Minister to speak on Scientology

Before the Scientologists settle in, First United Methodist wants to prepare its congregation for its new neighbor.

Published August 13, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - When First United Methodist learned that its new neighbor would be the Church of Scientology, its leaders decided it was time to offer a Christian perspective of the controversial faith of celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Isaac Hayes.

This evening, Myron "Pat" Miller, an ordained Presbyterian minister and former president of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, will do just that. Miller has written a booklet about Scientology and spoken at other area churches about the religion.

The Rev. H. Clark Edwards, pastor at First United Methodist, a historic congregation across from Williams Park, said the point of the evening is to get Miller's help to understand what Scientologists believe.

"We are hoping that Dr. Miller will give us a straightforward look at this belief system, its founder L. Ron Hubbard and I am sure we will wrestle with the question as to why people would believe in Scientology over Christianity," Edwards said in an e-mail.

The minister added that a recent St. Petersburg Times article about Scientology had raised his concerns "as to its impact on the lives of individuals as well as families."

The Church of Scientology recently purchased a building at 336 First Ave. N. The group, which paid $1.6-million for the historic structure, will establish a life improvement center that will house church audio visual displays and literature and offer basic Scientology courses.

No opening date has been set for the new center, said Pat Harney, director of public affairs at the international religious retreat in Clearwater.

She said renovations are under way at the building, which was built in 1913 as the headquarters for the Women's Town Improvement Association, an organization that was involved in city beautification projects. "We've met with the historical society there, and they like what we're doing," Harney said by telephone from Clearwater.

Before the Scientologists settle in, First United Methodist wants to prepare its congregation for its new neighbor.

Miller, 68, who came to St. Petersburg in 1986 to be the director of social and behavioral sciences for what is now St. Petersburg College and also headed the human services, honors and ROTC programs there, made his first presentation about Scientology at Christ Presbyterian Church in Largo. He said Harney saw his talk advertised in the newspaper and attended it. She also questioned parts of his presentation.

Later, when he was asked to do a series of talks about Scientology at First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Miller asked Harney to join him for the final talk.

"She and I had an opportunity to exchange perspectives, in a very friendly way," he said. Harney even invited him to visit the Clearwater headquarters and took him to lunch. "I think that you could say that we developed a friendly respect for each other's positions," Miller said.

His booklet, A study of Scientology, a Decidedly Non-Christian Perspective, grew out of the church presentations.

"I have developed this primarily as a means to help Christians understand three important things. First of all, that Scientology - despite its language - is not Christian, and they will admit to that fact. Secondly, that their attempt to use modern technology to improve the lives of individuals can be misleading," Miller said.

He tries to make another important point, Miller said. Scientology's "clash with Christianity is whether or not one can earn or develop one's own salvation as opposed to letting God come into your life and without earning the transformations," he said, referring to the cost of Scientology's classes and counseling sessions.

Harney, who was born in Jamaica and discovered Scientology in Washington, D.C., after graduating from Howard University, said she appreciates the fact that Miller "has tried to deal with the subject without prejudice."

Scientology teaches, she added, that "all religions have a place in this world. Scientology is open to anyone of any creed, faith or race ... and Scientology has been used by many people of differing faiths to increase their own understanding of their own religion, their relationships with others and the universe."

Miller's talk is open to the public.

If you go

A Study of Scientology, today 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., by the Rev. Myron "Pat" Miller, in the chapel at First United Methodist Church, 212 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. Free.