Voices of a Global Movement: Speaking the Language
Christian Science Society, Blumenau, Brazil, 1932(c.), Church Archives, Box 530744, Folder 220162.
In the 150 years since Mary Baker Eddy’s discovery of Christian Science, many people have come forward with stories of how it has impacted their lives. As part of our exhibit Fervent Hearts, Willing Hands: Christian Science from Discovery to Global Movement, The Mary Baker Eddy Library will be sharing some of these stories through this article series, “Voices of a Global Movement.”
In a January 1914 article for the Christian Science Sentinel, Annie M. Knott described the increasingly international scope of Christian Science:
Now it is reaching all lands and witnessing to the ever-present God and His Christ. In the last year letters have come to us from the ancient kingdom of Burma, from Dutch Guiana, from Brazil, from far-off islands of the sea, telling of darkness dispelled, and of health and happiness attained through the study of God’s message to this age, as found in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.”
In some ways the establishment of Christian Science in Brazil represents how the faith began to grow in many nations—people from other parts of the world first introduced it to the native citizens. German-speaking immigrants had been settling in Brazil since the mid-nineteenth century, establishing themselves in cities such as Blumenau, Sao Paulo, and Porto Alegre. They were among the first Christian Scientists in the country. Even before they reached the southern areas, Christian Science was already known in Sao Paulo by 1910, with people meeting there informally.
Otto Schaerer, a Swiss immigrant, was one of the first to help establish Christian Science in early twentieth century Brazil. He was a regular reader of the Lesson-Sermon and soon formed a neighborhood group in Blumenau to read it together. After he established a healing practice, his cure of coworker Ida Hoeltgebaum was reported in the December 1923 issue of The Christian Science Journal. Schaerer was not a Journal-listed Christian Science practitioner, and the call went out for an authorized practitioner who was more familiar with Christian Science to come and live in Blumenau.
The first formal service took place on June 12, 1926, with eleven people congregating in Hoeltgebaum’s home. She would go on to become treasurer for a new Christian Science Society in Blumenau, as well as a Sunday School teacher. She also became a practitioner. The society’s attendees included Dora Vetter and Hedwig Stoeger, both of whom established their own Journal-listed healing practices in the city. A building was dedicated in 1931, and the Mother Church recognized the Society in 1932.
By the 1930s Christian Science had gained a successful foothold in Blumenau. But World War II raised suspicions about people and practices connected with Germany. In 1942 the Brazilian Secretary of Public Welfare issued a ban on “Axis activity.” This included a prohibition on using the German language, as well as “hymns, songs and greetings which may be peculiar to them.”1.
As a result of this proclamation, the society in Blumenau was forced to disband or conduct its services in Portuguese, Brazil’s official language. This was a problem for Christian Science churches and societies throughout the country—Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures had not yet been translated into Portuguese. First and Second Readers with little or no knowledge of Portuguese had to familiarize themselves with the language. The Readers in Blumenau worked tirelessly at this, until the society was able to reorganize on September 14, 1944, two and a half years after the forced disbandment.
The challenges that Brazilian Christian Scientists faced during the war actually fueled the expansion of their churches. Portuguese became more widely used in services, even after Readers were once again allowed to speak German. After a Portuguese translation of Science and Health became available in 1963, Christian Science experienced a new period of growth, with native people learning about the faith through testimonies of healing and radio broadcasts. By 1969—just six years after the book’s translation—The Christian Science Journal reported that Brazil was responsible for buying more Portuguese translations of Science and Health than any other country in the world.