Voices of a Global Movement: “To my great joy I found a Christian Science chaplain….”

August 22, 2017

Page 121 of Walter S. Cross, World War I Scrapbook, 1917(c.), Subject File OS 08

Page 121 of Walter S. Cross, World War I Scrapbook, 1917(c.), Subject File OS 08.

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, The Mary Baker Eddy Library will be sharing some of these stories through this article series “Voices of a Global Movement.”

In October 1917 the United States Congress directed that 20 chaplains-at-large be selected from denominations not previously represented in the military. These faiths included “Hebrew, Christian Science, Eastern Catholic, Mormon, and Salvation Army adherents.”1

To many, the presence of Christian Science chaplains in the United States military indicated increasing acceptance of the faith. The Haverhill (Massachusetts) Gazette editorialized, “The appointment of a Christian Science chaplain for the navy is taken as a significant change in the attitude of the public toward the faith of the followers of Mrs. Eddy.”2 Ohio’s Columbus Journal called the decision to include Christian Scientists in the chaplaincy wise:

The Christian Scientists’ quiet and modest influence is just what will reach the hearts of the soldiers. [A chaplain] is…a quiet worker inside the heart, inspiring good habits, noble thoughts, a controlling spirituality, and a generous friendship….3

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Page 7 of Walter S. Cross, World War I Scrapbook, 1917(c.), Subject File OS 08.

Walter S. Cross (1881–1971), a Christian Science practitioner, was one of the first Christian Scientists to serve as a chaplain in the United States military. Cross served as a chaplain with the 89th and 27th divisions of the U.S Army. He was later affiliated with the Christian Science War Relief Depot in Le Mans, France.4 His scrapbook dates from his war service and reveals a range of interests. It includes newspaper clippings about the war, poetry, and Christian Science in the United States. The scrapbook also contains postcards and many photographs evidently taken during his time in France, depicting soldiers, medical personnel, and notable landmarks. Cross later served as President of The Mother Church from 1950 to 1951.

The responsibilities of a chaplain are in some ways unfamiliar to a Christian Scientist, for the church is a lay-led denomination without an organized clergy. This caused some concern among senior chaplains.5. However, many who interacted with Christian Science chaplains observed the hard work and devotion of these men and found it reassuring. In 1918 Captain Paul H. Moody, a member of the Overseas Chaplain’s Board, called the Christian Science chaplains “[F]ine men who have done splendid work.”6

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Pages 125 and 129 of Walter S. Cross,
World War I Scrapbook, 1917(c.), Subject File OS 08.

Multiple letters published in the Christian Science periodicals testify to the importance that Christian Scientists themselves placed on chaplains during the First World War. This account, from a soldier who served as a member of the Expeditionary Forces in France, appeared in the Christian Science Sentinel:

[T]o my great joy I found a Christian Science chaplain in the same town in which I was located. Here was my need met in truth. Through the kindness and generosity of the chaplain, we had Christian Science literature to read, a warm room in which to read and write, and our regular services on Wednesday and Sunday of each week.… I am indeed extremely grateful for Christian Science and the Christian Scientists who have made possible this blessing. We have all firmly resolved that our accomplishments in life, as Christian Scientists, will attest our real gratitude…. 7

While no offering can liquidate one’s debt of gratitude to God, the fervent heart and willing hand are not unknown to nor unrewarded by Him.

— Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896

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  1. Kim M. Schuette, Christian Science Military Ministry, 1917-2004 (Indianapolis: Brockton Publishing Company, 2008), 12.
  2. “From the Press,” Christian Science Sentinel, April 20, 1918, 678.
  3. “From the Press,” Sentinel, March 9, 1918, 558.
  4. “Directors Cite Christianity’s Power at Mother Church Annual Meeting,” The Christian Science Monitor, June 5, 1950.
  5. Schuette, Christian Science Military Ministry, 15.
  6. “Christian Science War Relief Work,” Monitor, November 13, 1918, 3.
  7. “Extracts from Letters,” Sentinel, August 30, 1919, 1029.