Christian Scientists began meeting informally in downtown Birmingham in “The Christian Scientists’ Room” in the 1890s. The First Lady of Atlanta, Sue Harper Mims, had much to do with them making their church permanent. Once an invalid, Mrs. Mims had been completely restored to health by prayer in Christian Science. Enthusiastically, she began to teach others how to become Christian Science healers. In an unusual move for the late 19th century, she taught both black and white students. One of her students was Etter Haden Foster, an orphan who was being raised by her aunt and uncle, a congressman from Alabama. Etter was a friend of Mrs. Grover Cleveland and a frequent visitor to the Cleveland White House.
In 1893, the newlywed Mrs. Foster became gravely ill and was told by as specialist that she had very little hope. She recalled having heard Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church, preach a sermon. She asked for Mrs. Eddy’s book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and was healed by reading it. She took a class in Christian Science practice from Sue Harper Mims and came back to Birmingham establish Christian Science in Birmingham. There she met two other pupils of Mrs. Mims — Lewis and Ides Johnson — who wanted to help start a church. The group met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson on Nov. 20, 1899, and chartered the church the next day, with six members. The Johnsons lived on Highland Avenue next door to the lovely old home pictured here. Although the Johnsons’ home is now gone, it was built by the same person who built this structure, and it probably was similar.
The little church had its hardships in getting going, but soon the congregation was able to move into a small hall on 21st Street North (now Richard Arrington Boulevard). Within a year, the church outgrew the building and moved several times, to the McGowan Building on 3rd Avenue North, then the Massey Building downtown on 3rd Avenue North. In 1907, the church bought a little chapel being offered for sale next to Five Points Methodist Church, moving in in November of 1907 — eight years and a few blocks from where the church had been founded.
Soon the church was able to buy a lot next door, and by 1911, Christian Scientists had built a handsome building that still stands on the corner of 11th Avenue South and Richard Arrington Boulevard near historic Five Points and is pictured here. The congregation remained in that building until 1950. During that time, members gave much thanks for many healings that came about after Christian Science prayer. Church member Sarah N. Dryer had suffered “hopelessly,” as she put it, from hay fever, seeking relief in drugs, serums, and changes of climate. When she found Christian Science, she realized that “God, good, had not sentenced me to a life of torture, and I was healed.” Another member, Eula T. Jenkins, was healed of constant pain and chronic weakness. During the Depression, Ben Herring of the Birmingham church overcame business problems through prayer, as well as overcoming a severe case of hypochondria that had kept him hostage to worry for many years.
The Five Points church building was a little snug, and members of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, bought a lot on Highland Avenue. That lot proved unsatisfactory, so they bought another and built the large new church pictured here. They moved in in 1950. The healing ministry of the church continued. Church member Ruby D. Westbrook broke a bone in her shoulder and turned to prayer. Genesis 15:1 came to her: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” A Christian Science practitioner worked with her, and her shoulder healed quickly. Another church member, Madeline Keene Wood, was struggling with resentment after a friend wronged her. Soon after, she slipped and fell. “My head and back were injured,” she wrote. At that point she began praying, as taught in Christian Science, to see the real nature of mankind as existing completely in the divine consciousness of God — and God is never conscious of evil or illness, as God is all good. Mrs. Wood was healed of both the injury and the resentment.
Today healings both big and small continue to go on at First Church of Christ, Scientist. In 2012, the church sold its building on Highland Avenue and has moved into temporary quarters in Homewood while future plans are made. We welcome anyone seeking healing or just peace. You’ll find it here.