The Church of Scientology, a religion founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, claims to be anything but fiction. It's a bonafide religion, Scientologists say, with 501(c)3 tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service and, yes, places of worship. The religion's first church formed in Los Angeles in 1954 and in 2013 has grown to more than 10,000 churches, missions and affiliated groups in 167 countries, according to the church's official website.
Scientologists call their places of worship "churches," and visitors describe them as modern-looking, comfortable and clean. Churches features chapels, where church leaders give lectures; study rooms; and public information centers that answer frequently asked questions about Scientology beliefs and history. Scientologists do not honor a named deity, so no images of gods, saints or other figures are seen in churches. They do feature prominent cross-like symbols throughout the space.
Scientology churches hold religious services every Sunday for Scientologists and non-Scientologists. Lectures may cover principles from Scientology philosophy, how they apply to the human spirit and their practical application in life. Also, churches offer free personality testing and training to help people eradicate negative emotions and become more empowered. Counselors, also called auditors, work one-on-one with parishioners in their quest for personal betterment. Furthermore, like in other churches, Scientologists hold wedding, naming and funeral ceremonies.
Scientologists view their churches not just as places of worship, but also as community hubs for families and individuals. Some specific community service campaigns at Scientology churches include anti-drug campaigns, human rights education initiatives, and social betterment programs that feature drug rehabilitation, literacy, criminal reform and morality. Scientologists also prepare to use their places of worship in disaster relief efforts, and to meet with other community groups.
Some Scientology churches are called "Ideal Orgs," which are churches that conform to what L. Ron Hubbard viewed as an ideal place to learn, communicate and grow as a human being. The church hopes to transform all of its churches into Ideal Organizations, so that each functions more ideally for members and non-members in the community. Advanced Organizations, meanwhile, are centers that help Scientologists reach the highest level of spiritual power, according to the church website. The church's building in Clearwater, Florida -- the city known as the spiritual "Mecca" for Scientologists -- is considered to be an Advanced Organization.
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