself in Virginia.


How did you come to arrange the visit here? Did the Christian Science group on the Island invite you? How does that work?

Lecturers are invited by local congregations to come and speak to the community. We are very transparent about our church and practices, and provide these lectures at least once a year to answer people’s questions and concerns in order to clear up misunderstandings and open a dialogue. I am one of a long line of speakers that have come to Martha’s Vineyard by invitation of the local congregation. And many will come after me. Lectures are free to the public, and my expenses and fee are covered by the church.


What would you say is the essential part of the message you’ll deliver in your presentation here?

My subject, “Finding God, Finding Health,” illustrates the connection between theology and healing. I will show how a deeper, broader, clearer understanding of God can enable one to heal and be healed. The lecture answers common questions about Christian Science, offers tips for obtaining and maintaining good health, and I will share my own healing of tumor through growing my understanding of God.


What would you say to those who have that notion that Christian Scientists are “those folks who don’t seek medical attention”?

Some do, some don’t. One’s spiritual path is very individual. And as in most cases, generalizations are rarely accurate. However, the theology of Christian Science includes healing through prayer as a viable, practical response to health needs. We have a long and hearty record of healing. In my family alone, my father was healed of depression, my husband was healed of blocked arteries, my daughter of dislocated and broken bones, and I have been healed of walking pneumonia, a breast tumor, frozen shoulder, a broken bone in my foot, a foot wound from a rusty nail, and many, many other healings. Several of these healings were medically confirmed.


How could readers find out more about your faith?

An easy way is to attend the lecture on Thursday evening at 7:30 pm at the American Legion Hall in Vineyard Haven. After that, you have the local Christian Science congregation, which has a public Reading Room. And you always have the Internet: christianscience.com.


It sounds as if you’re a busy traveler! Do you travel all over the world talking about your faith, and why do you do so?

My fire has been lit about Christian Science for a long time because of the healing it accomplishes. I have lectured throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Africa.


Did you grow up in a Christian Science household? How did you become a Christian Scientist?

I did. My father’s healing of depression by a Christian Science practitioner brought our family to it. For me, my own healings and practice of helping others through prayer have kept me in it.


What do you hope folks take away after hearing your presentation?

I hope they will have clarity on Christian Science and its practice. I hope they will learn something useful for their journey.