Believers in Wisconsin, where the world's first Christian Scientist church was built in 1886, waited a long time for a member of the now-global faith to rise to the state's highest elective office.
With the inauguration of Gov. Scott McCallum, the wait is over.
And a remarkably democratic religion - one with local autonomy, no clergy and no formal doctrines - is in the political footlights, if not the spotlights.
"To the best of my knowledge, Scott McCallum is the first Wisconsin governor who is a Christian Scientist," said Kevin Graunke, communications manager for the mother church in Boston and the faith's former Wisconsin representative.
Few Wisconsin residents know much about the religion other than a vague sense that it emphasizes faith rather than medicine in healing. Some have lingering memories of those rare cases in which parents have been taken to court in some U.S. city to force medical treatment of a dangerously ill child.
That might raise questions about the fact that one of McCallum's first policy initiatives was a proposal to make prescription drugs more widely available for senior citizens. But people familiar with Christian Science say it would not require him to act any particular way on that issue.
Beyond belief in faith-based healing, many people have heard of the international newspaper the church publishes, The Christian Science Monitor. But many might be surprised to know that Christian Science has had its share of famous adherents.
A few examples:
- Alan Shepard, the first American to be launched into space and the oldest astronaut ever sent to the moon.
- Charles Percy, the former U.S. Senator from Illinois.
- Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller.
- Dancer Ginger Rogers.
Other famous people had mothers who were Christian Scientists. That includes comedian Robin Williams, who has referred to his mother and her friends as "Christian Dior Scientists" because it seemed fashionable to them to follow the faith, Graunke recalled.
No matter. The church welcomes formal followers and dabblers alike.
"We know that everybody is just striving to understand the same God," said Connie Coddington of Elm Grove, the spokeswoman for Christian Science in Wisconsin. "We certainly reach out to all faiths and include them in our own search for truth."
Body and soul
In recent years, the medical community has done some reaching out of its own.
A recent National Institutes of Health study showed that 70 out of 128 undergraduate medical schools in the United States now offer courses on how to deal with patients' spiritual concerns, Graunke said.
The Harvard Medical School also has sponsored semiannual symposiums on spirituality and healing in medicine that have included Christian Scientist speakers, he said.
McCallum, like many Christian Scientists, does not wear his church affiliation on his sleeve.
Consider the case of Father Ernest O. Dreher, a retired Catholic priest and a longtime acquaintance from McCallum's hometown of Fond du Lac.
"I didn't know that," Dreher exclaimed when a reporter called him Thursday to talk about McCallum's church affiliation. "I'm kind of a super-ecumenical guy. I really don't care about a person's religion. We're both members of the Fond du Lac Rotary Club. That's where I got to know him."
Warren Braun and Dismas Becker, two Democrats from Milwaukee who served in the Legislature when McCallum was a state senator in the late 1970s and early 1980s, said they did not learn until years later that their Republican colleague was a Christian Scientist.
But that does not mean McCallum is not a man of faith.
He attends services each Sunday at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Madison.
"I just know that he's a super guy coming and going, and he's just very pleasant to deal with, and he's very faithful having his children come to Sunday school," said David Whalley, a spokesman for the Madison church.
"We're a group that does our prayer quietly, individually, and I'm sure that's what he does. People know who he is, I'm sure. There are some who have come who don't know. He doesn't wear a badge. Nobody bows to him or anything."
Two days before his inauguration, McCallum dealt with a festering budget issue by proposing a $14 million plan to help about 12% of state residents over 65 afford prescription drugs.
The issue hardly seems like one that would be embraced at all by a member of a faith that advocates prayer over modern medical practices for dealing with illness and injury.
A top aide, reluctant to have the new governor respond at all for a story about a politician's private religious beliefs, said McCallum's plan was "absolutely not" a contradiction of his faith.
The governor "has been able to balance his personal beliefs with the things he must do to think about the lives of other people in Wisconsin," said spokeswoman Lisa Hull. He "goes to a doctor when he needs to," and his son is a student at Marquette University's Dental School, she added.
Jibes with church teachings
That was both politically and theologically on the mark.
Christian Science does not recommend that people alternate conventional medicine with its biblical, prayer-based approach to healing. But it also does not condemn or pressure members who put a foot in both worlds.
Within the faith, there are widely varying degrees of reliance on prayer.
"It's up to the individual," said Coddington, a Christian Science practitioner who assists people in need of physical, emotional or mental healing. "I know people who have broken legs and arms and gone to the doctor and had them set, and I know other individuals who have just prayed through it and been completely healed.
"If, because of their circumstance, they choose to turn to the medical profession, nobody looks down on them for doing that. We understand, and we don't know what we would do in some dire situation. My own mother had a dire situation in which she turned to the medical (profession), and we all still prayed for her and supported her."
Christian Scientists believe in Jesus and in all the Gospel accounts of him. Services include music, public and private prayer, and readings by elected lay readers of the faith's fundamental books - the Bible, and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy.
Eddy, the New England-born founder of the faith, had suffered from poor health for years. While recovering from an injury, she read a Biblical account of one of Jesus' miracles, had an insight into the relationship of God and health, and experienced a dramatic healing.
The book she later wrote discusses a scientific application of the laws of God that were behind Jesus' healings, Coddington said.
Although the mother church is in Boston, the first church was built in Oconto, Wis., at the time the Christian Science movement was becoming a formal religion. Some Oconto residents had contact with Milwaukeeans who were following Eddy's book. Today, there are 44 Christian Science churches in Wisconsin.
The Christian Science approach differs from faith healing in that there is no laying on of hands, chanting or rituals. People read the Bible, read Eddy's book and reflect.
"It's not always a process," Coddington added. "Sometimes a person can get a very clear insight on something and just be healed instantaneously."