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Church of Scientology opening more visible facilities, including one in New Haven

Title: Church of Scientology opening more visible facilities, including one in New Haven
Date: Friday, 9 September 2005
Publisher: Hartford Courant (Connecticut)
Author: Frances Grandy Taylor
Main source:

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Hartford Courant

Byline: FRANCES GRANDY TAYLOR; Courant Staff Writer
Section: LIFE

Despite such high-profile adherents as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Chick Corea and Kirstie Alley, the Church of Scientology can seem as mysterious to outsiders as its reclusive founder, science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

But in recent years, the church has steadily gained a different kind of visibility as new, state-of-the-art Scientology buildings have opened in such cities as New York, Buffalo, San Jose, Tampa and San Francisco, often in renovated city or cultural landmarks.
In the Westville neighborhood of New Haven, the Church of Scientology has purchased and is renovating the old Olive Branch Lodge Masonic Temple, a familiar, light-brick landmark on Whalley Avenue. Once renovation of the massive, three-story interior is complete, the church will move there from its storefront headquarters down the street.

The new church will include a 200-seat chapel, numerous rooms for group and individual sessions called auditing, a theater and a first- floor public space filled with shelves of books, CDs and DVDs such as "What Is Scientology?" and "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health," the foundation works of Scientology.

"The books are like a tool box; Scientology offers people tools," says Carole Yingling, director of special affairs for the New Haven church. "Scientology helps people learn how to balance their lives, not just to survive but to live well."

Yingling says her search for answers to the "why are we here?" questions in life led her from her Lutheran background into Scientology.

"I thought I was happy, but I was always aware that something was missing," she says. "I realized what I was looking for was spiritual strength. ... I just wanted to know that I really was an immortal spiritual being."

The Church of Scientology grew out of Hubbard's writings on Dianetics, first published in 1950. Although it is derided by critics as a cult, Scientology received federal tax exempt status as a church in 1993. Hubbard, who was not seen in public for nearly five years before his death, died of a stroke in 1986 at the age of 74.

The goals of Scientology are simple, Yingling says, as she reads from the opening pages of the church's encyclopedic handbook: " ... civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights."

Gaetan Asselin, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology International, based in Los Angeles, says the church is undergoing a building expansion to accommodate increased interest in Scientology.

The church, which claims about 10 million members worldwide, has added about 2 million members in the past 10 years, Asselin says.

"We are definitely buying buildings that are big enough for what we represent – big enough for all the technology of Mr. Hubbard that can be used to help individuals," she says. "People have questions about life, and we have answers. Scientology has practical solutions to life's problems, and people can study it for themselves."

Local churches like the one in New Haven are independent and do their own fundraising for church building and renovation. The international church often offers suggestions on floor plans and interior design, which is helping to standardize the look of Scientology churches, Asselin says. The New Haven church has about 100 member families who raised the money to purchase the $1.5 million Masonic Temple and who expect to spend about $2.5 million to renovate it, Yingling said.

Last year, the Church of Scientology of New York City opened its new church on 46th Street, near Times Square, in a building that once housed the New York Actors Guild. Visibility is as important for Scientology as it is for other faiths, says Beth Akiyama, a director of public affairs for Scientology's New York area. Since the church opened, about 800 people stop in for the first time each week, she says.

Because of more than 500 Scientology volunteers at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, New Yorkers' interest in Scientology increased, Akiyama says.

"So many people in New York are pushing to succeed, and people who are working hard have problems. We can help them with that," she says. "People want new solutions to help them cope with life, and we offer simple tools that are very effective."

The Scientology church in New Haven holds Sunday-morning services where the Scientology creed is read and members and visitors can participate in a 30-minute introductory group auditing session, similar to a process of guided imagery that produces a relaxed feeling. Others prefer individual auditing sessions in private office rooms.

Adherents also use a device called an e-meter that generates a very slight electrical current and is said to measure areas of mental and physical stress.

The goal of a Scientologist is to become "clear," or free of physical and emotional barriers to health. The Tom Cruise/Brooke Shields feud several months ago touched on Scientology's prohibitions against psychiatry and the use of psychotropic drugs.

Robert Surprenant, 38, a Scientology course room supervisor, led a recent Sunday session. He says he was introduced to Scientology as a student at Southern Connecticut State University about 15 years ago.

"Ninety percent of the time, when people come in here, they are looking for something, even when they are not really sure what it is," Surprenant says. "It's like you go to a mechanic and say, `My car isn't running right.' You don't know what's wrong with it, but something is.

"People are asking more questions and are increasingly open to the church's message. It's truth, and the truth always prevails. People read it, get the truth and learn and use it for themselves."

Jim Deblasio, who teaches Dianetics at the New Haven church, also talks to visitors with questions about Scientology.

"It does for people what religion should do – help you to run your life better," says Deblasio. "We have a saying in Scientology - - what's true for you is true for you. When you come here, no one is going to tell you what to think.".

Caption: photo 1: CAROLE YINGLING is special affairs director of the
New Haven Scientology church, which will be moving into a new
building soon.
photo 2: THE SCIENTOLOGISTS are renovating the old Masonic temple in
the Westville section of New Haven. Above is an artist's rendition
of the finished new church.

(Copyright The Hartford Courant 2005)